Today's news -- July 7, 2017




Broward right to fight charter school giveaway *

The Broward County school district isn't always smart the way it handles money — just look at what's happened with the $800 million bond issue. But the School Board is right to spend $25,000 on initial fees to fight the big wet kiss the Legislature gave to charter schools, at the expense of public schools. Broward is the first school district to sue over the passage of House Bill 7069, which basically was the Legislature giving all sorts of gifts to charter schools — public schools that are privately managed, often by for-profit companies. Public schools in Florida have been getting the shaft for a while, and HB 7069 will only make things worse. The law steers millions of dollars to charter school operators, by making districts share property tax and setting up a fund for the "Schools of Hope" program. Under the law, charters would get funds to help open in areas where elementary and middle schools have been rated D or F at least three years in a row. Those charters wouldn't have to adhere to rules like class size -- rules that public schools have had to abide. Bottom line is the Legislature is getting too cushy with charter school operators and giving them money public schools need. And there is the matter of the constitution. Charters are not permitted to collect property tax, but HB 7069 lets charters share in property tax revenue. As you might expect, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a big proponent of HB 7069, ripped the Broward School Board. "This is another example of the educational bureaucracy putting the adults who administer the schools ahead of the children who attend the schools," Corcoran said. Considering how much state business Corcoran and his buddies were doing behind closed doors during the session, I don't feel like listening to their whining. Charter schools serve a definite purpose. They make public schools strive to be better. But public schools are the lifeblood of any community. Too bad the Florida Legislature doesn't treat them that way. I say sue away.


Will lawmakers punish for challenge to HB 7069? *

Shortly after the Broward County School Board voted Wednesday to sue the Florida Legislature over its controversial education bill, speculation quickly turned to which other boards might join the cause. Many seemed to be waiting to see if anyone would jump first before committing, Florida School Boards Association executive director Andrea Messina said. They're likely to start the conversations now, Messina suggested. But she added a caveat: If lawmakers seek retribution against the boards that get involved — and let's not forget committees resume their work in September — others might shy away. No one has issued any threat. But if history serves as a guide, that direction is not out of the question. Consider:

State leaders justified their moves each time largely as budgetary needs. But the efforts came after school boards publicly disputed the Legislature's education policy or funding decisions. Will it happen this year? Again, not a single person has hinted at any such move. People with long memories recalled the past actions, though, and are at least watching for any reaction.


Palm Beach to consider suing over charter bill *

Palm Beach County School Board members will be asked this month to decide whether to sue the state over House Bill 7069, a controversial education bill that steers more money towards charter schools, the county’s schools superintendent said. Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said Thursday that he will ask board members July 19 to weigh whether to join Broward County’s public school system in challenging the new law in court. Avossa said that school district attorneys have been conferring with Broward’s lawyers as well as attorneys for other school boards around the state. But to join the lawsuit, school board members would need to give the go-ahead. “I need to talk to the board on the 19th of July,” Avossa said. “We’ve been collaborating with the other (school districts) via phone.” The sweeping bill became a lightning rod for criticism from the state’s superintendents and public school teachers, and in May the county school board took the unusual step of asking the county’s more than 200,000 public school parents to pressure Scott to veto it. Scott nonetheless signed the bill in June, saying it “paves the way for every Florida student to receive a world-class education that every student deserves.” The sweeping 274-page education overhaul redirects more than $400 million in state money and makes a host of changes to Florida’s public-school landscape, including eliminating a state math exam, requiring most public elementary schools to offer daily recess, and providing more money for teacher bonuses and a school-voucher program for students with disabilities. But teachers unions and school district leaders were enraged by provisions that force school districts to share construction money with charter schools and create financial incentives for new charters to open and compete with low-performing public schools The provision that most angered Avossa and other school district leaders is one that allows the county’s charter schools to take a slice of the money that school districts raise for construction and maintenance through a local property tax. In Palm Beach County, that provision will cost the school district an estimated $10 million next year, or about 2 percent of the district’s roughly $400 million capital budget. That figure is expected to rise as the number of charter schools grows. Not only does the provision complicate the school district’s plans to build new schools, administrators say that it risks lowering the school district’s credit rating and raising the cost of borrowing money for future projects.


