Today's news -- June 8, 2017





Legislature's session isn't so special. It's getting testy. *

The impasse over the state's public school and economic development budgets grew wider Wednesday as legislators advanced proposals so different it seemed unlikely they would resolve their differences in the three days the governor has set for their special session. In act of aggression against the Republican governor but explained as an "insurance policy" against an antagonistic House, the Senate voted to override the governor's veto of the $11 billion public education budget as well as $75 million in projects at state universities and colleges. "I don't believe in legislation by ultimatum," said Senate President Joe Negron after his chamber voted to override 19 of the higher education projects late Wednesday. It was a reference to warnings from House Speaker Richard Corcoran who, in a conversation with reporters Wednesday, accused Negron of violating his agreement to support a budget deal worked out with the governor by pursuing the override votes. Scott on Friday formally rejected the Legislature's approved funding for the fiscal year that starts July 1, saying it had insufficient increases to K-12 public education. In doing so, he instructed the Legislature — with agreement from the House speaker and Senate president — to return to Tallahassee for a special session during which one of their tasks would be to add $215 million more in school funding. Corcoran said that before the session the House and Senate leadership teams, as well as Negron and Corcoran, talked about the "nuances" of the session "and all of it was absolutely understood where we were going to head during the special session." Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters he was not involved in any of that conversation and rejected that a deal over specifics had been made. "It was very clear to the governor in my communications with him, also through our staff, that any particular details of how the special session would unfold had not been agreed to by the Senate," he said. Corcoran responded: "Well, the polite way of saying that is it's just not true." As the Senate voted to override the governor's $11 billion K-12 budget, the full House met briefly for 15 minutes and then adjourned to convene the Appropriations Committee. It quickly passed two bills that appease the governor by injecting $215 million in additional funding for K-12 public schools and $160 million for economic development.  But in the Senate, where leaders became more vocal about distancing themselves from the deal between the governor and Corcoran, the level of distrust was tangible.  Both the House and Senate agree on boosting K-12 funding by $100 per student above this year's budget, which would cost an extra $215 million, but they disagree on how to get there.

• The House simply wants to use the money freed up from Scott's recent vetoes to pay for it for one year, leaving a potential hole in the public education budget in the 2018-19 school year.

