Today's news -- January 13, 2017





House education budget keeps controversial programs

Following directions to propose millions of dollars in education spending cuts, Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations chairman Rep. Manny Diaz told his committee members Thursday that no program should be considered sacred. "If we're not making people uncomfortable, then we're not doing what we were sent up here to do," said Diaz, a Hialeah Republican. He cautioned members, however, that the base budget "drivers" would remain essentially off limits, making the cutting exercise more difficult. On that "high priority" list -- right alongside increased per-student funds and the voluntary prekindergarten program -- were Florida's Best and Brightest teacher bonus, which to date has been annual budget proviso language rather than statute, and money for district-wide mandatory K-8 student uniforms, placed into law a year ago. Deeper within the committee's base budget review documents, the student attire program (which districts may choose to participate in) is slated as a $14 million item, up from $3.75 million in 2015-16. The Best and Brightest is shown as a $13.95 million item, down from $48 million a year ago. The House has been the primary base of support for the controversial Best and Brightest, which rewards teachers based on their performance evaluations and college entrance exam scores. But the bonus has faced increasing opposition, even beyond the educators who have ridiculed its criteria as a poor indicator of teaching excellence. In recent months, the Florida Board of Education prominently called for finding different ways to financially reward top educators and attract strong students into the profession. The House documents suggest that new ideas could be in the offing, with the bonus program shrinking -- but not going away entirely -- as a result. After all, despite their disdain, teachers have applied for the money in growing numbers. Democrats including Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, meanwhile hinted at their intention to look at spending on charter schools and questioned why school districts shouldn't be allowed to increase their local property taxes. Diaz stressed that cutting was the order of the day. "I encourage us to be bold," Diaz added. "Because it has been that way doesn't mean it has to stay that way. ... Let's break the mold. That's what we're here for."


Is standardized testing causing too much pressure?

Was the pressure too much? That’s the question many parents are wondering after learning two Palm Beach County teachers are getting fired, accused of helping their students with the answers during last year’s Florida Standard Assessments, or the FSA’s. One teacher is from Citrus Cove Elementary in Boynton Beach. The other is from Melaleuca Elementary in West Palm Beach.
 “The system puts a great deal of pressure on both groups.” said Kathi Gundlach, president of the Classroom Teachers Association in Palm Beach County. While she could not comment about these specific teachers, she says it’s no secret these exams cause too much stress. “We shouldn’t worry all year long about testing and what our students are going to do; we need to worry about learning," said Gundlach. For the students, the test could determine whether they get moved up to the next grade. And for teachers, the test scores are worth 33 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, which determines his or her salary. “We have to be accountable for what we do, but we need to look at a system that is more fair," said Gundlach. Both teachers have denied the claims and still have a chance to appeal the termination. However, some parents say, if it is true, it’s just another example of why they say the test puts too much pressure on both the kids and the teachers.


Trump’s pick for Education could face stiff resistance

Nominees for secretary of education have typically breezed through confirmation by the Senate with bipartisan approval. But Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald J. Trump’s choice for the post, is no typical nominee. She is a billionaire with a complex web of financial investments, including in companies that stand to win or lose from the department she would oversee. She has been an aggressive force in politics for years, as a prominent Republican donor and as a supporter of steering public dollars to private schools. Her wealth and her politics seem likely to make her confirmation hearing unusually contentious, and possibly drawn out. The hearing, which was originally scheduled for Wednesday of this week, was postponed until Tuesday after Democrats complained she had not completed an agreement with the independent Office of Government Ethics that outlined a plan to deal with potential conflicts of interest. The ethics office has said it has not completed its review of DeVos, which is required before the office can make any agreement. A spokesman for DeVos said she had responded to a first round of questions from the office last weekend. On Thursday, Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the committee that will hold the hearing, said she and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the panel’s Republican chairman, “have some concerns about missing information” on the financial disclosure forms that DeVos has filed with the Senate. Murray would not specify what they were looking for, because those disclosures are not public, but said they had asked DeVos for additional information. Murray said she had “pushed very hard” not to hold the hearing until DeVos had completed her agreement with the ethics office. “This is a candidate with extremely complicated financial dealings,” the senator said. “We have to know, if there are conflicts of interests, how those are going to be resolved. If we don’t have that, it’s incumbent on all of us to say we cannot vote for that.” Teachers unions have opposed her nomination, but so, too, have organizations that have fought unions.


