Today's news -- June 14, 2017




Teachers protest education bill at Scott rally *

During his Tuesday visit to Angie’s Subs in Jacksonville Beach, Gov. Rick Scott was greeted by nearly 200 teachers and demonstrators protesting a controversial education bill that they warn will imperil public schools. “Gov. Scott, don’t sign that line. Veto 7069,” protesters lined up on the sidewalk along Beach Boulevard chanted as the governor spoke to a crowd gathered inside the popular sandwich shop. Among other things, the wide-ranging bill would make it easier for charter schools to move into neighborhoods with academically struggling schools, as well allow charter schools to tap local property tax dollars for school construction. Toting a sign depicting a thumbs down, Sumter County kindergarten teacher Kathy Tragesser spoke out against part of the bill that she said lets charter schools tap into federal funding traditionally reserved for schools in impoverished areas. “This bill would funnel money from Title I schools into charter schools, which would be very detrimental to every child in our county because then we won’t have the funds to buy their textbooks and other supplies they need,” said Tragresser. Standing alongside Tragesser was Twila Haeser, a first-grade teacher also from Sumter County, who said she also teaches adult education at night to make ends meet. She voiced her opposition to a provision that threatens teachers’ job security. “Part of what this bill is doing is taking brand new teachers — and we already don’t have enough teachers — and it’s telling them, ‘Even if you get a good review, we’re not going to allow them to guarantee you a job,’” said Haeser. “You can’t compete with other states that are able to offer continuing contracts, so we don’t get highly qualified teachers. We get teachers that are willing to work without the guarantee of a job,” she said. The rally was led by Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, who said they were at Sawgrass for an annual summit when they heard Scott would be in town and decided to organize a demonstration on the fly. So they threw some signs together, rented three buses and zipped over to Angie’s. She said the measure allows for charter schools to operate with zero accountability, hire uncertified teachers, consume federal funding for needy schools and dip into construction funding as public schools fall into disrepair. “We educate 2.8 million public school students across the state,” said McCall, who described the bill as a last-minute blend of good and bad legislation. “There are 256,000 kids in charter schools. If parents want to have their kids in charter schools, that’s their right. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of our public schools.” Inside the restaurant, the governor acknowledged the crowd gathered outside, lauding them for their passion, but he declined to say whether he would sign or veto the bill. “I’m reviewing the bill,” he said. “I’m going to act in the best interest of students in our state.” Tuesday night’s event in Jacksonville Beach was the last in a daylong series of appearances by Scott scheduled around the state to highlight issues addressed during last week’s special legislative session, including funding for schools, tourism marketing and repairs to the dike around Lake Okeechobee. McCall, meanwhile, had a warning for Scott should he sign the measure into law. “He should know that we’re not going to shut up about it, that we’re going to keep talking about it. Because this governor has his eye on being the next senator from Florida and we will not forget that.”

"It's going to harm our public schools and it's going to harm our children," Kenny Minchew, a Broward County teacher. "It's just a money grab for charter schools. It's not about educating the students. Charter schools aren't any better than public schools." "The charter schools can come in and overtake D and F schools. They can come in and open up right across the street from a public school and not pay any attention to zoning rules or laws. They don't have to follow any of that," said Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association. "If you're going to take that money away from the kids that need it most to give to profit charters, that's not right. We represent 2.8 million kids across the state. Charter schools represent 256,000. You do the math." "Children come from all walks of life and have different needs. We're not cookie cutters. Each child learns differently," Minchew said. "Using test scores as a way to justify charter schools is evil."

Dixie County teacher Lindsey Whittington, also chanting outside the shop, said her main worry is funding for children living in poverty. “Dixie County Is predominately low-income so the Title I funding is a big concern to my school,” she said. After Scott spoke about the special session, FEA President Joanne McCall shook his hand and asked him to kill the legislation. “We really need a veto on that bill because the 2.8 million kids across the state deserve that,” she said.


Will HB 7069 draw a legal challenge?

With Gov. Rick Scott expected to sign the controversial charter-school friendly bill  that has incited a groundswell of criticism, opponents are mounting a last minute effort to lay the groundwork for a legal challenge or legislative retooling of HB 7069. In a letter to the governor on Tuesday, Sen. Gary Farmer, a freshman Democrat from Lighthouse Point, urged the governor to veto the bill because it would "dramatically reduce the ability of school districts across the state to devote resources towards improving our public education" as well as allowing private management companies to profit off taxpayer dollars, and local communities to be cut out of zoning decisions relating to schools. Download SenatorFarmerLetterRe7069  But Farmer, a lawyer, also outlined his case -- for why he believes it could be challenged on the grounds that it passed illegally -- and in violation of the Senate rules and may be ripe for a legal challenge. "I do intend to look into it,'' Farmer said. “Process is supposed to matter. There are supposed to be boundaries and limitations so everybody is on equal footing. When we don't follow the rules, it erodes and denigrates the process." For example, he said, HB 7069 morphed from a six-page bill "which dealt entirely with the Best and Brightest Scholarship Program" to a 278-page amendment" that included provisions that were the subject of 55 other bills "the vast majority of which either had been voted down in committee or had stalled." In a lengthy point of order on the Senate floor on May 8, Farmer noted that the conference committee on May 5, the last scheduled day of session, between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron settled up the final budget package but the final wording of HB 7069 was rolled out two hours after they had met at the conference. At that meeting, Corcoran and Negron did not take a vote on the final budget agreement, except to announce that the agreement was made. Although most of the bills’ provisions had been discussed at least conceptually by one of the chambers, not all of them had. The concept of the “Schools of Hope” was only discussed for only 90 minutes in the Senate prior to the final passage. An analysis of HB 7069 also found that HB 7069 not only included language from 55 bills but also from bills never before discussed or considered publicly and — in one case — a bill that was defeated by a Senate committee.


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