• The Senate, by contrast, is proposing to replace the portion of the budget it has voted to override with a recurring funding source for schools, alleviating the need for legislators to have to return to fill the hole. Under the Senate plan, schools would get $72 million in general revenue money from the governor's $409 million in vetoed projects and $143 million in property tax revenue gleaned from new construction to reach the $215 million benchmark. But the House has no intention of following the Senate's lead. Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, told reporters the House would not seek to override any of Scott's vetoes, including for K-12 schools, and blasted the Senate proposal as "a massive tax increase." "Taxing property owners to pay for the increase in student education is not what we are doing," he said. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told senators that Scott and his staff were not informed or consulted about the Senate's plan to override the veto. "I'm sure they're watching on TV," he said. It passed with almost no opposition in a series of procedural votes. Broward County Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, was the lone "no" vote on all of them. "I don't trust the House," Farmer said. "I'll be very candid and upfront about it: I don't believe we should be overriding those vetoes right now, because I believe that takes away incentive from the House to pass a fair and balanced and meaningful (K-12 spending) package." The Senate met again late in the afternoon to take up 19 veto overrides of the governor of the higher education projects. They include a $5 million veto of a remodeling project at Miami Dade College and a $370,000 veto of Moffitt Cancer Center's project on medical cannabis research and education. The education overrides are a strategic move intended to provide the Senate with an "insurance policy" against the House in the event it decides to reject the Senate's budget approach and adjourn without finishing the budget, Latvala said. He recalled how two years ago the House adjourned early to protest the Senate's handling of the budget, leaving the budget incomplete. "We don't want something like that to happen this year and leave our schools to be subject to being closed down on July 1," he said. An incomplete budget would leave 4,200 public schools without billions of dollars in state funding on July 1. The Senate also wants to spend more money to reduce the impact of cuts in Medicaid to hospitals, an issue that both the House and governor have refused to add to the session agenda. In addition to the differences over education funding, House and Senate committees advanced economic development bills that both restore $76 million to VISIT Florida's budget and create a new $85 million grant fund for job-related construction and workforce training. But while the House bill gives the governor nearly unfettered command over how to spend the grant money, the Senate adopted a series of restrictions that impose some oversight and limitations. Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, grumbled that the new jobs fund is a "slush fund" for Scott, whose Department of Economic Opportunity would be in control of how most of the money is spent."It's a big bucket of money with no oversight," said Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach. But most Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the bill. In an effort to secure passage of Scott's priorities, his handpicked tourism executive, VISIT Florida CEO Ken Lawson, testified in support of the House bill, which is also backed by local economic development boards and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. Eleven Florida county school superintendents, led by Pasco's Kurt Browning, testified in support of the school funding increase. They said that while it's appreciated, it's still not enough money, and that even the larger boost won't cover some school districts' costs of payments to the state pension fund for their employees. "This is certainly not a panacea," Browning testified. "We will continue to have to reduce our budget in order to meet the increased costs of operating our school district." But Browning said layoffs and cuts to classroom programs were "inevitable" if the original education budget became law. With the session set to end Friday at 6 p.m., the differences appeared insurmountable. But Negron and Latvala were optimistic. The veto overrides and the call for more hospital funding are an attempt to give the House something to provide the Senate in return for the deal with the governor, Latvala said. "They give us hospitals. They give us some overrides and then we vote for that (school funding) bill," he said. "It's really not fair to bring us back up here when the House has made their deal in getting what they want and the governor is getting what he wants. What about the Senate?"


