Today's news -- June 27, 2017




Scott signs several education bills into law

Just days before the deadline, Gov. Rick Scott signed seven education bills into Florida law Monday. They included the Florida Education Finance Program that boosted per student funding by $100 after a contentious special session, the expansion of the state's Gardiner and tax credit scholarships that assist students attending private schools, and a revision of rules for how parents and other county residents can challenge public school instructional materials. The bills are: HB 3A (FEFP), HB 15 (school choice), HB 989 (instructional materials), HB 1109 (private school student participation in public school extracurriculars), HB 781 (school grades), HB 1239 (school bus safety), and HB 899 (transitional education programs). All the new laws take effect July 1.

During the special session, some Democrats had complained that the increase wouldn't offset what they said would be the negative impact of HB 7069, a controversial and wide-ranging education bill Scott approved shortly after the special session as part of a rumored deal with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes. "It's an increase — but at what cost?" asked Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat who pointed out that funding for education is still short of pre-recession levels when inflation is factored in. "The state has recovered, but education funding has not."


Manatee charter school sent recruitment letters to local public school teachers (Pat Barber quoted)


Pasco contract talks (Don Peace quoted, third item)


Early-release days for Brevard schools likely sticking to Wednesday (Dan Bennett quoted)


Teacher hiring freeze is lifted in Hillsborough


States must aid some church programs, justices rule

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that states must sometimes provide aid to religious groups even when their state constitutions call for a strict separation of church and state. The decision concerned a state program to make playgrounds safer that excluded those affiliated with churches, and it had implications for all kinds of government aid to religious institutions. The vote was 7-2, though some of the justices in the majority differed about how broadly the court should have ruled. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said unjustified government discrimination against churches and other religious institutions is odious and unconstitutional. Officials in Missouri, Roberts wrote, were not entitled to reject a 2012 application from Trinity Lutheran Church for a grant to use recycled tires to resurface a playground. “The consequence is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor summarized her dissent from the bench, an indication of deep disagreement. “This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil government — that is, between church and state,” Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, which was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “The court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church.” The Missouri Constitution bars spending public money “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church,” and the state Supreme Court has called for “a very high wall between church and state.” Thirty-eight other states have similar provisions. (Lily Eskelsen García quoted)


Ruling sidesteps questions regarding state protections
In a narrowly written decision, the Supreme Court held in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer that Missouri could not refuse a playground grant to a church solely due to the fact that the church is a religious institution. In so holding, the court noted that the case involved express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to such a grant, and that the court was not “address[ing] religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.” The court’s refusal to rule broadly will surely be a disappointment to school voucher proponents who had sought to use the dispute over playground resurfacing grants to undermine state constitutional protections for public education. The 6–3 decision both leaves intact the Missouri constitutional provision at issue in the case insofar as it prohibits state funding of religious actions and leaves undisturbed the similar provisions of 38 other states. These “no aid” provisions were enacted to protect the common schools and have been applied for decades to ensure that resources for those schools were not diverted to private religious institutions. The National Education Association filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that these state constitutional provisions should not be swept aside and that a state’s independent interpretation of their constitutional provisions regarding church-state separation should be respected. The following statement can be attributed to NEA President Lily Eskelsen García: “We applaud the Supreme Court’s refusal to accept the invitation of voucher proponents to issue a broad ruling that could place in jeopardy the ability of states to protect their public education system by refusing to divert public school funding to private religious schools. NEA’s 3 million educators are deeply committed to ensuring every student has opportunity and access to a great public school. Vouchers are a misguided policy that hampers student success by taking funding from public schools to give to private schools. State constitutional provisions and decades of precedent protect our public education system from voucher programs. The court’s ruling is a big setback for those who want to push voucher programs that take taxpayer dollars out of public schools to divert them to private religious schools. Today’s ruling means that those state constitutional provisions remain as safeguards against such voucher proposals and returns to the legislative branches the question of whether vouchers make any sense given the harm to public education and the serious state constitutional issues such programs raise. Rather than continue the flawed policy of vouchers, let's focus on what works to provide students with the great public schools they deserve.”


AFT responds to the ruling

Statement by AFT President Randi Weingarten on the Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc. v. Comer: “This ruling should not be read beyond what it is -- a narrow decision about whether a church can get public funds for a playground that would be available to all, a question that had already been rendered moot by the Missouri governor’s actions making churches eligible to use state funding for nonreligious uses. It is crystal clear that the court here avoided the larger constitutional issue: Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor’s dissent raises concerns about this case being used to promote the direct public funding of religious institutions, and these concerns are directly met by Chief Justice Roberts’ footnote that the court does not address ‘religious uses of funding’ in this case and by Justice Breyer’s statement in his concurrence that, while he agrees with the outcome, this decision should not be broadly read. This decision was about providing a generally available benefit to a church that was not going to be used for religious purposes and would not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. That is consistent with the Blaine Amendment, which was never intended to prevent religious organizations from receiving funding for uses that are open to all and do not promote religion or discriminate. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s Trinity decision cannot be read as opening the door for states to promote religion or expand vouchers.”


