Today's news -- June 1, 2017




Transparency was empty promise in 2017 session * (by Marshall Ogletree)
“The Florida House, in adopting these rules, will take a transformational leap into a new era of accountability, professionalism, transparency, and fairness.”

- Speaker Richard Corcoran, November 10, 2016

What a difference six months later! The 2017 legislative session ended in an atmosphere of secrecy and legislative surprises. Seventy-two hours prior to the 63rd day of the extended session, Friday night surprises appeared. Two education bills of almost 300 pages each were offered to the Legislature as “take it or leave it” conforming bills. These bills added numerous substantive policy issues that did not conform to any budget item in the General Appropriations Act. In SB 374, the higher education conforming bill, several issues, with no budget nexus, were added without the knowledge of anyone other than the budget negotiators. The four-year graduation rate for preeminence was changed from 50 percent to 60 percent without discussion or public input and the new benchmarks were delayed a year. Another last second addition was requiring the Board of Governors to study university performance funding — which was developed by the Board. A study is a good idea but where was the transparency? Why wasn’t an independent entity chosen to study the performance funding model? One of the more cynical elements of the conference committee meetings was the opportunity for public testimony. That sounds great, but the public did not even have a copy of the bill to review prior to the meeting. I have lobbied for almost 40 years, both full-time and part-time, and I have never seen a less transparent conclusion to any session. This is especially frustrating as the session was billed on unprecedented transparency and fairness. This doesn’t mean there were never surprises in the past, but I do not ever recall, for example, a defeated measure being added to a conference committee report. Substantive issues important to the public should never be passed in a budget conforming bill. That is incongruous with the notion of transparency. Finally, I do concur with the Senate that state employees deserve a long overdue pay raise. But the Senate “traded” two significant issues for the pay raise. Those may have long-term impacts not only on state employees, but also university faculty due to changes in state employee health insurance, and all 630,000 members of the Florida Retirement System due to a change in the default choice being defined investment instead of defined pension. These very important issues were all embedded in SB 7022, another budget conforming bill. State employee pay raises, in the past, were agreed upon and placed in the budget. SB 7022 was necessary because Speaker Corcoran would not agree to pay raises on merit alone. This was not only wrong, but also showed no empathy for those who work in state and local government. In all these ways, transparency and openness were empty promises. It really was a demonstration of a Legislature that disregards process for political expediency. Floridians deserve better!


Scott has 15 days to wield veto power over Florida's $82 billion budget (FEA mentioned)


Backstage talks heat up as Scott, Corcoran try to save priorities


Critics hate ‘scam’ education bill. Will Scott veto it?

