Today's news -- March 29, 2017





Another budget showdown looms over teacher bonuses *

While both the House and Senate are interested in more than quadrupling funding to expand the “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus program next year, only the House actually proposes a dollar figure in its budget proposal. Both chambers’ education budget plans were unveiled Tuesday in advance of the full budget roll-out this week. The House plan calls for $214 million in the 2017-18 budget for the teacher bonuses, up from the $49 million the Legislature allocated this year. But the Senate proposal zeros out the program funding -- setting up another year of negotiations over the controversial program. “That’s part of the process; this is not the first go-around with that in dealing with the Senate,” said Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman. “That’s par for the course.” Senate Pre-K-12 Education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, revealed in February that lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol were interested in expanding the “Best and Brightest” program so that teachers could be eligible in more ways than just their SAT/ACT score from high school and so that principals could also qualify for bonus dollars. Two policy bills have been filed in the Senate to expand “Best and Brightest” for teachers and principals, but both bills have gotten zero attention so far. And they both have long odds of passing the chamber; each has four committee stops, when most bills get three. (The bills are SB 1410 from Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville — which is identical to Diaz’s bill — and SB 1552 from Simmons.) However, the program could still expand next year even without the legislation. Lawmakers could detail the policy in proviso language in the budget — which is what they did in 2015 when the program was created and again last year when policy bills stalled in the Senate.


Property tax debate looms for education budget *

The House and Senate made opening bids Tuesday on boosting public-school spending, with the Senate unveiling a proposal to increase per-student funding by roughly 10 times what the House is offering. But the upper chamber’s heftier increase is built in large part on allowing local property taxes to increase with property values, something that is a non-starter for the House and could become a major sticking point as lawmakers attempt to wrap up the annual legislative session by its scheduled May 5 conclusion. The proposal from Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican who chairs the Senate’s education budget-writing subcommittee, would boost per-student spending by 2.9 percent, or almost $210 a head, in the budget year that will begin July 1. But about $191 of that would come from local property taxes, which are part of the state’s school-funding formula. Meeting with his subcommittee Tuesday morning, and perhaps anticipating the House’s reaction, Simmons brushed away criticisms that accounting for the increased property values’ effect on taxes amounted to a hike. He pointed out that the tax rate would not change. “We’ve kept that at the same (level) and believe that keeping the millage rate the same is not a tax increase,” Simmons said. In building the budget for the current spending year, which ends June 30, lawmakers lowered the state’s portion of the property tax rate for schools to essentially offset any increase in property values for education. Gov. Rick Scott and others touted the change as a tax cut, because the tax rate fell, although it kept the actual taxes collected at the same amount. House leaders have repeatedly said this year that they will not allow property-tax bills to go up because of rising values. As a result, the House education proposal unveiled late Monday would provide a 0.3 percent spending increase, or roughly $19 a student. Another $509.8 million would be devoted to rolling back the tax rate so that property taxes would stay flat. Asked whether there might be room to negotiate, Simmons’ House counterpart pointed to something House Speaker Richard Corcoran told a reporter for the Tallahassee bureau shared by the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. “I think the speaker was quoted as saying ‘hell no’ on raising taxes, so I’m just going to defer to his quote,” said Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah.


House would add $200 million for charter schools

The House public education budget would be extra kind to charter schools next year, pumping $200 million into charters specifically targeting children stuck in persistently low-performing classrooms. The money would provide grants to “charter school networks with a proven track record of serving specifically low-income students and successfully closing the achievement gap,” said Manny Diaz Jr., chairman of the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. Separate legislation to provide the details — including how to target the students most in need — is still being worked out, he added. “We have a school that has failed for 10 years. Every aspect of the turnaround process has been tried there,” Diaz said. “This is intensive care,” he said. “This is one of those intensive tools to go after that.” An analysis of school performance as of the 2015-16 school year showed that 495 — 15 percent of the total — scored D or F on their evaluations, Diaz told committee members. Sixty were “persistently low-performing” — meaning they’d lagged for five years or more. Students attending those schools number 33,400 students, he said. Democrats expressed skepticism, worried about spending public dollars outside public classrooms.