Why DeVos is cheering the Supreme Court’s church playground decision


Will the decision lead to the spread of school voucher programs?


The Supreme Court sided with Trinity Lutheran Church. Here’s why that matters.


Nearly half of Trump voters oppose cuts to education


How Silicon Valley pushed coding into classrooms


AFT on Indiana voucher study (Randi Weingarten quoted)


Tax credits for private school scholarships OK, Georgia top court says


Universities respond to Supreme Court action on travel ban


Scott appoints longtime ally Patronis as state CFO


Too many lawmakers impose more public-records secrecy


State guts arts during year of record-high spending


State inspired new group focused on improving how elections are run


Scott's attorneys defend veto of compensation for homeowners who lost citrus trees


Group: Corcoran "sells out Florida" at Koch retreat


Thwarted in Washington, Koch network racks up conservative victories in the states


How important will education be in next state elections?

The recent fight over Florida's education budget and conforming bill (HB 7069) looks likely to carry over into the 2018 election campaign, with some of the state's most high-profilie politicians already fashioning pointed messages on the issue. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the driving force behind HB 7069, suggested on Twitter that the measure will loom large over the elections. Corcoran, considered a possible candidate for governor, also has launched a social media survey asking: "When it comes to funding schools, should money go to where students are or go to existing facilities regardless of where students are?" The responses have come from all sides, and the rhetoric has gotten pretty accusatory. The speaker isn't alone in highlighting the issue as key for Floridians. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat facing a likely challenge from term-limted Gov. Rick Scott, recently sent out an email donation request that focused on education. Nelson pointed to both Scott's support of HB 7069 and the education budget, as well as controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (who considers Florida's choice model to have national promise), to court supporters. From the Nelson for Senate campaign: "Last month, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that she wants to cut over $9 billion from the Department of Education, including funding for arts, STEM and language classes. And just weeks ago, Gov. Rick Scott made his own devastating cuts to Florida's public schools -- hurting students across the state, from kindergarten through college. These disastrous cuts are the exact opposite of what our students need. And I'm going to fight to protect the future of our public schools - both here in Florida and nationwide - but I want to hear from you." Usually, education doesn't rank in the top five of issues affecting voters. How long can this attention last?


Seattle’s higher minimum wage is actually working just fine


FBI has questioned Trump adviser Page at length in Russia probe


How Trump misunderstood the FBI


Feds won't release redacted intelligence report on Russian election meddling


Trump, on Twitter, targets Obama and Russia


By criticizing Obama, Trump contradicts his own comments on Russian meddling


Tweeting, not leading, the response to Russian hacking


Kushner adds prominent lawyer to defense team


Senate health bill reels as CBO predicts 22 million more uninsured


The CBO did the math. These are the key takeaways from Senate health care bill.


Republicans eye billions in side deals to win Obamacare repeal votes


Pence woos Senate conservatives in Obamacare repeal push


Senate Republicans revise health bill to penalize uninsured


White House threatens to sabotage insurance of low-income folks if bill isn’t passed


Someone making $11,400 in 2026 will face deductible more than half their income


Here's what the Senate's health-care plan looks like to an emergency doctor


I am a medical student and Medicaid was a lifeline for my family


How the Republicans’ health-care plan betrays Republicans’ own principles


Trumpcare vocab lesson: “Death spiral”


Republican healthcare bill: The view from West Virginia Trump country


Castor says administration is using alternative facts to explain Medicaid cuts


Rubio remains noncommittal on Obamacare replacement but a likely yes vote


Scott prescribes health tax cuts


Why opioid deaths are this generation’s AIDS crisis


Florida’s billion-dollar drug treatment industry is plagued by overdoses, fraud


A children’s health crisis officials overlook: shootings


Supreme Court takes up travel ban case, and allows parts to go ahead


What the Supreme Court’s travel ban ruling means


Trump’s big travel ban win? Let’s not get carried away.


Pentagon promised citizenship to immigrants who served. Now it might help deport.


Unauthorized immigrants steer clear of medical care


Sessions isn’t making nation safer. He might be making it more dangerous.


Fight between GOP House chairs imperils budget deal


I think Uber is Latin for gouging (or why I should apologize to cabs)


EPA official pressured scientist on congressional testimony, emails show


Trump’s chaos is covering for stealth escalation overseas


White House threatens Syria over possible chemical attack


Few overseas have faith in Trump’s leadership, survey finds


Can Trump compete with Obama on Cuba?


Trump’s new policy shows he doesn’t really care about the Cuban people


Rubio has the president’s ear on Latin America


Trump lawyer's firm steered millions in donations to family members, files show


Trump hails democratic bonds with India while ignoring the press


Trump's schedule becomes victim to White House push against transparency


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