Defund HB 7069? Senate will try, House won't take it *

A contentious, charter school-friendly education reform bill that has incensed traditional public school advocates — and given some in the Florida Senate feelings of buyers’ remorse — isn’t on the agenda as the Legislature meets in special session this week. But some senators will force the issue Thursday morning — by proposing to strip out most of the $419 million in HB 7069 and redirect the money toward increasing general spending for K-12 public schools. Approving a boost in K-12 funding is one of the reasons lawmakers are back in Tallahassee after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the Legislature’s original spending level — an extra $24 per student — as insufficient. The House and Senate disagree over how to pay for the $215 million it would take to increase spending by $100 per student over this year, as Scott wants. That divide threatens to blow up the special session, which would leave 4,200 public schools without billions of dollars in state funding on July 1. The ideas now offered by Senate K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons — with support from some senators — to partially or mostly defund HB 7069 won’t help ease the tension. Although his proposals are gathering steam among some rank-and-file senators who oppose HB 7069, they’re dead-on-arrival in the House. HB 7069 — a top priority of of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes — passed the Senate by just one vote last month. Simmons himself voted against it and is now trying to use the special session as a vehicle to fix what he calls “fundamentally and fatally flawed” legislation. Several senators say they think Scott will sign it into law if he gets the economic development funding he’s also seeking during the special session — meaning this could be the senators’ final chance at preventing HB 7069 from becoming law in its approved form. Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, will present at least two amendments to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration this morning. One would increase base K-12 spending by $215 million under the Senate’s initial concept, which would require using $143 million in property tax revenue from new construction — something Corcoran has written off as “a massive tax increase.” But on top of that, Simmons wants to pull $100 million from HB 7069 and add that to the K-12 funding through a line-item specifically to help 115 perpetually failing schools identified by the Legislature. The House’s “Schools of Hope” program in HB 7069 — which aims to help students in such schools — would assist only 25 failing schools and only with a maximum of $44.5 million, an analysis by the Herald/Times found. The remaining dollars in the $140 million pot of money for the program would go to new, specialized and privately managed charter schools that would compete with and take over those traditional neighborhood schools, even though lawmakers say that money can’t possibly be all spent in a single year. Simmons said his proposal still accomplishes the underlying goal of “Schools of Hope” — “to provide what everyone acknowledges is essential for these low-performing, high-minority schools,” he said, which is money to pay for wraparound services like after-school programs. Simmons’ other idea — and the one he’ll attempt first — is more drastic: Take $389 million from HB 7069 and use it to help not only the failing schools but also boost general K-12 funding by $289 million over this year. That would exceed lawmakers’ new funding goal and also remove the need to use the property tax dollars that Corcoran doesn’t support. But doing so would cut all but $30 million from HB 7069 — leaving only dollars earmarked to expand the Gardiner Scholarship, a voucher-like program that helps students with disabilities. Eliminated would be all spending for “Schools of Hope,” $234 million earmarked for bonuses for the state’s top teachers and principals, and $15 million to implement reforms to student assessments lawmakers approved this year. “It’s one plan, and I hope it’s something that can ultimately work, and if somebody has a better plan, I assure you I’m very, very happy to modify what I’m proposing or simply say, ‘you have a better plan and I’ll support it,’ ” Simmons told reporters Wednesday. Several school district superintendents and the Florida PTA voiced support for Simmons’ ideas, but the House’s initial reaction isn’t a receptive one. Corcoran dismissed Simmons’ ideas outright. “We’re not doing it,” Corcoran said, noting that HB 7069 is outside the scope of the narrow agenda lawmakers can deal with in special session. House K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said in a text message: “I don’t think it’s productive to try and remove funding for low-income / failing schools and hard-working teachers. The House will hold steadfast in our support of students and hard-working teachers.” Meanwhile, in the Senate, President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, wouldn’t back Simmons’ effort. “He can file — and any member of the Appropriations Committee — can file amendments to the bills,” he said. “That will be up to the Appropriations Committee to decide that.” But Senate Democrats, in particular, are eager to consider Simmons’ ideas because they don’t want HB 7069 to become law. “This takes those monies away from ‘Schools of Hope,’ puts it into a meaningful turnaround program for the public schools,” said Broward County Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat from Lighthouse Point who is among the most vocal critics of HB 7069. “For the first time, we’re going to give them those wraparound-service funds that they so desperately need,” Farmer said. “Now, if those schools still struggle, then maybe we consider those other options.” He added that what’s been “so offensive” about “Schools of Hope” is “it’s this elixir or this great cure, but if you had given those funds to the traditional public schools in the first place, maybe we wouldn’t have all of these ‘D’ and ‘F’ schools.” Farmer noted Simmons’ funding concepts aren’t new; the Senate attempted them during session when contemplating their own version of “Schools of Hope,” which allocated resources more directly to the failing schools, not charter operators. Meanwhile, House leaders are holding firm to its method to pay for an extra $215 million in base K-12 funding. They want to use the money freed up from Scott’s recent vetoes, because “right now, that’s the money we have available,” Diaz said.


Lee educators unite in pleas for Scott to veto school bill (Mark Castellano quoted)


Education bill draws concern from Volusia, Flagler school boards


When a quid pro quo turns into quid pro no, all bets are off


Charter schools should not come at the expense of Florida's public education


Brevard schools might move early-release days to Friday (Dan Bennett quoted)

Pasco school employees union president, superintendent aim for better relationship (Don Peace quoted and Kenny Blankenship mentioned)


Algebra I test stops thousands of Florida seniors from graduation


Tougher tests fuel teacher shortage, educators say


How attempts to achieve "law and order" unfairly target students of color


What we learned from DeVos’ painful appearance before Congress


GAU, UF reach health care agreement, three-year contract (Charles Shields quoted)


