Today's news -- June 26, 2017




Tallahassee's school double standards *

Do you think this probably falls under the category of -- awkward? Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, along with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, were in Orlando falling all over themselves in touting a school bill that further undermines the state's public education system while treating charter schools as if they were the enlightened second coming of Mr. Chips. Corcoran even managed to wag a scornful finger (feel free to pick which digit) in the general direction of the Hillsborough County School District, which is in the midst of a daunting financial pinch, citing "bloat, inefficiency and gross overspending. Their problem is their management." Consider yourself properly scolded, school superintendent Jeff Eakins.  But the timing of Scott's swooning over charter schools and Corcoran's sniping disdain for Hillsborough public education was at best a bit misplaced. For in the wake of an education bill, cooked up in secret in Tallahassee, which among other things would require public school systems to share tax dollars with charters to cover maintenance and construction costs, arrest warrants were being filed in Escambia County against the owner of charter school operator Newpoint Education Partners and a business associate alleging the men conspired to divert public monies into their own pockets by using excessive markups for equipment and services and bogus invoices submitted by a web of interrelated companies. In all, from 2007 to 2016 Newpoint Education Partners, run by Marcus Nelson May of Sarasota, received (you might want to sit down for this) $57 million to operate 15 charter schools in Florida, including six in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Steven Kunkemoeller of Cincinnati, owner of School Warehouse Inc., which supplied the charter schools, is suspected of providing kickbacks to May. May is accused of charging Hillsborough Newpoint Tampa High $157,000 for computers that actually cost only $53,844. As well, May is accused of inflating student enrollment figures, which resulted in an overpayment in public monies of $350,000. At least $3.2 million allegedly went to pay for highly marked-up furniture and other equipment. Investigators also allege May used school grant funds to pay off credit card debt, make mortgage payments and pay for his homeowner fees and his pool man, as well as $11,000 that covered the cost of vacations and plastic surgery. Last year the company was indicted on charges of grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white-collar crime. Of the six Pinellas and Hillsborough Newpoint charter schools only one, Enterprise School in Clearwater, remains open after discreetly separating from Newpoint in 2015. It is certainly true not all charter operations in Florida are as hinky as the Newpoint experience. But the allegations against May and Kunkemoeller serve as a cautionary tale about the shortcomings of Tallahassee's misguided love affair with charter schools. Both Scott and Corcoran argue state education funds should "follow the student" rather than be dedicated to school districts, a view that critics say violates the Florida Constitution. But Corcoran hopes to finagle his way around messy stuff like the law by stacking the deck of the ongoing Constitution Revision Commission with fellow charter school travelers to clear the way for charters to capture more public education funding at the expense of traditional public schools. What all this essentially leads to is a rigged education system, with unaccountable, vaguely transparent, privately owned and operated charter schools that get to pick and choose their student body populations receiving tax dollars that should be dedicated to improving traditional public schools. And all this is perpetuated in the rather disingenuous name of creating a competitive educational environment. Forgive a pinch of facetiousness, but you could well argue that despite all their claims to being rock-ribbed, bedrock conservatives, both Scott and Corcoran are really closeted liberal socialists. How else to explain their zeal to use tax monies to underwrite private corporations that want to create charter schools on the public dole? There is no doubt many of Florida's traditional public schools struggle with poor performance. What do you expect in a system where educators are expected to do more with less only to be blamed when things don't measure up? This is the lesson to be learned when Tallahassee teaches a master class in double standards.


Does the Legislature get a free pass? * (by Mark Castellano)

