Today's news -- March 19, 2012



Challenge of forced pension contribution law goes to Supreme Court

The fate of the Legislature's push to make government workers in the Florida Retirement System contribute 3 percent to their pensions likely rests with the Florida Supreme Court, after an appellate court Friday certified the case to justices. The state appealed a Leon County circuit judge's ruling last week that the contribution requirement violated the state's constitution, and the First District Court of Appeal on Friday passed the case to the Supreme Court without taking any other action. The Florida Education Association, among several public employees' unions which challenged the pension contributions, said it welcomed Supreme Court review. "We're pleased that this case will move more quickly toward its final resolution," said FEA President Andy Ford. "This could help hundreds of thousands of middle-class Florida families who have seen their incomes tumble while the governor and legislative leaders handed out tax giveaways to corporations." If the Supreme Court affirms the lower court ruling and rules against the state, the state and other governments with employees in the state pension system could have to repay $2 billion. The Legislature used $1 billion in pension payments to help cover holes in each of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 budgets.


Bills passed by Legislature headed to court


Moms flex muscles … and Twitter fingers … in Tallahassee. And win

It was one of the session’s hardest-fought battles. On one side: a coalition of disparate, but determined parent groups. On the other: former Gov. Jeb Bush and the powerful school-choice lobby.  With the clock about to run out, the parents overcame some of the most entrenched powers in Tallahassee and won just enough votes to kill one of Bush’s priority proposals. “They had all of that influence and millions of dollars,” said Colleen Wood, a parent activist from St. Johns County. “We were just a bunch of moms.” The fight was a case study in grass-roots activism fueled by astute citizens and sites like Twitter and Facebook. Some said it was an affirmation that the little guy can sometimes win, even in Tallahassee, with social media serving as the great equalizer. “Every parent group in the state was here, or was emailing and calling legislators,” said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, who helped defeat the measure. “They played a key role in this debate.” The showdown took place over the so-called parent-trigger bill, which would have enabled parents to convert low-performing public schools into charter schools. Advocates, including Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said the bill would let moms and dads play a larger role in boosting student performance at chronically failing schools. The parent groups disagreed. They argued that the bill was really intended to give for-profit charter-school management companies more clout. This wasn’t their first time at the Florida Capitol. Most of the groups first sprung up around 2008 when lawmakers made dramatic cuts to education. Few of the founding members had any experience with the legislative process. “Our superintendent had put out a rallying cry for parents to get involved,” said Kathleen Oropeza, a founder of the Fund Education Now in Orlando. “The cuts had the potential to be catastrophic that year.” Around the same time, Wood started a group called 50th No More, a reference to Florida’s approximate ranking in terms of money spent on education in relation to other states. Separate organizations called Save Duval Schools and Support Dade Schools came online, too.


Education reformers experience lackluster legislative session (Mark Pudlow quoted)


Fallacies about teachers (by Jim Touchton)


Flagler teacher evaluation system changing (Katie Hansen quoted)


Arbitration hearing on Okaloosa teacher pay delayed (Greg Butler quoted)


Bay teachers, schools start contract negotiations (Nancy Young quoted)


Treasure Coast enrollment, staffing numbers give insight to school district operations (Dianne Falvo quoted)


St. Johns rep joins state panel on controversial FCAT testing (Dawn Chapman quoted)


Palm Beach schools facing $31.7 million shortfall,0,3074461.story


Pasco four-day school week task force to present findings


Studying STEM in Hillsborough schools


Many low-income students struggle with lack of Internet at home


Bottom line on paddling: Florida schools still do it


Survey shows what teachers need to help kids succeed (Randi Weingarten quoted)


How to rate teachers


How charter schools can hurt


Report: Modest gains in U.S. graduation rate


Teach for America’s new partnership with largest for-profit charter network


Michigan governor signs bill limiting union dues collection


A vital question for higher ed


Polytechnic questions


Florida Senate releases new map
The Florida Senate on Saturday released its first attempt at fixing its rejected Senate redistricting map with a proposal that protects the territory of all but four Senate incumbents, elects as many as five Hispanics and six African-Americans, and retains a solid Republican majority. The map, released by Senate Redistricting Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is a response to a March 9 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that threw out the Senate map and validated the House map based on new redistricting standards approved by voters in 2010. But, unlike the first map, it is not only drawing criticism from Democrats, it is drawing complaints from Republicans as well. "I am very disappointed that the map of the Florida Senate did not include a Hispanic majority district in South Florida,'' said Rep. Carlos Lopez Cantera, R-Miami, chairman of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation. He said that while he refrained from criticism before, this is the Legislature's last shot before a court takes control of the redistricting process. "All bets are off." Florida legislators have convened a 15-day extraordinary session and have until March 28 to approve a new Senate map. Legislators must reconfigure the political boundaries of the state every 10 years to match the shifts in the population and ensure that voters are equally represented. Democrats warned that the Senate's second map is as flawed as the first and chastised the exercise as a stall tactic intended to avoiding implementing the new Fair Districts standards. The map "brings us no closer to complying with the court's ruling and is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by the GOP Senate leadership to stall the implementation of Fair Districts and cling to their gerrymandered power,'' Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith said in a statement. "Not only have they thwarted the will of 63 percent of Florida voters, they are now thumbing their nose at Florida's Supreme Court.",0,1862703.story


Judge set to go to trial on challenge of new congressional districts

A Leon County judge said Friday that he is ready to begin trial April 16 on whether the Florida Legislature's plan for redrawing state congressional districts is unconstitutional. Circuit Judge Terry Lewis did not directly dismiss the state Senate's motion to delay action on legal challenges until after the November elections. But Senate attorney Peter Dunbar, when asked following the hearing whether prospects for a post-election delay was unlikely, said it "might be." "At a time that you could appropriately get there, we would like to have certainty in our election process," Dunbar said. "This is not about the House, or the Senate or the Department of State. This is about 18 million Floridians and the certainty for them to participate in the electoral process." The Florida Democratic Party, League of Women Voters, La Raza and Common Cause-Florida filed their lawsuit in February, immediately after the Legislature approved new congressional boundaries. The state Supreme Court has since upheld the Legislature's plan for redrawing House seats, but rejected the Senate's remapping as designed to protect incumbents and preserve Republican control of that chamber. A 15-day special session to redraw the Senate plan began Wednesday. In Friday's half-hour hearing, Lewis acknowledged that it would prove difficult to complete a trial quickly, without interfering with candidate qualifying scheduled for June 4-8. But Lewis said he would likely borrow computer software used by the Supreme Court in developing its ruling, while also seeking to narrow the range of issues in dispute between the sides. Lewis said working toward a speedy resolution was necessary. "If I were running for office right now, I'd be concerned," Lewis said.


Report: Restrictive voting laws could have significant impact on presidential election


Business lobby won many battles during the 2012 session, but it lost a few, too


2012 session summary: budget and taxes


2012 session summary: commerce and economic development


Integrity index gives Florida politics a C-


Report: $99 million spent in the dark in Florida


Hurray for health reform


Gender gap persists in cost of health insurance


GOP freshmen, big-bucks donors hobnob at Florida resort


Unions' time will return along with better days for workers

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