Today's news -- March 22, 2017





Senators ponder direction on school testing *

A Senate Education Committee meeting Tuesday on the state's accountability system turned into a show of strength by people who want to scale back standardized testing, as lawmakers consider the next move. The long-running debate over the use of assessments in school grades, teacher evaluations and retention and graduation decisions has flared again, prompting a spate of new bills from lawmakers to tamp down testing --- and pushback from supporters of former Gov. Jeb Bush's drive to strengthen accountability over the past 15 years. "The insanity has gone on far too long," said Luke Flynt, secretary-treasurer for the Florida Education Association, the state's main teachers union. "The only consistent result that we have seen from state testing is that they have sucked the joy out of learning and out of teaching." What is less clear is the way forward in the debate -- whether the Republican-dominated Legislature, which still includes many Bush protégés, will back more-sweeping proposals to eliminate several statewide tests or a measured approach backed by the Bush-founded Foundation for Florida's Future. Several of the newest proposals were aired Tuesday at the Senate Education Committee. Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who has been leading the panel's meetings in the medical absence of Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, said after the meeting that no decision has been made. "We may put together some sort of a committee bill ... with a configuration of the bills that you just heard," Simpson said. "But again, that's Senator Hukill's ultimate call. We'll have to confer with her first." Members are already moving forward with what is known as the "Fewer, Better Tests" legislation (HB 773) backed by the foundation -- a bill ironically named, critics say, because it doesn't explicitly eliminate any tests. Supporters say it could lead to some local tests being shelved because they don't meet reporting standards in the legislation. But several of the people who spoke Tuesday at the Senate committee meeting, even some traditionally aligned with conservative causes, slammed the Senate version of the "Fewer, Better Tests" bill (SB 926) as insufficient. "It's not a bipartisan bill," said Catherine Baer, chairwoman of The Tea Party Network and part of a coalition backing stronger legislation. "It's been put forward by former Governor Bush's foundation. The foundation's educational philosophy has been soundly rejected by parents in the state of Florida and across the United States." Most of those wanting to more strongly dial back testing have rallied around a bipartisan proposal spearheaded by Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who doubles as head of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. That measure (SB 964) would, among other things, get rid of the requirement for end-of-course tests in geometry, Algebra II, U.S. history and civics; allow college-entrance exams like the SAT and ACT to be used in lieu of the state's graduation test; and allow a pencil-and-paper option for the state's current, computer-based tests. "What began as a system to measure student performance and to hold students accountable has become an educational system that has been dominated by tests --- over-testing, I would suggest," Montford, a former Leon County schools superintendent, said Tuesday.


Keep state’s class-size mandate in force *

Two years ago, parents in Miami-Dade County began to notice that school class sizes were larger than prior years, contrary to a constitutional amendment passed in 2002 to limit sizes for core classes. An attempt by the Legislature to amend it in 2010, utilizing a school-wide average to determine class size, failed to pass. The Legislature has, over the years, whittled the constitutional amendment, defining most classes as extracurricular instead of core.  In 2013, the Legislature exempted magnet and charter schools from strict class-size requirements, and allowed them to utilize a school-wide average for calculating size. School districts then re-designated the schools as schools of choice to use this exception. But the re-labeling had attenuating problems. School districts have since attempted to pass legislation to codify an average standard for all schools on the weak rationale that the constitutional amendment does not include a penalty provision, so the Legislature is free to formulate a penalty, even if contrary to the mandate. A version of the prior maximum class size bills (HB 591/SB 808) is winding its way through the Legislature again this year. In this version, however, the requirement of the districts to report to the Florida Department of Education the actual numbers of students per core class has been eliminated. The only way for the public to know whether the districts are in compliance is to pursue a public records request for each school in the state. The public has a right to know whether the districts are complying with the constitutional class-size mandate on a classroom basis, not on a school-wide average basis. The Legislature is not free to eliminate strict reporting requirements. This provision is contrary to the idea of transparency and accountability in government.


Legislature to discuss expanding controversial teacher bonus program (Michelle Dillon quoted)


Jefferson nears deal with charter firm to run district schools


Santa Rosa district, teachers on two paths to settlement


Religious expression bill keeps moving in Senate, without changes


Does new Florida law hurt school districts seeking construction funding?


