Court battle heats up over merit pay

The lawsuit challenging Florida’s law that ties teachers’ pay to student performance lay dormant in the state courts for about a year, but it’s gotten more interesting as its days in a Leon County courtroom approach this week. Members of the Florida Education Association first challenged Senate Bill 736 in the fall of 2011, and Circuit Judge John Cooper is set to hear that challenge Wednesday in a Leon County Courtroom. At first, the legal battle was simple: The teachers argued the changes undermined their job security, and the legislature violated their right to collective bargaining when it passed the law. The state denied those arguments. But that changed this past November. The state hired an outside law firm, which has opened up new legal terrain and challenged some of the facts at the center of the teacher’s argument. The state’s new lawyer, Michael Mattimore of the law firm Allen, Norton and Blue, has asserted that the teachers lack standing to sue over collective bargaining issues. He also argues in court papers that the teachers waived their right to sue when they signed agreements with their school districts under their applications for federal Race to the Top grants. Ron Meyer, the attorney for the Florida Education Association, has responded that the state is raising its new arguments too late (after months of legal back-and-forth and weeks before the case was set to be argued in court).  Meyer argues in recent court papers that Mattimore’s claims are “futile” and “not legally meritorious.” For one thing, he writes, the local Race to the Top agreements are not directly tied to a law signed later by Gov. Rick Scott. Cooper is scheduled to host the two sides in his courtroom for a brief hearing this morning to sort out the procedural dispute before the main event Wednesday afternoon. Meyer’s law firm has posted the court documents from the case on its website.


Educators want more specifics from Scott

“Education changed my life," Gov. Rick Scott said Monday. His young life, yes. His political life? Not yet. Two years in junior college led Scott to the Navy, then a four-year degree on the GI Bill and a law degree led to success in business. "Education was the ticket," Scott told 200 members of the Florida Association of School Administrators at their annual legislative conference.  They included principals, assistant principals, curriculum directors and deputy school superintendents. After the tragedy in Connecticut last month, they want safer schools. They also want teachers to be evaluated fairly and they want more money for schools. "Look, I support education," Scott said. But these middle-aged educators from all over the state are not easily impressed. "I love measurement," Scott said, and you could see his listeners taking the measure of a man trying to prove how committed he is to a better public education system. They are waiting for Scott to put our money where his mouth is. But he gave too few specifics, some said. He agreed that a flawed teacher evaluation system needs to be reviewed "to make sure that it's done right." Grady Cannon, assistant principal of Pace High near Pensacola, asked if the state will find the money to put resource officers in every school. Scott said it's a local decision because each school district is different and flexibility is important. "I didn't really hear what I wanted to hear, but it wasn't a no," said Cannon, who wrote the governor a letter pleading that he reinstitute resource officers in all schools and add security cameras and two-way radios for support staff. "We've got to have a legitimate conversation about school safety. What's the right way of doing it?" Scott told the group without offering his vision of what that means. Scott also touted his plan to give $250 debit cards to teachers so they don't have to buy classroom items, and one educator asked if this were new money or would "supplant" existing funds. Scott deferred to his education adviser, Kim McDougal, who said it's a rebranding of a program called Teacher Lead that gives teachers on average $180 for those expenses. "Unfortunately the Legislature and governors have gotten no credit for it," McDougal said, "so we're going to rebrand to call it the Teacher Award Supply Fund." A long, slow murmur swept through the crowd, and it didn't sound like approval. "Look," Scott said as the murmuring subsided. "The way I look at it is, whatever we do, it's not going to be enough." Principal Susan Keller of Tarpon Springs Middle School was not very impressed.  "It's just being called something different," Keller said of the classroom supply program. "It's not anything different. They've been getting that money for a long time."


Scott and Legislature to examine school security


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Superintendent says she wasn't trying to rush through Hillsborough school guard plan


Manatee schools audit finds chaos


Gulf school levy vote set for March 5


Education-related bills filed in the Florida House


Report says Florida a national leader in charter school growth -- another says it’s not fast enough


Public education is fundamental to betterment of Florida and its people


Jeb Bush in Nashville to push school choice (Mark Pudlow quoted)


UF ranks third in nation for public college value, report says


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Stopping wage theft


It's decision time on federal health care plan


Environmental protection at stake in high court case


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After 2010 campaign, Scott ditched dog


401(k) breaches undermining retirement security for millions

A large and growing share of American workers are tapping their retirement savings accounts for non-retirement needs, raising broad questions about the effectiveness of one of the most important savings vehicles for old age. More than one in four American workers with 401(k) and other retirement savings accounts use them to pay current expenses, new data show. The withdrawals, cash-outs and loans drain nearly a quarter of the $293 billion that workers and employers deposit into the accounts each year, undermining already shaky retirement security for millions of Americans. With federal policymakers eyeing cuts to Social Security benefits and Medicare to rein in soaring federal deficits, and traditional pensions in a long decline, retirement savings experts say the drain from the accounts has dire implications for future retirees. “We’re going from bad to worse,” said Diane Oakley, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security. “Already, fewer private-sector workers have access to stable pension plans. And the savings in individual retirement savings accounts like 401(k) plans -- which already are severely underfunded -- continue to leak out at a high rate.” A report due out this week from the financial advisory firm HelloWallet found that more than one in four workers dip into retirement funds to pay their mortgages, credit card debt or other bills. Those in their 40s have been the most likely culprits -- one-third are turning to such accounts for relief. Fresh data from Vanguard, one of the nation’s largest 401(k) managers, show a 12 percent increase in the number of workers who took loans against their retirement accounts or withdrew money outright since 2008. The most common way Americans tap their retirement funds is through loans, which must be repaid with interest. Those who withdraw money face hefty penalties. In most cases, they not only incur a 10 percent federal tax penalty but also pay capital gains taxes. The costs are financially harmful to families even as ­money-management firms reap massive fees for handling retirement accounts that ultimately are not used for retirement.


Obama: No negotiations with GOP over debt ceiling

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