Guns in colleges would put students, professors at risk

I remember well my first solo shift as a police officer. I was sitting in my patrol vehicle, enveloped in excitement and equipment. Sig Sauer P220 sidearm, Remington 870 shotgun, Taser, OC pepper spray, and of course, the AR-15 (M-4). Police officers know each piece of equipment intimately through years of training. Each piece of equipment secured in its proper place. Each piece of equipment, and its use, governed by myriad laws and regulations. Each piece of equipment designed to protect us and the community. Some of the equipment is designed to take a life, if necessary. When that first solo shift ended, I would immediately enter an alternate reality — one where I was a student, not an officer. It was a reality where I was safe in the classroom, free to expand and challenge my academic and conceptual limits. I entered the police academy at age 19, while at the same time attending the University of Florida. At 19, I don't think I truly realized how deeply different my two worlds were. At night, I carried a gun and protected the city of Alachua. During the day, I studied at UF. There is a concept in society, and sometimes in the Legislature, known as deference. Deference is the recognition that decisions are better made with the input, advice and experiences of other stakeholders. It is a concept that suggests, despite the rhetoric, we ought to listen to those who would be most impacted by the policy change, and by those who have special knowledge and perspective on the issue, including our constituents. This year, the Legislature will again debate allowing guns on campus. The supporters, I suspect, will cast this issue as one demanded by the Second Amendment. The opponents will attempt to sway the hearts and minds of lawmakers through passionate debate, statistics and testimony. My hope is that the Legislature will arrive at the same conclusion as last year by showing the proper deference to those affected, and let the bill die again. Certainly, our government is empowered to restrict guns on campus. Our federal and state constitutions support this position. The public, and our lawmakers, should not allow the debate over this bill to devolve into a Second Amendment tag line. This bill is about choosing what is right for our state, our professors and our students. Every Florida university president and university police chief has opposed this bill. Faculty unions and student governments have, as well, among many other parties. They have spoken about the increased costs on our budgets. They have spoken about obvious mental-health, access-to-firearms and officer-safety issues. They have spoken about a lack of need or desire for the bill. And on, and on, and on. … Our university campuses are some of the safest places in the world. Let's keep them that way. As someone who has lived in both worlds, I believe our lawmakers should respect the will of the people and keep guns off campus.


Government decision could put for-profit colleges' accreditation in jeopardy


Women to march on Tallahassee and throughout Florida


State economist: 70 percent of incentive programs losing money


Chamber backs Scott's push for incentive money


Koch brothers company argues against Scott's job incentive programs


The shootout myth at the airport


It's past time to restore ex-felons' rights


Senate bill seeks expedited hearings for district map changes


House civil justice subcommittee takes up judicial term limits


In one night, the GOP voted to take away six essential health benefits


Republicans say vote was about bridge building. Actually, it was bridge burning.


Obamacare: Dismantling could blow up 181,000 Florida jobs, study says


The GOP wants to repeal Obamacare in a fast-paced “rescue mission”


GOP governors fight their own party on Obamacare


Anxious lawmakers to GOP leaders: What’s the plan to replace Obamacare?


Rubio celebrates vote to kill Obamacare


Trump’s plan to cut drug imports could raise prices, not lower them


Trump’s medical delusions


Justice Department toughened approach on corporate crime, but will that last?


Comey letter on Clinton email is subject of Justice Department inquiry


Deutch wants update on connection between Trump campaign and Russian officials


Obama ends exemption for Cubans who arrive without visas


New federal workers could be fired without cause by Trump under legislation


Trump’s business “separation” plan does nothing of the kind


Why Trump can't let go


Trump keeps it in the family


After Trump rebuke, federal ethics chief called to testify before House lawmakers


Why Americans care about Trump’s tax returns


Fearing Trump, lawmakers try to help “dreamers” stay in the United States


Deportation force is “not happening,” Ryan tells undocumented family


Forget a wall. There’s a better way to secure the border.


Trump’s Cabinet nominees keep contradicting him


Trump’s Cabinet choices have given a lot of money to senators


Trump’s Cabinet so far is more white and male than any since Reagan’s


Democrats and allies wage fight to derail labor secretary pick


Tampa fast-food workers protest Trump pick for labor


Rubio's choice: Buck Trump or back down on Tillerson?


Mattis strikes far harsher tone than Trump on Russia


CIA nominee says he won’t balk at seeking Russian intelligence


Carson urges ending reliance on welfare in bid to be housing chief


Price drew money, support from health care industry in rise to top


Goldman Sachs completes return from wilderness to the White House


Conservatives press Trump on Supreme Court pick


Bannon’s dream: a worldwide ultra-right


Holder urges Democrats to focus on state races and reshape congressional maps


Nation’s first Latina senator: Claims of Mexican election influence are “immature”


As Trump berates news media, a new strategy is needed to cover him


The Trump and pony show


Chomsky on free speech and inquiry after the election


If Trump keeps stoking vaccine fears, he will endanger children’s lives


Obama designates civil rights monuments to preserve “vibrant history”




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