You paid for it: Pinellas charter school exec charged with racketeering, fraud


Law allows folks to go after evolution and climate change

Check the calendar: 2017, the year Florida relegated evolution to a tenuous supposition. Some 92 years after a substitute high school teacher named John T. Snopes stood trial for exposing students to Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection, Florida intends to force local school boards to re-litigate the old conflict between religious fundamentalism and modern science. Last month, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that will allow any county resident to challenge public school teaching materials they personally find unsuitable, inappropriate or pornographic. The law requires school boards to hire hearing officers to deal with complaints. Scott signed another throwback bill in May, making way for more Old Time Religion in public schools. Critics like the Anti-Defamation League warn that, along with a long list of other worries, the Religious Expressions Act would allow classroom teachers to “engage in proselytizing speech or prayer, or speech denigrating religion in the classroom or on campus during the school day with students as young as five years old.” There’s no mention of evolution, of course, in the teaching materials law Scott signed June 26 (just three days before Turkey’s governing religious fundamentalists announced that evolution would no longer be taught in Turkish schools). The bill allows county residents -- any local resident with a bug up his nose, not just parents -- to challenge instructional materials. But affidavits filed in favor of the bill by the Naples group Florida Citizens Alliance made it plain that school districts will soon be forced to deal with objections to that evolution stuff. One typical affidavit cited the “presentation of evolution as fact with no clarifying that this is an unproven theory, and that there are other beliefs as to the origin of life.” The complainant added, “Most Americans believe that the world and the beings living on it were created by God as revealed in the Bible.” Textbooks and other teaching materials that broach global warming will also be targeted. “Contrary to the ‘conventional’ wisdom (which is, contrarily, NOT accepted by a vast majority of Americans, nor even by the vast majority of scientists! Look it up!), the ‘consensus’ is in fact that, while global warming (and cooling) has occurred and may be occurring (although literally no warming in the last 16 years), it is not caused by human actions.” Brandon Haught of the Florida Citizens for Science worries that fervent groups of anti-science crusaders will use the law to essentially pester school districts into submission. Haught, a high school biology teacher from Volusia County and author of the 2014 book “Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom,” said that the activists behind the bill also intend to go after history and civics materials that don’t conform to their ultra-conservative, America First world view. It’s clear from the affidavits that they’re worried that anti-Christian Marxism and Islamic ideology have seeped into textbooks. They also rave about school children exposed to “pornographic” reading lists, though their definition of pornography seems rather elastic. Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Beloved” and Cristina Garcia’s critically acclaimed “Dreaming in Cuban” were both the object of considerable pique. So school boards are now required by law to find a hearing officer to handle these complaints. Brandon said that the Florida Citizens Alliance told lawmakers they need not worry about the costs of hiring hearing officers. “They said their members would volunteer to hear the cases,” he said, with a weary laugh. Vice News reported in April that at least five other state legislatures were considering measures designed to rid school curriculums of inconvenient science, mostly material dealing with climate change. David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teacher Association, told Vice that anti-science legislators were using the same language they once employed in their crusade against evolution. With Florida’s new law, the anti-science mob will be able to go after both. Censoring Toni Morrison, I guess, is just a bonus.


Teachers fired over state test they keep failing


My school would have expelled me for who I am. Why should it get federal money?


Trump can post a violent video with impunity — but a public school official couldn’t


States sue over delay of rule to protect students from predatory colleges (Randi Weingarten quoted) (Lily Eskelsen García quoted)


Lawsuit demands state pay up on $1 billion in donation matches to state schools


Proposed federal policy would cripple university research


When cutting-edge research labs get old, they face a new kind of challenge


International students are still planning to enroll in U.S. colleges, study finds


Economist sees Florida economy pushing above $1 trillion next year


Where are our champions for open government?