Article III, Section 6 of the Florida Constitution is something with which you would think all legislators are familiar. It is pretty straight forward. Commonly referred to as, "One Bill, One Topic", it states: "SECTION 6. Laws. -- Every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title. No law shall be revised or amended by reference to its title only. Laws to revise or amend shall set out in full the revised or amended act, section, subsection or paragraph of a subsection. The enacting clause of every law shall read: "Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida." Seems simple, yet our Legislature has found a new way to pass legislation that is unable to pass through the established process. They wait until the very end of the regular 60-day session - or a special session that becomes necessary because of their inability to get their jobs done in the time they have - and cram all of their pet legislation into a single bill and ram it through in the last moments of the session or special session. The most recent example of this is HB 7069. This bill is a poster child for violating the "One Bill, One Topic" mandate of the constitution. Fifty-five (55) bills have been combined into this single bill. It ballooned to 278 pages and covers everything from charter school legislation to bonus programs to school recess to student's rights to bring and apply sunscreen! It also dictates how school districts can utilize federal Title 1 funds! It will also, despite a nationwide teacher shortage, usurp local control from school districts who want to automatically renew teachers rated Effective and Highly Effective. The ability to award automatically renewing contracts to these teachers is in the best interest of students, teachers and school districts. Some of the 55 bills combined into HB 7069 could not even get out of committee; much less pass a vote of one or both houses. And yet, HB 7069 has made it to Governor Scott's desk -- and he has signed it. He was lobbied hard to both VETO this bill and to sign it! The lines were clearly drawn in this debate. Public school advocates urged him to veto the bill. Pro-Charter, anti-public education forces asked him to sign it. By signing the bill, he will be held in higher regard by those who want to privatize and profiteer off of public schools and vilified by public education supporters. As the public has heard from Greg Adkins, Lee County Superintendent of Schools, and our school board, this bill is bad for kids, public schools, and public education employees. If you are not familiar with what this bill will do to public schools I urge you to look closely at the impacts it will have, especially on our students with the greatest needs. I do not support this terrible piece of legislation and fear the impacts it will have on our school district. Yet, I have an equally deep concern. How does our Legislature get away with violating our state constitution? It is blatant and brazen, but it is also illegal! I believe it is time to hold our elected officials, at the very least, to this simple low standard: Obey and follow the constitution!


HB 7069 tips the balance *

“Human history,” said H.G. Wells, “is a race between education and catastrophe.” Any day’s news leaves no room for doubt that catastrophe has a commanding lead. Skeptics should take a look at the Florida Legislature’s handiwork: House Bill 7069. I’m not optimistic about the outcome of the race, at least not in America. For more than a century, the institution of public schools was reasonably effective. Bureaucratic rigidities and institutional inertia got in the way, but when classroom doors closed, most teachers had enough autonomy to do their thing. The best of them figured out ways to capitalize on kids’ abilities and interests, and out of that freedom came people who went on to lead the world in patents, Pulitzers, Nobels and other evidences of quality of thought. When, a couple of decades ago, corporate interests took control of education policy, that small window of teacher freedom slammed shut. Lou Gerstner, Edward Rust Jr., Bill Gates, Jeb Bush, Mike Bloomberg and other wealthy and influential individuals worked through the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Education Trust, Democrats for Education Reform, the American Legislative Exchange Council and other organizations to pressure Congress and state legislatures to buy into their theory. Whatever ailed the institution, they were certain, could be cured by bringing market forces to bear — choice, vouchers, business partnerships, tax-write-off schemes, pay for performance, privatization via charter chains, and so on. HB 7069 is the latest offspring of their efforts, clear evidence of the drive to privatize Florida’s public schools without the public debate such a radical action deserves. Its jumble of provisions simultaneously micromanage traditional schools and smooth the way for charters with public funds, assets, minimal oversight and protection from local control. What’s under way is a massive demonstration of the Dunning-Kruger Effect -- individuals who don’t know enough about educating to understand how little they know about it. Confucius said real knowledge is knowing the extent of one’s ignorance. In “As You Like It,” Shakespeare has Touchstone say, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Corporate reformers are convinced educating is easy, a mere matter -- to use Bill Gates’ words -- of “delivering information.” In fact, nothing, nothing humans try to do, is inherently more complicated than educating -- helping the young understand what’s going on in their heads to maximize their ability to think clearly and productively about themselves and the world around them. Nothing equals it in complexity -- not rocket science, not brain surgery, not anything. The market forces that Congress and state legislatures have imposed on America’s public schools don’t just fail to address educating’s challenges; they’re destructive, destroying the cultural coherence essential to school effectiveness. The single most effective tool being used to undermine public confidence in public schooling is standardized, machine-scored testing. Because the pass-fail cut score is arbitrary, it can be raised or lowered to achieve a political end. Want to make public schools look bad? Raise the cut score enough to fail an alarming number of kids. Want to make a reform look successful? Simply lower the cut score. Those with influence who advocate standardized testing, and those with authority who mandate or perpetuate it, should be required to satisfactorily answer a couple of questions and defend their answers. One: Given the life-altering consequences of high-stakes standardized testing, is it not morally reprehensible and ethically indefensible to continue the use of standardized tests incapable of evaluating the relative merit of thought processes essential to human functioning, problem solving, and civilized life? Two: Should not the use of all commercially manufactured, machine-scored standardized tests of learners and teachers be discontinued until test manufacturers demonstrate an ability to evaluate the relative quality of the complex thought processes upon which societal survival depend? Public education has serious problems, a major one being its failure to rethink the dysfunctional core curriculum adopted in 1893. There will be no significant improvement in learner performance until problems being ignored by both the education establishment and reformers are satisfactorily addressed.


