Today's news -- January 30. 2017



Lawmaker’s bill would ban annual contract guarantees *

The dozens of Florida school districts that have negotiated annual contract renewal guarantees to teachers with "effective" and "highly effective" evaluations might find themselves needing to revise their positions. State Rep. Michael Grant, a Port Charlotte Republican, filed a bill Monday to bar the practice that several districts, including Pinellas County, have adopted. HB 373 would provide that school boards may not award an annual contract "on the basis of any contingency or condition not expressly authorized." Boards also would be barred from altering or limiting their authority in granting annual contracts beyond the provisions in law. The measure would apply to collectively bargained contracts only. Teachers union leaders and lawyers have argued that offering job protections for highly rated teachers does not run afoul of the Legislature's intent to get rid of continuing contracts. They suggested that lawmakers wanted to reward top performing educators, and that contractual provisions to grant those teachers another year of employment would meet such goals. But some legislative leaders and district officials have countered that the statute is clear in stating there would be no automatic renewals, noting that amendments offered to soften the language have regularly been defeated. The Pasco County school district has taken that line of reasoning in the face of union demands. This bill could clarify the issue once and for all. It does not yet have a Senate companion, though, and Grant does not sit on any education-related committees.


Lawmakers seek ways to attract, keep teachers *

Florida's teachers may get more money as lawmakers look for ways to keep educators from fleeing the profession. The state Senate is studying ways to revamp a teacher bonus program and provide other incentives to attract and keep teachers.

Among the proposals:

•Increase the annual budget of the Best and Brightest scholarship from $49 million to as much as $250 million, while revising the criteria. That program, which offers bonuses of up to $10,000, has been controversial because it's based partly on how well teachers performed on the SAT or ACT tests they took in high school.

•Offer large bonuses or supplements to teachers who work in low-performing and high poverty schools. A state analysis found that a disproportionate number of teachers in wealthy and high-performing schools qualified for the Best and Brightest bonuses.

•Give principals more authority to give bonuses or merit pay to top performing teachers, instead of using state evaluations that rely heavily on the standardized test scores of students.

•Allow retired teachers to return to the classroom sooner. Right now, state law requires them to sit out six months before they can be rehired, which has led districts to start recruiting retired teachers from other states. Another proposal would allow teachers who have already entered a five-year deferred retirement program to extend their tenure an extra two years.

•Forgive a portion of student loans for each year a Florida teacher works in the classroom.

More than 1,000 teachers left Broward County schools last year, not including retirees. And almost 780 left Palm Beach County schools. It is part of a nationwide teaching shortage and represents a 45 percent jump compared with just three years ago. At the same time, the number of students seeking teaching degrees in Florida universities has plummeted. It went from about 13,900 students in 2010 to less than 9,300 students last year, about a 30 percent drop. At the same time, overall K-12 enrollment in Florida grew by about 5 percent. Several schools superintendents, including Robert Avossa of Palm Beach County, met with the Senate higher education appropriations committee to brainstorm ways to improve teacher pay. Teacher salaries in South Florida range from about $40,000 for starting teachers to about $73,000 for veteran teachers. Avossa told the committee that Palm Beach County is recruiting in Michigan, New York, New Jersey and other states because there aren't enough graduates coming from Florida. The school district was only able to secure 40 graduates from Florida Atlantic University, a small fraction of what was needed, Avossa said. Kenny Minchew, an American history teacher at Westpine Middle in Sunrise, said a major problem is the state's heavy focus on testing. Teacher evaluations and pay can be based largely on how well students score on a standardized test. "My whole career, my mortgage, my car payment all hinge on whether little Johnny passes a test," he said. "Who wants to go into a profession like that? Colleges of education are drying up. You'd think state leaders would realize some of the policies they have in place have created it."