House subcommittee advances bill to monitor pre-k student gains


Corporate reform: Turning a profit at public expense *


Five education programs that will lose big under the Trump-DeVos budget


How voucher dollars kept coming as an Indiana private school collapsed


Bargaining for social justice


Student loan defaults are rising faster than you think


Conflict between free speech, hate speech hits boiling point on college campuses (Kristine Anderson Dougherty quoted)


Forecast: Florida job creation slowing down this year


DCF sub-contractor accused of falsifying report, ignoring children's calls


Health care plan could reshape insurance for Floridians


Poor Floridians lost benefits through welfare block grants


Some lawmakers worry children will suffer under new Florida work-for-welfare bill


Scott, lawmakers should keep their hands off Sadowski affordable-housing funds


Orange Democrats back Ayala, condemn Seminole employee's comments


Agree with my politics or i’ll take away your power


Protect independence of prosecutors


Cantero: Florida should review entire death penalty process


Redistricting wars continue: Senate passes bill targeting court in future fights


House Republicans target “sanctuary cities”


Are Florida voters getting burned by lawmakers on last year's solar amendment?


Investing in nature is a better way to meet Florida's needs


Throwing book at Trump over his Florida golf course outings


Trump is under investigation for ties to Russia. What happens now?


Can Republicans be trusted to oversee the FBI investigation of Trump’s Russia ties?


How the FBI tailing Trump could dog his presidency


Former campaign chairman Manafort faces new allegations


Conway: Trump “doesn’t know” campaign aides with connections to Russia


How Trump’s businesses are financed by Russian cash


Trump’s lies are failing him, and it is making him deeply frustrated


The White House has lots of alternative facts on troublesome former advisers


Stone, the “trickster” on Trump’s side, is under FBI scrutiny


Trump to GOP critics of health care bill: “I’m gonna come after you”


The Republican health-care bill is picking up last-minute momentum in the House


Courting Trumpcare votes, GOP leaders agree to slam Medicaid even harder


Fewer Americans would be insured with GOP plan than with simple repeal


A Republican health care bill in search of a problem


The GOP’s new Obamacare repeal bill is a big defeat for conservatives


What’s at stake in a health bill that slashes the safety net


Trump hoping that health-care overhaul passes, says cutting taxes will be “fun”


Trump’s biggest Obamacare bloopers


How to fight Trumpcare


Ads try to pressure Miami Republicans ahead of healthcare vote


Trump’s budget is a stealth health-care bill that will make Americans sick


In Trump’s budget, America comes last


Trump lays plans to reverse Obama’s climate change legacy


White House calls climate change research a “waste.” Actually, it’s required by law.


South Florida cares about climate change more than many other places


What you should know about the science budget


On NASA, Nelson on same page with Trump


Why Trump’s NIH cuts should worry us


Wary about science under Trump, USF graduate students seek support


Millions of Americans hurt by gutting EPA’s budget


Trump goes after Consumer Financial Protection Bureau


If you like the arts, save agency, advocates tell lawmakers


Trump’s budget targets rural development programs that provide a quiet lifeline


Gorsuch stresses his independence from Trump


“I’ll criticize judges,” Trump says, hours after a scolding for doing just that


Schumer: “Unseemly” to confirm Gorsuch amid FBI probe of Trump campaign


Where does Gorsuch stand on torture? It’s hard to say


Gorsuch’s legacy, and the planet’s


Gorsuch, abortion and the concept of personhood


Will Gorsuch send women to jail for abortion?


Good-golly Gorsuch may turn out to be a rascal on the bench


Sorry, American judges are just as partisan as everyone else


Why Scalia's "strict constructionist” label is about politics, not the Constitution


ICE is calling out counties that don’t detain immigrants for deportation


Nothing to see here, just the United States losing a structural pillar of its power


Locked out: a casualty of ignorance (UFF mentioned)


Working for democracy, trapped in the U.S.


UWF gets more than $3 million to help immigrant and refugee students


Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” will require him to take swaths of other people’s land


What is the logic behind Trump’s new “electronics ban”? People are stumped.


Leader of group widely identified as anti-Muslim meets with White House


Labor nominee Acosta cut deal with billionaire guilty in sex abuse case


Trump to attend NATO summit in May, White House says


Secretary of state, NATO look for alternative date for first meeting


Susan Rice: When the White House twists the truth, we are all less safe


Why does Trump keep making promises he can’t keep? The secret lies in his past.


Why letting go, for Trump, is no small or simple task


Reality is creeping into the Trump show


“Turkish Trump,” a hotel plan and a tangle of foreign ties


As Ivanka Trump’s White House role expands, her company is sued


What will Ivanka Trump do in her White House office? The public may never know


A lot of lobbyists are holding their annual events in Trump properties




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