Today's news -- March 3, 2017




For real education reform, listen (by Scott Mazur)
For too long public school educators have been dictated to by policymakers with little to no formal educational or practical experience in the classroom. When legislative mandates yield unsatisfactory results, they blame teachers for poor policies teachers did not support or help craft. When policymakers diminish the pool of viable teachers by forcing highly effective educators out of the field because they "were not a good fit" or overburdened with policy and procedure which keep them from meeting their students' needs, they shifted blame to districts and administrators. This system of self-fulfilling prophecies has kicked the door down for an expansion of charters and vouchers. Some naively see these as magic bullets for public education, when in fact, they are simply "smoke and mirrors" to deflect attention from a lack of true, positive funding and reform of public education. Look at Jefferson County to see the impact of stagnant wages, principal turnover and generational poverty. Real reform is not about addressing symptoms but dealing with the source. Public education is about assessing the needs of the student, parents, and community and collaborating to create an environment which allows the student to maximize their potential so they become a productive participant in our democracy and society. The deterioration of public education is directly related to the undermining of the classroom teacher, marginalization of the profession, and lack of cooperation between educators, administrators and policymakers. Until this toxic level of distrust is addressed, real change will not occur. The Legislature's removal of due process and creation of annual contract teachers was as misguided as the Best and Brightest Scholarship. The Legislature believes via their policies that paying teachers a $10,000 bonus for a test score taken in high school is OK, but giving those same teachers stability in their jobs based on performance is not acceptable. There are many more examples of the cognitive disconnect between policies and desired results, because public education is not a business. The primary function of public education is not about creating consumers or economic growth. Instead, it is about harnessing the potential power of our democracy to make a more fair and just society. Yes, standards should be high. Yes, every student deserves the greatest teacher. Yes, we should have an accountability mechanism. Moreover, yes, we should start listening to educators about what they need to meet the needs of their students. The Florida Constitution requires policymakers to provide a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality public education system. It is time for policymakers to demonstrate to the children and voters of Florida that they are ready to meet their constitutional obligation. Let’s ask our public school teachers and listen to their needs. Let’s ask all stakeholders and listen as well. The Leon Classroom Teachers Association is ready and willing to be a part of the solution. LCTA would like to invite conservatives, liberals, progressives, business owners, parents, community leaders and those who sincerely care about students and public education to join LCTA in our goal to give all students a quality public education experience.


An education checklist for the 2017 session

Florida spends 51 percent of all the tax revenue it collects on education -- which, if you ask folks in the education world, is a blessing and a curse when it comes to the Legislature. The amount of money spent commands the lawmakers' attention, and that's the level of interest that education deserves. The curse: Sometimes that attention leads to the kind of ill-advised tinkering that ends up wasting everyone's time and energy. Going into the 2017 legislative session, though, it feels like the good kind of attention has prevailed so far, with a number of substantive proposals worthy of debate. In the Florida Senate, President Joe Negron declared early on that his top priority this session will be to start the process of making "our good universities great" by elevating them to "national elite destination universities" like the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina. The vessel for that goal is Senate Bill 2, which would significantly sweeten scholarship programs like Bright Futures, bolster efforts to recruit world-class faculty, and improve certain graduate programs, among other measures. The bill also would push the system to get students through their studies "on time" in four years, thereby minimizing their college costs and getting them into the workforce faster. As for K-12 schools, leaders in both chambers say they have heard the growing calls to tame state testing and are pushing major changes to two pillars of Florida's accountability system that have been around for years. "Maybe we've taken a good thing too far, and now it is time to bring some common sense to it," Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican and former Senate president, told a gathering of school superintendents earlier this year. Two proposals (SB 926 and HB 773) would push state tests for English language arts and math to the last three weeks of the school year, addressing a long-standing complaint that Florida's springtime testing regimen begins too early and takes too much time from classes. The bills also would require the state Department of Education to investigate the possibility of allowing high school students to meet the graduation requirement by taking the SAT or ACT rather than the state's 10th grade test. Another pair of bills (HB 131 and SB 1280) would remove the requirement that third-graders who perform poorly on the state's English language arts test be held back from fourth grade.


Lawmakers propose revisions to Best and Brightest

Two powerful Florida state senators have filed bills this week to revamp the controversial Best and Brightest teacher bonus that lawmakers created two years ago. Both Senate Education Appropriations chairman David Simmons and Agriculture chairman Keith Perry have called for changing the criteria by which educators could qualify for the added annual pay bump, which in the past has been based on getting a "highly effective" evaluation and having a high enough SAT or ACT score. Under Simmons' bill [SB 1460], could substitute for the college entry test score a cumulative university grade point average of 3.5 or better, a Florida certification subject area test score in the top 10 percent, or even an agreement to teach at a D- or F-rated Florida school the following year. Perry's measure [SB 1410] would lower the level a teacher would have had to earned on the SAT or ACT, and add several other tests that could be considered including the GRE and LSAT. Both proposals would also make school administrators eligible for the bonus. These ideas come amid a growing movement to find better ways to recruit and retain teachers to Florida's schools, which have faced an increasing shortage of qualified applicants. Educators have complained that the original Best and Brightest model did not adequately identify and reward excellent teaching, and it did little to attract people into the profession.