Corcoran’s nanny-state style *

Corcoran’s surprise education bill reeked of influence from the for-profit charter school industry. The money it shifts to charter schools drew howls of protests from supporters of traditional public schools across the state. But Corcoran — whose wife started a charter school in Pasco County— knows what’s best for you.


Credit rating agency: HB 7069 could affect districts' financial standing *


Polk County commissioner slams Legislature


An open letter to Corcoran


Farmer taking closer look at HB 7069 challenge *

Critics of Florida's newest expansive education law, which covered issues as wide ranging as charter school funding and student sunscreen application, are waiting and hoping for a legal challenge to the measure. Most eyes are turning to Sen. Gary Farmer, a Lighthouse Point Democrat who offered the most withering attack on HB 7069 during both legislative sessions this spring -- even when other dubious lawmakers tempered their assault. A trial laywer and one-time lobbyist, Farmer first challenged the conforming legislation on several procedural grounds, contending the Senate violated its own rules in considering and adopting a bill with so many prongs. The Senate Rules chairwoman, Lizbeth Benaquisto, deemed his concerns out of order, and the bill moved forward. Since then, some of his colleagues, including high ranking Republicans Jack Latvala and David Simmons, have hinted broadly at a challenge based on the notion that the bill included more than one subject, and was not open to amendment. Such concerns about "logrolling" arose in 2016, too, when then-Sen. John Legg objected to the inclusion of the Best and Brightest teacher bonus in a budget implementing bill. The constitution states that all laws "shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title." An aide in Farmer's office said the senator is exploring all the intricacies involved with HB 7069, and whether any of the activity rises to the level of a legal dispute. But Farmer was not ready to make any announcement. He issued a simple statement instead: "We are working hard to make sure this bad piece of legislation is not going to harm our public schools."


Simmons: We’re not done yet with HB 7069

Interparty, cross-house fighting over the controversial education omnibus bill House Bill 7069 is not yet over, nor are efforts to stop provisions that could spell death sentences to underperforming public schools, Republican state Sen. Dave Simmons vowed last week. At a panel discussion, with three Republican state representatives, held by the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Simmons sharply criticized the “Schools of Hope” provisions in HB 7069, which he voted against, saying it is setting up underperforming public schools and their students to fail completely. “I don’t think the book is completely written yet on this bill you’ve probably all read about, House Bill 7069,” Simmons said. “It was the amalgamation of at least 20 different subject matter issues that the house put into a bill. Various of us voted against it even though there were a lot of good things in it.”