In online education, little competition between UF and FSU


How student loan forgiveness changed graduates’ paths


Problems of this trio's closed-door budget are no secret

Next year when the Florida Legislature once again meets for its 60-day session of engaging in less productivity than the Nepalese navy, both Florida Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran will deliver stirring hypocritical speeches pledging pure, open government in the full flower of the sunshine. And then their britches will explode into a volcanic eruption of flames. For in Tallahassee, when chaps like Scott and Corcoran promise transparency they are — in a word — not being honest. Too nuanced? As a Floridian you have every right to be offended over being treated like a chump. If you are a member of the Florida Legislature, especially a Republican, you have to feel more rudely dissed than Montenegran President Dusko Markovic, who was brusquely shoved aside when he found himself stuck between President Donald Trump and a camera at a recent NATO summit. The 120 members of the Florida House and the current 39 members of the Florida Senate are formally charged with completing a single task — to approve the state's budget. Everything else is mere make-work to satisfy the interests of the lobbying corps. But as it turned out 157 Florida legislators were completely unnecessary to crafting the budget. Who needed them when only Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, along with Scott, could get the job done in secret? Days ago, Scott, Corcoran and Negron appeared together to announce they had cooked up an $83 billion budget for the Legislature to vote on during its current special session. No committee hearings. No testimony from the diverse parties affected by the budget. Nothing. Nada. Zero. This is how the budget of the third-largest state in the nation is cobbled together. By three guys turning the process into something out of a good ol' boy Skull and Bones Society. SPECTRE isn't this furtive. Amid the provisions put forth by the Scott/Corcoran/Negron Axis of Arrogance, overall education funding will be increased by $215 million so that the governor can finally brag he cares about children in advance of an anticipated U.S. Senate run in 2018.


Corcoran says Senate “did not stick to the plan”


House panel clears special session infrastructure, job training bill


Lawmakers will likely have to extend session but will fundraiser be in the way?


ACLU: State failed public in reporting dangers of algae bloom in St. Lucie River


Comey says Trump pressured him to “lift the cloud” of inquiry


Reading between the lines of Comey’s prepared testimony


Comey’s testimony could turn congressional probes toward question of obstruction


Comey’s political shrewdness is on display in tussle with Trump


Your guide to all the Comey news heading into his testimony


The Comey testimony: when, where and how to follow


Comey cometh


Comey and the fear of being alone with Trump


Intelligence officials sidestep Senate questions on Trump and Russia


Trump’s Russia scandal just got a lot more like Watergate


Kushner’s not-so-secret channel to Putin


A Russian newspaper editor explains how Putin made Trump his puppet


Worried about election hacking? There’s a fix for that


Comey hearing puts Rubio back in national spotlight


The decimation of the Heartland began a long time ago


Senate health bill may alienate GOP conservatives


Republicans can still succeed in destroying Obamacare


White House touts ACA’s demise even as insurers seek help in stabilizing market


Trump’s base in rural America could be disproportionately hurt by Medicaid cuts


Florida's rural children rely on Medicaid


Obamacare — mend it, don't end it


The Trump administration’s birth control overhaul could do serious harm


“Infrastructure week,” designed to challenge Democrats, finds no takers


Sanders releases a blistering report on Trump’s infrastructure package


Trump rallies his base with infrastructure pitch ahead of Comey testimony


Terrorism expert on why Trump's anti-Muslim posturing makes us less safe


What the judges know about Trump


Debt ceiling is again a battleground, this time with Republicans in charge


House poised to pass bill taking aim at Dodd-Frank regulations


Who is Christopher Wray? Trump’s FBI pick is said to be low-key and principled


Trump’s FBI pick deserves intense scrutiny


Hawaii becomes first state to pass laws supporting Paris accord


In Trump country, renewable energy is thriving


Canada’s strategy on climate change: work with American states


A president divorced from the executive branch he oversees


Strong approval of Trump is fading across a number of demographics


Lobbyists, lawyers were granted ethics waivers to work with Trump


Trump’s suite of power


Oldest fossils of homo sapiens found in Morocco, altering history of our species





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