Concern mounts over textbook, coding bills as they gain steam in Legislature


House's school recess bill no longer requires daily recess


“Religious liberties” measures diverge, but advance


How much extra cash will Manatee teachers see in their wallets? (Pat Barber quoted)


Hernando district decisions raise questions of transparency (Ron Meyer quoted)


Help for Florida teachers failing state test, but will state's solution save them?


Lead exposure alters the trajectory of children’s lives decades later, study finds


Ivanka Trump, DeVos promote STEM careers (Randi Weingarten quoted)


Welcome to the private evangelical school of DeVos' dreams


Senate panel OKs $600 million in higher-ed money

The Florida Senate wants to boost higher-education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars next year, with more than half of the money going to student financial aid, including an expansion of Bright Futures merit scholarships and a dramatic increase in need-based assistance. In support of Senate President Joe Negron’s effort to elevate Florida’s universities, Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, outlined a plan Tuesday to increase spending for the 12 state universities by $313 million, or an 11 percent increase, while also boosting student scholarships and financial aid by $320 million, or 61 percent. The proposal includes a $180 million boost in the Bright Futures program, which would bring funding to a total of $397 million in the 2017-18 academic year. The increase would be aimed at 45,000 top-performing students who qualify as “academic scholars” and would cover all their tuition and fees. The scholarship currently only covers about half of the $200 average per-credit hour cost for classes. The increase would also provide $300 each for the fall and spring semesters to pay for textbooks for academic scholars. It would allow the Bright Futures scholars to take classes in the summer. While Bright Futures is awarded based on academic performance, the Senate plan would also dramatically increase funding for the Florida “student assistance grants,” the state’s largest need-based aid program.


College system bill passes House panel, offering contrasts A bill revising Florida’s community college system breezed through a Florida House committee Tuesday, setting up potential negotiations with a similar Florida Senate bill that recently cleared a key committee with some critical differences. House Bill 929 does little to change anything currently going on in the Florida College System but sets out to establish parameters to prevent the system from evolving from the current formula, which has been winning nation recognition as a model for both workforce-ready education and transfers to state universities. The bill would emphasize that the primary missions of Florida’s colleges is its 2+2 system for providing college students with their first two years of college toward a four-year bachelor’s degree they can finish at a state university, and its workforce demand-driven associates of science programs and technical certificate programs preparing students for immediate job needs in a community. The bill consequently sets a cap on how much Florida’s 28 state colleges can offer in four-year bachelor of science degrees, at 20 percent of the statewide system’s student body. It also forbids colleges from offering four-year bachelor of arts degrees. And it calls for a task force to be created and report next fall on whether the colleges should continue to be run by the Florida State Board of Education, or under a new system set up just for colleges. Those limits would not appear to cause any current concerns, since Florida’s colleges’ bachelor of science programs only account for about 4 percent of the system’s student body, and no Florida state college currently offers any bachelor of arts degrees. Yet some of the bills provisions, including the 20 percent cap, are divergences from the original bill, changes sponsor Republican state Rep. Jake Rayburn of Valrico said have been made as a result of concerns raised by college officials and others in earlier hearings. And that puts them at odds with the companion Senate Bill 374, which was approved two weeks ago by the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, setting the cap at 15 percent of all degrees, and creating a new governing board, the Florida State Board of Community Colleges. “We are very proud of what our Florida college system does, and the opportunities it provides to Floridians to get a good education, and many times that leads to a good-paying job,” Rayburn said. “The bills originated in the Senate and we are working with our partners in the Senate to come up with a product that is good for the Florida College System.” Some college officials had bristled with strong opposition at the earlier proposal for a 15 percent cap and some of the other provisions included in an earlier bill, but offered less resistance to the 20 percent cap and some of the other changes discussed Tuesday in the House committee. “Compared to what we’ve seen, it’s a much better product,” said Marshall Ogletree, interim executive director of the United Faculty of Florida.