Revised forecast projects more intense hurricane season


Morgan sues state on medical marijuana


Thousands go on record opposing Trump move for oil drilling in Atlantic


Progress Florida opposes Trump’s plan for seismic testing off coast


Prepare to fight over offshore drilling


Trump’s job growth could be slower than Obama’s


Labor market adds 222,000 jobs


No, Seattle’s $15 minimum wage is not hurting workers


Missouri Republicans lower St. Louis minimum wage from $10 to $7.70


Federal employee civil service protections outdated? The experts speak.


Trump voter panel names revealed, plan to store data at White House


Why Trump's voter fraud hunt is his own personal pipe dream


Florida to Trump election panel: We’ll only give up voter info that's already public


Where have we seen Trump’s voter witch hunt before? In Scott’s Florida.


Election experts worry Trump commission could repeat Florida errors


Trump readies for his turn with Putin


Trump and Putin meet today. Here are six things to watch.


Trump misleads on Russian meddling


What does Trump mean when he says “other countries” hacked the election?


Eight times intelligence chiefs have unequivocally said Russia meddled in election


Here’s the public evidence that supports the idea that Russia interfered in election


Democrats demand that Trump confront Putin over hacking


For Russia, Trump-Putin meeting is a sure winner


Trump’s leaks crackdown sends chills through national security world


Russia steps up spying efforts after election


FBI documents detail how the Russians try to recruit spies


Senate Obamacare repeal vote unlikely next week


Medicaid’s vital role for children in Trump country


Medicaid cuts would make it harder for schools to help students with disabilities


McConnell says GOP must shore up ACA insurance markets if Senate bill dies


The GOP tried to troll Hillary Clinton. It backfired spectacularly.


More Democrats embrace universal coverage -- and the GOP goes on the attack


The hidden subsidy that helps pay for health insurance


Paul and Trump’s wild health care ride


The reason Republican health-care plans are doomed to fail


Attack of the Republican decepticons


A town hall in Kansas shows Republican struggles with health-care bill


Obamacare repeal could cut 78,000 Florida jobs, $8 billion from economy


Rubio takes $2.5 million from health industry, misuses dying kid's story


Activists lobby Rubio for a no vote


Faith leaders to Mast: Don't vote for Obamacare repeal


Lawson: Change will come, someday, for Obamacare


ICE officers told to go after undocumented regardless of criminal history


Judge rejects Hawaii bid to exempt grandparents from Trump’s travel ban


Justice Department calls out “sanctuary cities” over compliance with law


Despite promises, Florida police are acting like ICE agents, separating families


Interior aims to speed oil and gas permitting on public lands


How climate skepticism turned into something more dangerous


Government ethics chief resigns, with parting shot at Trump


Surprise us, Mr. Trump: Name an ethics watchdog with teeth


As elites switch to texting, watchdogs fear loss of transparency


Zinke met with industry officials shortly before delaying methane rule


Trump administration to name Georgia health official as new CDC director


Hackers are targeting nuclear facilities, Homeland Security and FBI say


Trump vowed to wipe out the trade deficit. He hasn’t made much progress.


Trump’s speech in Poland sounded like an alt-right manifesto


Trump’s white-nationalist dog whistles in Warsaw


Trump affirms the Polish government’s assault on democracy


Trump’s dangerous thirst for a clash of civilizations


Trump’s nationalist warning contrasts with European leaders’ optimism at G-20


As Europe and Japan strengthen trade ties, U.S. risks losing its voice


Memo reveals Trump isn’t telling the full story on Afghan troop levels


Ethics group files complaint against Kushner over not disclosing interest in startup


Trump attacks media abroad, could inspire international crackdown on free press


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