Florida man accused of using charter funds to pay for luxuries


Charter schools given competitive advantages


Panhandle politicians warn Scott that charter school bill will haunt him


Making charters more accountable


Charter schools do bad stuff because they can


Contract talks resume for Pasco school employees, with HB 7069 as backdrop (Don Peace quoted)


Budget, testing collide in Pasco schools


Budget cuts could halt technology upgrades in Pasco schools


Pembroke Pines cuts in half its teacher salary hike offer (Anna Fusco and Kathleen Phillips quoted)


How mentors help first-year teachers (Lily Eskelsen García, Anthony Colucci, Jennifer Susin, Sharon Justin, Diane Wallschlag, Andrea Williams, Kim Haggard, Samantha Kaser, Denise Liberi, Gena Hart and Jordan Mounts quoted)


Teacher’s union appealing unfair labor practice charge (SREA, Carol Poterek, Melanie Peters and Catherine Wilson mentioned)


Duval to share millions of dollars with charter operations under newly signed law


Conflict over charter schools at Sarasota School Board meeting


Hillsborough school budget talk light on solutions


Jefferson School Board balks at vote to outsource finances


Leon School district may seek tax increase to pay for charter school bill


Escambia, Santa Rosa schools face tough budget year, superintendents say


Sarasota school climate survey no longer has comments section (Barry Dubin quoted)


Students sue Miami-Dade district after Social Security numbers posted online


Teaching profession in Florida degraded, devalued *

There was an eye-grabbing headline across the top of the front page in your Tampa Bay Times last Monday. It declared, "Fewer learning to teach." Tampa Bay Times staff writer Claire McNeill detailed how the University of South Florida and other places are struggling with declining enrollment in their colleges of education. The number of people wanting to go into teaching as a career has plummeted 42 percent nationwide, and 40 percent at USF. Yikes. Not good. Keep turning the pages though. In the same day on the top of the Local section, a headline declared "School budget puts jobs at risk." Times staff writer Marlene Sokol reported how the Hillsborough County School Board is grappling with severe budget problems that likely will get worse. Add to that the way the Legislature just redirected millions of public school dollars into the expansion of charter schools. Then consider the mess lawmakers have made of the honorable profession of teaching with onerous and silly mandates that puts the blame on teachers for things they can't control. Then ask, why would anyone just starting out want to take that career path? Teachers will tell you they do it because of the kids. The best teachers take real joy when the light goes on for a student struggling to master a subject. They are willing to put up with ever-increasing demands and disrespect from their lawmakers because teaching can be more of a calling than a job. Many teachers spend their own money for snacks and supplies because otherwise their students would do without. Many are taking additional professional training during what is supposed to be their summer vacation. They put up with outraged, often disrespectful and sometimes-threatening parents who have no trouble blaming teachers because their little darling is flunking. They confront a state system that blames them when students fall short. They will be responsible for too many students and given too few resources to do the job. Their employment can hang on things they can't control. It's expected they will take work home at night and on weekends. For all of that, they don't get paid much. They'll probably graduate college with more debt than their salary can handle. Need we say more? But we need good teachers, now more than ever. Hillsborough, already the nation's eighth-largest school district, is experiencing another significant population growth spurt. There are about 200,000 students enrolled now in the county's public schools, and that number almost surely will increase. Given that, it's worth asking what kind of state we want to be. High-quality public schools are the foundation of everything that contributes to a state's prosperity, and right now the signs aren't so good. Gov. Rick Scott spent part of last week in Connecticut trying to lure businesses to Florida. I'm sure he talked about our business-friendly climate and low taxes, but an employer needs to know what kind of work force they can attract. Losing potential teachers at this rate, along with the mixed signals coming from the Legislature about their approach to public education, sends up a fluttering red flag to any CEO looking to set up shop here. Many school districts across the state already are struggling to fill the vacancies they have, especially in the coveted math and science fields. Stories like the ones in the Times are an unwelcome signal that things won't get easier. Everyone needs to take a deep breath, stop the blame game, and examine how we got here – politics, demands on teachers, too many standardized tests, low pay, poverty, what? Although there is no magic bullet to make teaching attractive again, everyone involved needs to try to fix what they can. The warning flags of a coming storm are there. Better pay attention.


The war on the teaching profession is no longer covert


My third-grader thought she had failed Florida's standardized reading test


New school-prayer law collides with the Constitution


Florida School Boards Association selects new leadership


Dark money combines to privatize public schools


Florida Retirement System buys shares of K12 Inc.