It’s being called legislation by “scam” — and that’s not the worst critique of the new education bill that the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature has now approved. Will Republican Gov. Rick Scott veto it, as school superintendents, school boards, public school advocates and even some Republicans are advocating? The legislation, known as House Bill 7069, was passed by both the Florida House and Senate at the end of their legislative sessions without time for serious consideration or debate, but rather this way, as a piece in the Orlando Sentinel explains: “Instead of carefully considering education proposals one at a time, Republican leaders went behind closed doors to cram 35 different proposals — rules on everything from sunscreen use to charter-schools incentives — into a single, 278-page, take-it-or-leave-it bill unveiled at the last minute. For me to simply reprint the bill, it would take 75 columns this size … and you still wouldn’t get to the part where legislators want to siphon money away from traditional schools until column No. 46.” Among other things, the legislation funds public education at levels that some superintendents say won’t support their public school districts, promotes public school privatization and expands a highly controversial multimillion-dollar program that rewards teachers who had high standardized test scores when they were in high school. (Really.) There are parts of the bill that a good deal of the public supports, such as mandatory recess for elementary school, but the bad parts as well as the legislative process, critics say, outweigh the good. Scott has not said what he will do, but his office recently released information indicating that public response has been mostly negative. As the Miami Herald put it: “By a margin of at least 3-1 so far, Floridians are telling Gov. Rick Scott they want him to veto a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill House Republicans pushed through at the end of session, according to information requested from Scott’s office Thursday evening.” Legislative leaders still haven’t sent the bill over to Scott’s office, perhaps waiting to see what he will do with the state budget that just hit the governor’s desk. There is no love lost between Scott and Rep. Richard Corcoran, the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives who was a champion of the legislation, and some Florida observers say Scott will end up vetoing it as a slap at Corcoran as well as because of the public outcry. The Florida Association of District School Superintendents sent Scott a letter saying the legislation would harm public schools and make it harder to recruit effective teachers, while Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, wrote this in an op-ed in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “If a civics class student submitted a paper on the recent Florida legislative session, I would send it back for a rewrite. In my last Sun Sentinel op-ed, I explained my concerns regarding cuts in educational funding, especially to the Base Student Allocation, which will create a budget deficit for Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) of nearly $7 million. We thought the budget cuts couldn’t get any worse. To our surprise, they did. A separate 274-page education bill (HB 7069) was introduced and passed during the final hours of the legislative session. HB 7069 was passed with no real opportunity for vetting or public input, and no changes were allowed. Beyond the question regarding process, our greatest concern is how this further erodes our District finances and how this erosion could have devastating long-term consequences. Simply put, this is yet another example of an education bill that does not prioritize public education. The Legislature may have had good intentions in its initial proposal, such as a reduction in statewide assessments, but the bad provisions far outweigh the good, making the bill unacceptable.” The Orlando Sentinel piece described the legislation as a “scam”: “Imagine for a moment that you went to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread. But when you got there, the store manager said the only way you could buy bread would be for you to also buy a gallon of milk, 10 packs of adult diapers, a box of Popsicles, some day-old pastries, a 5-pound pork butt, three gallons of orange juice, a tin of anchovies and a fistful of lottery tickets. That would sound like a scam, right? Well, welcome to the way the Florida Legislature handled public education this year — legislation by scam.” A high school student named Jonathan Suarez, who is enrolled at the School for Advanced Studies in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, urged Scott to veto the legislation in a letter that said in part: “The part of this bill that causes the most insecurity to me, as a student, and so many others is how little time was allowed to properly debate and discuss this massive 278-page bill, a fact that caused Senator David Simmons — a Republican who favors most of the provisions in this bill — to vote against the bill. The process and little time given for the public and other senators to properly read the bill compromises the integrity of our own political process. Democracy requires adequate debate and anything less is just plain wrong. Please do not allow the Florida Legislature to deprive our already underfunded public schools of needed funding. Public schools serve 75 percent of all students in Florida and provides millions of poor Floridians their only chance at success. Handing over public funds to private corporations, that have not proved they are better at educating children will destroy not only public schools, but school communities. Florida has already documented tens of millions of dollars lost to charter school mismanagement and fraud, with no way to recover those losses. That’s a loss to my education and to the education of every public school student.”


Could charter school competition close historic Bradenton school?


Group sues Collier schools over textbook selection


Vouchers don't just undermine public schools * (co-written by Randi Weingarten)
President Trump wants to siphon billions of dollars from public schools to fund private and religious school vouchers. It’s an idea that’s bad for kids, public education and our democracy. Today, vouchers are used by fewer than 1 percent of the nation’s students. Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, want to change that. Trump’s new budget proposal would make historic cuts to federal education spending, while diverting $1 billion into voucher programs — a “down payment” on his oft-repeated $20-billion voucher pledge. We believe the president’s plan would deal a terrible blow to public schools and to the 90 percent of America’s children who attend them, while doing almost nothing to benefit children who receive vouchers. Although our organizations have sparred and disagreed over the years, such is the danger to public schooling posed by Trump’s embrace of vouchers that we are speaking out together on this issue. The Trump-DeVos effort to push vouchers, or something equivalent through tax credits, threatens the promise and purpose of America’s great equalizer, public education. At a time when low-income children make up the majority of public school students, we as a country must do more to support families, teachers, administrators and public schools. Trump’s plan would do the opposite. Public schools have never fully recovered from the Great Recession. Research, common sense and our collective experiences working with children, families and schools tell us that we must invest in, not cut back, public education. That means providing high-quality preschool for kids, and the social, health and mental health services they need. It means making sure students are reading at grade level by the end of third grade; that they have powerful learning opportunities, including career and technical training that can prepare them for college and work; and that they are guided by well-supported teachers and other education specialists. It means addressing the federal government’s deep underfunding of special education and building a culture of collaboration among teachers, administrators, parents and communities. The Trump-DeVos budget and voucher plans, while still lacking in details, would eliminate more than 20 education initiatives, including after-school and summer programs, career and technical education, teacher professional development and funding to lower class size. Public money would go instead to schools that lack the accountability and civil rights protections of public schools. DeVos alarmingly fueled these concerns during a congressional hearing last week, when she repeatedly declined to say the Department of Education would withhold vouchers from schools that discriminate, including against LGBT students or students with disabilities. She similarly sidestepped questions about accountability. We believe taxpayer money should support schools that are accountable to voters, open to all, nondenominational and transparent about students’ progress. Such schools — district and charter public schools — are part of what unites us as a country. Champions of an essentially unregulated, free-market approach to K-12 education, including DeVos, counter that theirs is a better path to helping students in need. But the facts show that where vouchers have been put into practice on a meaningful scale, they hurt student learning. In April, the research arm of the Department of Education released a study of the federally mandated voucher program in Washington. It showed voucher students did worse in math than similar public school students, and it adds to a growing body of education research that concludes that vouchers may harm rather than help student achievement. In fact, the results of voucher tests, compared with other reforms, are the worst in the history of the field, according to Kevin Carey, education policy director at New America. Administration officials have suggested what amounts to a “back door” way to increase the reach of vouchers: tax credits for corporations and the rich who contribute to third-party voucher funds. The nation’s school superintendents association looked at states where such credits are already in place and found that, in some cases, the donors have been able to make a profit off the backs of taxpayers and ultimately kids. And what Carey calls the “shell game” of moving money through these funds makes it difficult to account for how the money is spent. The Trump administration’s perverse priorities are increasingly clear: Impose the biggest cuts to federal education funding in memory and slash support to poor children and families by cutting Medicaid, food stamps and other programs, all while cutting taxes for the rich. It is an agenda that betrays millions of families seeking a better life, and one at odds with what this country stands for. Public schools are a fundamental engine of opportunity in this country. We will stand together to defend them.