FAMU trustees move forward with plan to hire consultant on presidential profile


Rollins student, prof clashed for weeks in religion class,amp.html


Georgia Senate passes “campus carry” gun bill


League of Women Voters concerned about CRC

The League of Women Voters is preparing to voice concerns regarding the state Constitution Revision Commission ahead of their first public meeting in Orlando. The CRC is a 37 member appointed board that meets every 20 years for the purpose of reviewing the state constitution and proposing changes for voter consideration.  The League is a part of a coalition of groups along with Planned Parenthood, Equality Florida, and others who “fear proposed rules and rushed meetings create roadblocks to meaningful public participation” and not that “The first public hearing of the CRC, set for Wednesday evening in Orlando, was scheduled with almost no public notice, without any coordination with commission members to determine their availability to attend, and prior to adoption of rules of procedure.” The first meeting of the CRC is scheduled to take place at 5PM at the University of Central Florida as part of its “Floridians Speak, We Listen” tour. Both conservative and progressive groups have been trying to mobilize supporters for a high turnout.


Judge throws out Miami Beach minimum-wage hike after challenges


Levine may pursue constitutional amendment


Visit Florida plans differ among lawmakers


Liberal group attacks Flores over budget


"We are Florida!" rally held at the Capitol


Poll shows support for open primary elections


Restore civil rights for nonviolent Florida felons


Hospitals face Medicaid cuts in first drafts of state budget


Did DCF create media flap after foster child’s suicide to distract from agency errors?


Officials ruled prison death an accident, but documents show they omitted details


State’s being “hoodwinked” in oversight of privately run prisons, advocate says


The gilded rich are flocking to Florida and its lack of state income tax


Legislation would allow FPL to charge customers for fracking


Chinese president to stay in Manalapan for Trump visit


Mar-a-Lago can't release visitor logs -- because it doesn't keep them


Monitoring Mar-a-Lago guests is an impossible task for the Secret Service


Government watchdog to examine cost of Trump's Florida travel


“Carnage” indeed, but Trump’s policies would make it worse


Evidence that robots are winning the race for American jobs


At BlackRock, machines are rising over managers to pick stocks


GOP legislatures are taking away workers’ raises and paid leave


Trump administration sought to block Yates from testifying on Russia,amp.html


Nunes, White House defiant as Russia controversy deepens


Lindsey Graham: Nunes is running “an Inspector Clouseau investigation”


Nunes is dangerous


How the White House and Republicans blew up the Russia investigation


House panel’s Russia probe effectively put on hold


Will Republicans ever agree to an independent probe of the Russia scandal?


Cheney delivers a statement on Russian meddling: It’s an “act of war”


Trump's business network reached alleged Russian mobsters


What a murdered former Russian lawmaker said in one of his final interviews


Manafort-linked accounts on Cyprus raised red flag


Manafort's puzzling New York real estate purchases


How Manafort got ridiculously wealthy while aiding a Ukrainian strongman


Affordable Care Act repeal is back on the agenda, Republicans say


Judge finds that Aetna deceived the public about its reasons for quitting Obamacare


GOP legislatures face pressure after Trumpcare failure


Senate Democrats offer to work with Trump on health care — if he ends attack


Meet the Freedom Caucus, the group that dared to say no to Trump


This is what you get, Mr. Speaker


Poll: Health care debacle takes toll on Trump


Five reasons Trump’s promised tax overhaul won’t be so easy


Trump now says he wants to work with Democrats -- but it may already be too late


House votes to wipe away Obama-era Internet privacy protections


How the Republicans sold your privacy to Internet providers


These are the House members who voted in favor of selling your internet data


Trump team claims credit for jobs at Ford that were negotiated by a union


Trump wants to add wall spending to bill, potentially forcing shutdown showdown


Here's what Sessions got wrong about the law in his attack on sanctuary cities,amp.html


Miami’s high-skilled workforce is fueled largely by immigrant talent


In King’s district, Iowans begin to question his anti-immigrant views


America's deportation squads want to expel our neighbors. We are saying no.


Two activists arrested by immigration officials are released (Lily Eskelsen García quoted)

Gorsuch needs a straight flush to beat filibuster


How Nelson shook up the Gorsuch confirmation fight


Trump moves decisively to wipe out Obama’s climate-change record


Trump puts the planet on a dangerous path


Trump’s executive order pushes the U.S. climate pledge further out of reach


What to know about Trump’s order to dismantle the clean power plan


Trump’s executive order “incredibly short-sighted” says former White House official


Trump’s misleading words on energy and jobs



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