Today's news -- March 27, 2017




Senators face a test *

It’s testing season in Florida public schools. And while students struggle to solve the mysteries of state assessments, lawmakers begin an intense battle over the future of high-stakes testing in public schools. Today, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, introduces SB 926 to the Education Committee. Her supporters call the proposal the “Fewer, Better Tests” bill.  Flores said it will make the testing system used to evaluate teachers, grade schools and promote students “purposeful and meaningful.”cIt reduces the testing window from nine to three weeks and provides results to teachers in a timely manner.c“This would result, in my opinion, and the opinion of others, a reduction of some unnecessary tests,” Flores told a workshop on school testing. “Why? Because at the district level, the only tests that can be administered would be those that can be returned in one week.” She said the proposal fundamentally changes how tests are administered and used. Flores' opponents agree. They say it will make things worse. They point to the plan’s misuse of National Assessment of Education Progress data and say it will produce more failing students and schools. “We would see high school students reading at the grade level not able to graduate. We would see our school grades plummet,” Marie-Claire Leman, a Tallahassee public elementary school parent told lawmakers. “And it would fuel the market for vouchers and for-profit charters at the expense of public education.” Flores has the support of the Florida Chamber, the James Madison Institute and the Jeb Bush-created Foundation for Florida’s Future — an education policy group that advocates for standardized measurements and accountability in public schools. The Foundation's fingerprints are all over the bill, according to The Opt-Out Florida Network, a group opposed to high stakes testing. “There is nothing fewer or better about this bill,” said Cindy Hamilton, co-founder of a network that includes 30 chapters across Florida. “This creates more high stakes — no 8-year-old should know their test scores impact their teacher's salary and future as a teacher. They do and that’s wrong.” Meanwhile, the Leon Opt-Out Chapter, The Tea Party Network, and some Senate Republicans are lining up behind a testing plan advanced by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Montford, the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, has spent three years talking to parents, teachers and superintendents about their frustration with a testing system that often begins in February and lasts for weeks.  He said what began as a system to measure student performance has evolved into something that dominates the schedule and the curriculum. "Scheduling exams requires decisions to be made that damage the academic time," said Montford, who added Florida has a robust testing system and he just wants to fine tune it. "We've gone too far, testing students who have not received a full year of teaching. This will get the system back in line." Montford's proposal spells out which tests to eliminate, delays tests until the final month of the school year, allow principals to evaluate teachers and permits districts to return to pencil-and-paper tests. Many districts complain their computer lab classes are disrupted for weeks so tests can be administered. Sometimes the disruption is lengthened when the server crashes and the test data is lost. "Backwards as it may sound, allowing districts to use paper-pencil will save academic time. Will let teachers spend more time teaching. And allow the students not taking the exams to use the computers in the lab in a structural program," said Montford. The Montford proposal has bipartisan backing but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing. Flores’ bill will be heard at 1:30 today by the Education Committee.

"I'm confident that one way or another we'll get our bill heard," Montford said. "If not, maybe they can do a committee bill." Montford's SB 964 calls for several actions backed by the superintendents, including the elimination of VAM scores for teacher evaluations, the deletion of several end-of-course exams and a return to paper-pencil testing.


Want fewer tests? Change the accountability system.


Union bill illustrates Democrat-Republican divide

Suppose, first thing every Monday morning, before you started work, you had to fill out a new job application, go through some interviews and convince most of your coworkers to let you remain in your position. That’s what a bill set for floor debate in the Florida House this week would mean for unions representing government employees. It will probably pass the House and get stalled in the Senate, but you never know what’s possible in the closing days. Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood,