DeVos’ group didn’t like the above commentary


How millionaires make money by paying into voucher fund


Warren rebrands her Education Department oversight: “DeVos Watch”


DeVos and family members donated to Trump judicial nominee


Trump education budget will dangerously favor “fast food” teachers


What is the point of school choice?


The Network for Public Education on charter schools


Review: Paper showing positive impact of out-of-school suspensions not useful


First Amendment Foundation also wants veto of higher education bill


St. Petersburg College selects its first black and first female president


Constitution commission feuds over rules and adhering to Sunshine Law


Groups demand more sunshine for Constitution Revision Commission


South Florida has affordable housing crisis, officials say


Ayala defends death penalty position, asserts budget cut will hit key programs


Pick up the pace on criminal justice reform


Florida becomes first to offer certificates of “nonviable birth” in cases of miscarriage


Trump helps Republicans revive House bill that weakens unions


Steady jobs, but with pay and hours that are anything but


Recipients fear cuts to food stamps and disability aid in Trump budget


Congressman refuses to say if Americans are entitled to eat


Trump’s budget cuts? More like radical surgery


Comey expected to testify before Senate, if he isn’t blocked


The complexities of Comey


House Russia investigators subpoena Flynn, Cohen


Trump defends Page, once again declares the Russia investigation a “witch hunt”


It's still all about the money, and Mueller knows it


Congress looking into whether Sessions had another Kislyak meeting


Trump moves to return Russian compounds in Maryland and New York


White House grants ethics waivers to 17 appointees, including four former lobbyists


Benghazi investigators set for rematch on Trump-Russia scandal


Trump’s “good job” call to Stone


Spicer: White House is no longer taking questions on Trump and Russia


Farage is “person of interest” in FBI investigation into Trump and Russia


Every Russia story Trump said was a hoax by Democrats: A timeline


Russia escalates spy games after years of U.S. neglect


Rule-benders require new rules


Trump is trying to destroy everything people like about Obamacare


A reminder of the possible political disaster looming for Republicans on health care


As GOP healthcare overhaul looms, Crist tours expanding LGBT clinic in St. Pete


Federal judge blasts Trump’s deportation policies


Trump administration approves tougher visa vetting, including social media checks


ICE says they arrested a human-rights violator. Retired agents call him a hero.


PolitiFact: Why economists are skeptical that U.S. can grow by 3 percent


VA in “critical condition, requires intensive care,” but improving, says boss


World awaits Trump decision on U.S. future in Paris accord


U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in history. Will it walk away from climate deal?


Q&A: Paris climate accord


America’s tragic fall from international climate leader to global embarrassment


How Bannon and Pruitt boxed in Trump on climate pact


Florida's congressional Democrats criticize Trump move on Paris climate accord


Florida’s fate tied to Paris climate accord, activists say


Exxon Mobil shareholders demand accounting of climate change policy risks


Trump targets German trade, and the South grimaces


Trump considers rolling back Obama’s opening with Cuba


Less tweeting, lawyers beg. “Covfefe,” the president says.


Trump lashes out at comedian and Democrats


Trump is hunkering down inside his Fox-Breitbart echo chamber


Why does Trump keep getting basic facts wrong?


Kushner, partners used program meant for job-starved areas to build skyscraper


Trump is enabling attacks on journalists


Trump’s war on journalism has begun. But journalists are not his main target.


I got arrested and another reporter was punched when we asked about health care




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