Expand and alter “best and brightest”, senator says *

Florida should expand and alter its controversial Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship program, giving bonuses to more teachers and relying less -- or maybe not at all --on their old ACT or SAT scores, state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said Wednesday. Simmons, at a meeting in Tallahassee, asked a panel of superintendents their views on the two-year-old bonus program, which aims to help schools recruit and retain top teachers. The veteran Seminole County lawmaker promised last month that the bonus program would get new scrutiny and proposed revisions in his pre-K-12 budget committee, and Wednesday's meeting kicked off that effort. "I think there are ways to expand that program, and I think there are ways to obviously improve it," Simmons said. Simmons said last week that he admired the "concept" of the program created two years ago in the Florida House. But he said it should benefit more teachers, perhaps by boosting funding from $49 million to $250 million. And he said the test-score requirement should likely be altered or deleted. Under the current program, teachers need ACT or SAT scores that put them in the top 20 percent of test takers the year they took the exams. Experienced teachers also need to be evaluated as "highly effective" but new teacher can get the bonuses solely based on test scores. Eight percent of this year's winners were brand new to the profession. Tying the bonuses to the test scores has been the most controversial part of the bonus program, which some have also criticized for failing to lure top-notch teachers to schools with the most struggling students.


House member wants alternatives to high-stakes tests *

Florida Senate leaders have made the big splash this legislative season in talking about the need to scale back student testing. State Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Citrus County Republican, has been busy filing legislation to make it happen, and hoping a senator will join him with companion bills. Massullo's first bill proposes doing away with a required physical education test for high school student-athletes. His second measure, filed Tuesday, would give high schoolers a way to earn their standard diploma without passing the Algebra I end-of-course exam or the tenth-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessment. HB 407 would allow students who have earned 24 credits and maintained a 2.0 or better grade point average to still graduate, if they earn a related industry certification, complete a portfolio of classroom performance or gain an adequate score on an alternate test such as an Advanced Placement exam or the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test. "We still have almost 20 percent of kids who don't graduate from high school. That's sad, because you put a scarlet letter on them," Massullo said. "To give them a few alternative pathways provides them a way to build up their esteem in a legitimate way." He suggested that the added options could build students' vocational abilities, making them better prepared for careers if they don't go to college, while not turning back on any academic standards the state has adopted. At the same time, he said, the effort makes state government less of a gatekeeper in students' lives. "Government should be less intrusive, more local, and people should have more individual freedom," Massullo said.

Gradebook podcast: Florida lawmakers take on testing, teacher pay and more


2017 is chance “for us to blow open school choice”

Ardent school choice supporters who are in charge of K-12 education policy and spending in the Florida House say 2017 is their year and they don't aim to waste it. "It's a wonderful foundation that we've created in Florida" for school choice, House education committee chairman Michael Bileca, R-Miami, said Thursday. "That foundation, we can't take for granted; that foundation is an envy of the rest of the country, where they point to us. It's incumbent upon us to understand and appreciate this platform but not be satisfied with it -- not be satisfied with incremental opportunities for our kids but really be focused on transformational opportunities." House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, agreed: "What you're seeing right now is an opportunity for us to really blow open some of those school choice opportunities, blow open some of those opportunities that may be outside the box that everyone is always trying to block." Bileca and Diaz were both featured speakers last week at a luncheon in honor of National School Choice Week put on by the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, a public policy research organization that advocates for school choice education policies.


State education commissioner offers budget cutting ideas to House panel


Florida lawmakers continue to file education-related bills


Senate to consider public school “religious liberties” bill


House leaders: Raising good citizens should be education's mission


Teachers, employees protest Polk School Board impasse with unions (Marianne Capoziello, Sarah Fortney and Rhea McKinney quoted)


At impasse hearing, Manatee school district, union clash over priorities (Bruce Proud quoted)


Teachers in Osceola call for raises (Apryle Jackson quoted)


Duval teacher’s lawyer threatens federal suit (Chris Guerrieri quoted)


Son of Pinellas teacher's union president remains in critical condition after crash (Mike Gandolfo quoted)


Lake school employee union and School Board reach agreement


DeVos is an enemy of public schools (by Karla Hernandez-Mats)


Teachers going #RedforEd in protest of DeVos as secretary of education (NEA mentioned)


Educators, allies nationwide rally for their public schools while defying privatizers (NEA and AFT mentioned)


Education nominee DeVos has deep Florida ties (FEA mentioned)


Teachers, parents, kids protest DeVos education nomination ahead of Senate vote


Progressives launch last-minute push against DeVos


The Trump war on public schools


DeVos’ big education idea doesn’t work


The DeVos education confirmation hearing was rather remarkable


Franken: No Democrat will vote for DeVos and we’re seeking Republicans to oppose


Can Democrats stop DeVos’ confirmation? Not likely, sources say.