believes that a union like the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees should enroll at least half of the people it represents. If fewer than half of the eligible employees in a bargaining unit aren’t members, his House Bill 11 provides for the union to be decertified. Police and firefighter unions would be exempt from that requirement. They could remain the legal representatives of law-enforcement and correctional officers, even when their active membership falls below half of the eligible employees. That’s the first clue, if proof be needed, that this is really a thumb in the eye of organized labor. Unions generally support Democrats. The cops and other first responders very often backing Republicans. Passage of Plakon’s bill, and its dormant Senate companion by Sen. Dennis Baxley of Lady Lake, would mean massive decertification of public-employee unions. Most of them are far, far below 50 percent membership — some in single-digit percentages. So its passage would free state and local agencies from bargaining over wages and working conditions. Not that negotiation is such a burden. The Florida Supreme Court gave public employees the right to collective bargaining, but not to strike, nearly 50 years ago. This is a “right to work” state, so no one in the public or private sector is required to join a union. Unlike a few other big states, Florida does not have strong organized labor. At the state level, if a union like AFSCME reaches an impasse with the Department of Management Services, the Legislature listens carefully to both sides, agonizes over the pros and cons for seconds – sometimes minutes — and then sides with the employer. So Plakon’s bill uses an elephant gun to kill a mouse. Under his proposal, AFSCME and other unions would probably spend most of their time keeping their heads above water. Before they could attend to their duties of sticking up for wrongly dismissed employees, suing state agencies over contract violations or lobbying for better benefits, union officers would have to keep a running tab on membership levels. When they fall below 50 percent, they’d have to start recruiting or preparing ballots for what would be perpetual re-certification campaigns. Plakon’s bill passed the House Oversight, Transparency and Administration Committee in a 10-3 vote, followed by a 14-8 endorsement last week in the Governmental Operations and Accountability Committee. All Republicans voted with him, all Democrats on those two committees voted with the AFL-CIO and other labor lobbyists who testified against the bill. It’s on the House calendar this week, no doubt headed for the Senate in another party-line rollcall. But that’s where it will probably stop. A few years ago, Republicans came up with a “paycheck protection act” which would have stopped deduction of union dues from employee salaries. Employees could have still joined unions, but they’d have to personally handle the dues every month, rather than having payment withheld by employers like a donation to the United Way. The more contemplative Senate, though controlled by Republicans, decided employees were smart enough to protect their paychecks without state intervention. Baxley’s companion to Plakon’s bill has been assigned to four committees in the Senate, without so much as a hearing in the session’s first three weeks. Baxley chairs one of those panels, which will receive the House bill when it comes over, but then it will go to the Commerce and Tourism Committee – chaired by Democrat Bill Montford of Tallahassee. Montford noted that employees haven’t had a raise in a while, and they can be represented without joining a union. Not being a member doesn’t mean an employee doesn’t want the union’s representation, he said. “Is there really a need for this bill?” Montford asked. “I’m not sure that payment of union dues is a proper measure of support for what the union does for employees.” (Karla Hernandez Mats quoted)

With teachers fleeing, Florida must start listening *

With 40 percent of teachers leaving Florida’s public schools within five years after starting, Florida has a problem. Tallahassee politicians know this. They also know they created these problems with policies that are top-down, bureaucratic and generally bone-headed. So they’re now scrambling to fix things. One bill would tinker with the state’s flawed teacher-bonus program. Another would tinker with the state’s flawed testing regulations. The changes are minor. The general goal seems to be upgrading Florida’s education mandates from truly dreadful to just plain bad. This would actually be a good aspirational motto for our Legislature — Florida 2017: Less dreadful than before. In many cases, the new bills address serious problems with insignificant solutions. Take the plan to improve Florida’s nationally ridiculed teacher-bonus program, for example. Right now bonuses are based, in part, on test scores teachers posted back when they were students ... even if those scores are 30 years old. It is obviously ridiculous to base an English teacher’s pay in 2017 upon SAT math scores she earned as a 17-year-old in 1986. So this year’s legislative “solution” is to — wait for it — let teachers submit other old test scores as well. Like maybe their 1989 LSAT. Seriously. This will be great news to all the lawyers now teaching Latin. Some GOP politicians like to blame public-school problems on unions, portraying union members as lazy and incompetent. (Teachers unions anyway. The same politicians tend to be chummy with firefighter and cop unions, since they crave law-and-order campaign endorsements.) Really, though, this union obsession is overblown. In a “Right to Work” state such as Florida, unions are more often used as boogeymen than political powerhouses.


Voucher legislation meets resistance from educators, parents, and elected leaders


Public education in jeopardy


Some Santa Rosa teachers seek change in union representation (Bill Vincent and Jennifer Hensley quoted)


Manatee teachers’ pay to be decided by school board Monday (Pat Barber and Susan Bischoff quoted)


Volusia teachers discouraged by state’s teacher bonus program (Andrew Spar quoted)


Nine education bills that would impact Brevard schools (Vanessa Skipper and Kevin Watson quoted)


Clay teacher feedback offers insight into instructional culture, practices (Renna Lee Paiva quoted)


House committee proposes changes to school recess bill


SBOE raises concerns over services for English-language learners


Senator proposes more autonomy for school board members visiting schools


Educators to U.S. senators: Students with disabilities deserve better than Gorsuch (NEA mentioned)


GOP nixes Skandera for top job because of her fervent support for Common Core


Robinson gets good marks as FAMU committee decides how to pick next president (Elizabeth Davenport quoted)