DeVos pushes vouchers despite the research *

Overall, private schools are actually no more effective, and often less so, than public schools. Indeed, our own research indicates that any apparent advantages for students in private schools are actually more a reflection of the fact that private schools do a better job of attracting—not producing—high-scoring students.


The evidence is clear, vouchers don’t work


Problems with charter schools that you won’t hear DeVos talk about


You’ve named Trump’s worst!


See for yourself how the Trump-DeVos budget sells out our students


Our schools are actually resegregating


New study backs academic rigor for preschoolers. Oh, please.


Preaching the value of social studies, in a second career


Ohio charter firm continues tax-funded ad blitz despite layoff announcement …


… And uses tax dollars to fight accountability


New Mexico: TFA alum takes the reins as state chief


Universities get good reviews


As mental health crisis deepens, universities are left to find their own solutions


Higher ed official apologizes for suggesting “genetic” explanation for pay gap


SBOE official from Naples defends “genetics” comment on gender pay gap


Scott reappoints three to SBOE


New College begins recruiting faculty


New St. Petersburg College president to make less than predecessor


Despite criticisms, board votes to retain Pasco-Hernando State College president


Bright Futures, financial aid to increase this year


The Trump administration is systematically dismantling Title IX


Women owe two-thirds of student loan debt. This points to a slow-burning crisis.


Watchdog blasts contractor for mishandling student loan forgiveness program


DeVos picks private student loan chief to head government loan program


DeVos will delay and rewrite key Obama-era higher education policies


Tax documents show B-CU losses mounting


Scott, staff are delusional about Florida's low-paying jobs


Connecticut newspaper fires back at Scott: “Go back to Florida and stay there”


Reject Scott's bid to pack state high court


Scott gets more time to respond to judicial appointments lawsuit


Texts show Scott's influence over panel's recommendations for FDOT chief


On open records, half Florida's legislators rate "F" or "D"


Florida politics lopsided despite required Fair Districts


Report: Gerrymandering gave Republicans advantage in House, state elections


The Legislature and its “worst legislative wurst”


Corcoran makes nice with Visit Florida


String of special legislative elections has depleted a state fund


Test driving Florida's new voting option: Registering online


Haven for recovering addicts now profits from their relapses


Collapse? Six insurers eye return to state’s 2018 Obamacare market


Census: Latino growth fastest in exurbs of Orlando, Tampa


Zika cases mostly travel related


Rainy season douses fiery state


Home prices rise in May on persistent shortage of listings


Legislation would make major changes to state's building code


U.S. House committee passes state-sponsored flood insurance bill


In South Florida, racial epithets, arrests in protests over Confederate street names


Hillsborough commissioners vote to keep Confederate monument in Tampa


After public outcry, Orlando moves Confederate statue


Scott signs medical marijuana, 37 other bills into law


Scott’s citrus canker veto makes state a deadbeat debtor


Decision time for Scott on remaining bills


Scott to name ally as chief financial officer


High water levels threaten survival of Everglades, expert warns


Legislative leaders announce committee week schedule


How privatization could spell the end of democracy


Trump takes steps to undo Obama legacy on labor


Trump says he doesn't want a “poor person” handling economy


In towns already hit by mill closings, a new casualty: retail jobs


Intel chiefs say Trump suggested they refute collusion with Russians


Trump says he did not tape Comey conversations


White House admits Trump’s “tapes” tweet aimed to impugn Comey


Trump indicates tweet on tapes was meant to affect Comey testimony


Could Trump’s White House tapes ruse actually get him in legal trouble?


In going after Comey, Sessions, Mueller, Trump looks like he has something to hide


Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault


Putin denied meddling in the U.S. election. The CIA caught him doing it.


Trump lashes out at Obama over latest report on Russian election meddling


Trump’s deflections and denials on Russia frustrate even his allies


Trump eager for big meeting with Putin; some advisers wary


Election hackers altered voter rolls, stole private data, officials say


Elections officials outgunned in Russia’s cyberwar against America


Europe has been working to expose Russian meddling for years


Security threats on voting system loom as state elections officials gather


Trump, Russia and a shadowy business partnership


Russian ambassador Ki

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