Ravitch to Alexander: Yes, DeVos is an education extremist


What taxpayers should know about the cost of school choice


The key Common Core questions no senator asked DeVos to answer


Sanders to DeVos: Would you be education nominee if you weren’t a billionaire?


Teachers have some tough questions for DeVos


Four more questions for the next secretary of education


Hundreds of students, alumni from DeVos’ Christian college oppose her nomination


Trump’s vision of education begins and ends with schools being bad


What Trump said when he signed nomination papers for DeVos


Florida NAACP ponders role of charter schools (Randi Weingarten quoted)


Teacher of the Year asks: Can we stop denigrating teachers now?


Focusing state accountability systems more on high achievers may backfire


Positive school cultures thrive when support staff included


NEA’s legislative report card confirms that bipartisanship can work for students (Marc Egan quoted)


What Pence doesn’t like to admit about Indiana’s school voucher program


Guns don’t belong on campus *

In 2017, the Florida Legislature will be considering one of the most frightening proposals in recent history -- allowing guns to be carried on college campuses. While the rationale is to provide students with weapons to defend themselves, the unintended consequences over time can be predictably tragic. Most college students fall into an age range where they are still developing emotional and cognitive maturity. They not only lack life experiences, but some research suggests that the full capacity for abstract thinking is not achieved until about 24 years of age for many individuals. Abstract thinking is the ability to cognitively visualize, understand and anticipate a behavioral outcome without going through the actions in real life. Failure to think through possible outcomes of one’s behavior can lead to disastrous consequences. For example, in Kentucky a group of young people came across a construction tractor that still had the keys in the ignition. They thought that it would be funny to block a highway with it and then watch the traffic jam that it would create. Their humor turned to horror when the first car failed to stop in time, killing two parents in the front seat and creating two orphans in the back seat. This kind of thoughtless behavior by these young people is not atypical of this age, and it demonstrates how having guns in their unsupervised possession can be a recipe for calamity. College students are also in the process of developing emotional maturity, and having easy access to a deadly weapon is the last thing that they need. When young persons are beset with anger, jealousy, embarrassment, humiliation, rejection or similar emotions, reason commonly is overwhelmed by emotion. It is no time for them to have access to a weapon of violence. A building on the FSU campus is named for a professor who was shot to death because he gave a student a failing grade. Another factor that should be considered is the presence of alcohol and drug experimentation frequently associated with college students. These substances diminish self-control and the capacity to think rationally. Loaded guns should not be a part of their environment. Obviously, the tragic mass killings that occurred on some of our college campuses are a motivating factor for legalizing “campus carry.” It is reasonably assumed that if the victims had been armed, some lives would have been saved. Common sense suggests, however, that if legalization occurs, more lives may be lost over time because of accidents and poor anger management than from a lone gunman on a rampage. The university presidents and campus security units are on record as saying this is a bad idea. Every professor with whom I have talked is appalled at the idea of a student sitting in class with a gun in his or her possession. Our campuses are filled with bright, gifted students with wonderful qualities. However, most also are young persons in the process of growing up and acquiring maturity. Their guns belong at home, and not in the collegiate milieu.


Gun bill targets college campuses (again)


FSU Faculty Senate opposes campus carry


Senate's higher ed overhaul sails through first panel

A Senate plan for changes to the state’s public colleges and universities sailed smoothly through its first panel hearing last week. Questions mostly centered on how schools could implement block tuition and use a four-year graduation rate as part of the state’s higher ed accountability system. Block tuition means students pay a fixed price for a certain number of classes. But Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, wants to know whether it could backfire. "You pay for 12 hours and it’s all you can eat, or will people have to pay for 15 hours and if they’re taking 12 they’re actually had a tuition increase?” he asked bill sponsor, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

Galvano says he doesn't want to see that happen. Some schools are concerned block tuition could hurt working, low-income students and those with families. The state would also have to use four-year graduation rate to measure schools, instead of the widely accepted six-year rate. Association of Florida Colleges Executive Director Michael Brawer worries the change could impact his schools. Community and state colleges serve high numbers of non-traditional students--those who are older, working or have families.