Nova Southeastern president: No “open carry” on college campuses


Legislature should keep hands off four-year college degrees


Block tuition could mean $6 million windfall or loss for FGCU


DeVos tours Valencia campus in Osceola


Soto introduces Direct Connect to Success Act during DeVos visit to Orlando


Five myths about college admissions


Five budget fights to watch as Scott, lawmakers collide on spending


House still picking winners and losers on tax breaks


State loses 5,000 jobs in February


The blessings and challenges of Florida's growth


Legislators may eliminate community redevelopment dollars


Constitution panel responds to Corcoran criticism


Constitution another uphill battle for Joyner


Aramis Ayala: The state attorney who refuses to pursue the death penalty


NAACP urges Scott to return case to prosecutor


House to consider two, six-year judicial term limits


Shifting EPA's role to states would be bad for Florida


How the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office spied on protesters


Hospitals on edge as lawmakers weigh cuts to Medicaid in Florida


Florida legislators take on hardline immigration policies


GOP gun bills stall in Capitol


Radical transformations under way in state real estate


Miami real estate is so expensive that locals are moving out


Climate change “the biggest challenge the city of Miami will ever face,” mayor says


Sunshine state shuns solar as New York basks in clean energy boom


Nelson, congressional members urge administration against oil drilling off Florida


How to ensure everyone a guaranteed basic income


AFL-CIO ready to sue if Trump waters down overtime regulations (Richard Trumka quoted)


Manafort to testify before House intelligence panel


Senate committee to question Kushner over meetings with Russians


Intelligence committee chair Nunes cancels public hearing on Russia


Democrats stuck with Nunes in Russia-Trump probe


Trump-Russia inquiry endangered after lawmaker's “peculiar midnight run”


In Washington’s daily Trump wars, Nunes becomes a human shield


The dual roles of Nunes raise questions about House investigation


The committee probing the Russia scandal has erupted into open warfare


Poll: Majority want independent commission to investigate Trump-Russia ties


U.S. needs to stop Russian electoral interference, NSA’s top civilian leader says


A unified theory on Trump’s Russian connections


It’s time for the feds to follow the Russian money


The critical questions on Russia


Hardball political operative Stone finds himself on the receiving end


Report: Flynn discussed illegal kidnapping of exiled Turkish dissident


Comey: Democrat by birth, Republican by trade, thorn in the side of both


Amid Trump inquiry, a primer on surveillance practices and privacy


The Clinton campaign warned you about Russia


Russian police arrest anti-corruption leader, hundreds more in nationwide rallies


Five months, eight prominent Russians dead


In major defeat for Trump, push to repeal health law fails


White House launches damage control after health bill collapses


Trump’s path forward only gets tougher after health-care fiasco


Why Republicans were in such a hurry on health care


Who is to blame for the failure? The finger-pointing begins.


Trump’s misleading claims on the health bill failure


It’s true Trump didn’t pledge Obamacare repeal in 64 days. He pledged it in one.


How the health care vote fell apart, step by step


Trump played a game of chicken with House Republicans. Then he blinked. Bigly.


Trump’s train wreck


Affordable Care Act remains “law of the land,” but Trump vows to explode it


How to build on Obamacare


Cutting essential benefits doesn’t save costs — it just shifts them to families


Health bill’s failure leaves supporters in a political jam back home


Angry over U.S. healthcare fail, Trump voters spare him blame


The TrumpRyanCare debacle


Poll: Most Americans want to replace Obamacare with single-payer


With AHCA defeat, some Democrats see chance to push for universal coverage


Democrats, buoyed by GOP health defeat, see no need to offer hand


Health care bill defeat a loss for Scott


Florida lawmakers play role in sinking GOP's health care bill


Before healthcare bill collapsed, Miami Republicans grappled with whether to back it


Buchanan, Rooney disappointed in health care bill’s failure


At Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach Republicans shrug off health care failure


Wall Street’s love affair with Trump cools as healthcare bill sows doubts


With his presidency off course, what will Trump learn from the health-care debacle?


Trump becomes ensnared in fiery GOP civil war


A right and left flank within the GOP willing to buck House leadership


How a secret Freedom Caucus pact brought down Obamacare repeal


Trump goes after Freedom Caucus, but its leader doesn’t hit back


GOP congressman resigns from Freedom Caucus after health-care drama


Ryan emerges from health care defeat badly damaged


Fox News host calls on Ryan to step down, after Trump tweets about her show


The flimflam man


More lies on Planned Parenthood


Trump vs. Congress: Now what?


GOP wonders: Can it get anything done?


Civics lesson unfolds at Capitol as health care bill incinerates


White House complains pro-Trump group MIA on health bill


Trump blames everyone but himself for healthcare legislation failure


Trump’s biggest obstacle to policy goals? His own missteps


Trump finally gets a good sense of what governing is like

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