Universities, colleges paint depressing picture of 10 percent cuts


Don't drain Florida universities to cut taxes


FAMU faculty could see pay, promotion increase in new contract (Elizabeth Davenport quoted)


BOG chair says universities must focus on preparing students for jobs


Bill would require Florida universities to charge flat rate tuition


Florida college campuses swamped by students who need counseling


University system eyes building projects


State colleges see surge in bachelor degrees, but is it too much of a good thing?


Florida gets mixed grades on doctorate degrees


Smith’s “Restore Our Bright Futures” act aims to help more students go to college


Florida Polytechnic moves toward accreditation


Finalist withdraws candidacy to be FGCU's president


Rommel bill would shield college searches from Sunshine Laws


Florida Coastal law school fails Feds’ gainful employment test


New report highlights impact of high textbook costs on college affordability


Report decries political influence in judiciary

A new report released last week by Progress Florida, a left-leaning policy advocacy group, is sharply critical of creeping political influence in the state’s judiciary, as well as its lack of ethnic and racial diversity. The report argues that changes made in 2001 to the bodies that send the governor a list of judicial nominees from which to name an appointee, Judicial Nominating Commissions, undermines the merit selection process. It also says the changes subvert the 1970s reforms that were aimed at picking appellate judges based on who has the best qualifications rather than who best aligns with the governor politically. The report also criticizes the disproportionately low number of Hispanic and African-American judges, faulting Gov. Rick Scott in particular for doing nothing to help. While 22 percent of the state is Hispanic, and 16 percent African-American, the report found that fewer than 9 percent of judges are Hispanic, and fewer than 7 percent are African American. Further, the report argued there’s “too much money” in judicial elections, with $56.4 million spent in 2011 and 2012, and criticized lawmakers for “repeatedly” attacking the courts, from efforts in 2011 to split the court into separate civil and criminal courts to advocating for judicial term limits -- a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. "Instead of tackling the real threats of special interest money tainting judicial elections and lack of diversity on the court, the legislature is pushing for judicial term limits,” the report reads. The report lists nine recommendations, including moving to merit selection for all levels of the judiciary, to "preserve the independence of Florida’s judiciary and ensure diversity reflective of the citizens of our state on the courts.”


Judicial term limits filed in House


You won at the polls! Get ready for revenge


Obamacare sign-ups strong in state despite uncertainty


Aetna was actually making money off Obamacare in Florida, ruling reveals


Scott pitches $618 million in tax cuts, but lawmakers not buying


Scott's tax cut plan is misguided


Floridians’ tax dollars at work -- but not for them


Scott wants to give prison guards a raise


Scott to roll out his spending plan


Scott to host economic summit in Orlando


Legislature mulls closing FRS defined benefit plan to new cities


Workers’ compensation debate turns to employees’ point of view


Services for elderly facing state cuts


Fix Florida's foster care system


Report highlights DCF woes but way forward less clear


Gun violence takes toll on the mental health of young people


Children’s advocates question spending by Juvenile Justice


Federal hiring freeze could harm Panhandle economy


Report: Visit Florida spent money on questionable contracts


Corcoran targets tourism councils, college foundations


Scott pitches ethics changes to Corcoran


Florida Democrats walk out on hearing to protest “racist” speaker


Trump’s first week in office leaves labor worried about an internal split


Don’t let Trump roll back gains for workers (by Richard Trumka)


Trump is obsessed with trade -- but it’s not a major cause of job loss


Communications union escalates effort to organize bank staff


The Women's Marches may have been largest demonstration in U.S. history


The Women’s March succeeded because it spoke to women’s outrage


Why the Women’s March may be the start of a serious social movement


A brief history of women’s protests


AFT members turn out in force for historic protests (Randi Weingarten quoted)


A first-person account of the Inauguration Day protest and Women's March


National group from Florida asks marchers to fight for Equal Rights Amendment


Trump inspired a movement, all right


The onset of the Trump era and the protests it inspired


Trump’s war on women begins


Behind closed doors, GOP lawmakers fret about how to repeal Obamacare


Poll: Americans fear they’ll lose coverage with Obamacare repeal


Reversing course, Trump administration will continue Obamacare outreach


Ryan: GOP will replace Obamacare, cut taxes and fund wall by August


The Affordable Care Act saved our daughter's life


Obamacare was a boon for many restaurant workers. Now what, they wonder?


House Republicans vote to make abortion unaffordable for millions of women


Clinics for world’s vulnerable brace for Trump’s anti-abortion cuts

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