St. Johns plans on expanding diversity recruitment efforts (Michelle Dillon quoted)


Teacher pay raises to be discussed in Manatee


Pasco district will let students read when done with state tests


Pinellas “transformation zone” schools showing signs of progress, officials say


Florida needs teachers, but high schoolers aren’t interested


Union, school board at impasse over retro pay in Santa Rosa


Trump to highlight vouchers program at Orlando school President Trump will call the nation’s attention to one of Florida’s most controversial school choice policies for the second time this week during a planned visit to a Catholic school in Orlando today. During Trump's speech to Congress earlier this week, he urged lawmakers "to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth" without giving further details. But his national program could be modeled on Florida’s long-running tax credit scholarship program, which was created in 2001 to help low-income families pay for private schools. Under the program, corporations get 100 percent tax credits for donations that fund private school scholarships for poor children. The amount of tax credits the state will offer this fiscal year is capped at about $560 million, and nearly 98,000 students currently attend private schools using the scholarships. Trump will see the program in action firsthand today when he tours St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, which enrolls 330 students in pre-K through 8th grade. Nearly all — 291 — of the students are recipients of tax credit scholarships that help cover the $6,000 tuition bill, according to Step Up For Students. He's also taking part in in a "parent-teacher conference listening session." Gov. Rick Scott will join Trump for the event. Florida’s program, however, has been beset by legal challenges led by traditional public education advocates. Affiliated national groups say they will fight any proposals to introduce such plans on the federal level. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said Trump and DeVos have “demonstrated … an antipathy toward public schools” in favor of private alternatives. Weingarten said the president should visit a public school, specifically Evans Community School, an Orange County high school that offers a variety of social services to students and families such as health and dental care, free meals and after-school programs. The school is operated by the district in partnership with the University of Central Florida and the Children’s Home Society of Florida. Unions have pushed the community schools model as a strategy for helping impoverished students succeed in traditional public schools. Instead, Trump will use a religious school “as a backdrop for [his and DeVos’] ideological crusade," Weingarten said. “Trump is in Florida to push school choice and a backdoor voucher proposal as a way to turn education into a commodity,” she said. The Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers’ union and affiliate of both AFT and the National Education Association, has argued the state's tax credit scholarship program creates an unconstitutional parallel and inferior system of public education, siphons resources from the traditional public schools that serve the most disadvantaged students and violates the separation of church and state. The union also objects that private schools accepting the scholarships are not held to the same accountability standards as public schools.  “It makes more sense to put precious resources into making our public schools as great as they can be,” FEA President Joanne McCall said Thursday. FEA led the fight against the scholarships all the way to the state Supreme Court, which earlier this year declined to hear the lawsuit. The union and its co-plaintiffs, including the Florida chapter of the NAACP, weren’t able to argue their case in court, though. Both trial and appeals courts have deemed the plaintiffs lack standing as taxpayers to challenge the law, because would-be revenue forfeited through a tax credit is never collected or appropriated by the state. Throughout the legal process, FEA and its allies have made themselves targets for the ire of conservative politicians in a right-to-work state already hostile to labor causes.


Arizona shows what can go wrong with tax credit vouchers


Bush encourages virtual and charter schools during Missouri Capitol visit


Are charter schools the second coming of Enron?


Kansas Supreme Court says state education spending is too low


Report: Florida is No. 1 state for higher education


FSU gets high marks for black graduation rate


Palm Beach State College opens new fifth campus


DeVos’ power over black colleges


Scott to invoke Trump in Florida House leadership fight


House bill to kill Enterprise Florida includes cuts to other development funds


Scott calls out Miami-Dade Republicans who want to eliminate Enterprise Florida


The battle over Florida's free market


Combative new Florida House speaker vows contentious session (FEA mentioned)


Corcoran brings incentives debate to Sarasota on eve of session


A guide to the session players of 2017


Welcome back to the lamest show on earth


State Supreme Court upholds ban on openly carrying guns


Representative aims to clarify when cops should seize guns


Lawmakers consider making Secretary of State an elected position again


Florida reports three Zika cases in Miami as CDC says virus increased birth defects


Abortion bill is a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate doctors


Coalition seeks full funding for affordable housing in state budget


Should logging be allowed in Myakka River State Park?


Tree harvesting, cattle grazing at Savannas Preserve State Park?


Sessions will recuse himself from any probe related to campaign


Sessions had no choice


Sessions’ recusal can’t be the end of the story


Sessions has a big problem. And that’s just the beginning.


Trump has “total” confidence in Sessions amid calls for resignation


Sticking with Trump, Republicans resist call for broader Russian inquiry


Sessions’ puzzling news conference


Sessions needs to go


Wasserman-Schultz, Crist, Castor say Sessions should resign


Kushner and Flynn met with Russian envoy in December, White House says


Former Trump adviser also met with Russian envoy


The Trump presidency can’t seem to escape Russia’s shadow


Who is the Russian ambassador rattling Trump's presidency?


Sessions and the Trump administration’s never-ending amateur hour


The GOP’s protective wall around Trump is beginning to crumble


Trump’s many shades of contempt


House leaders forge ahead with health bills, hoping to bulldoze strife


Ryan’s feeling confident about repeal-and-replace. McConnell not so much.


GOP senator: For many voters, Obamacare is “a subset” of the Affordable Care Act


GOP accused of playing “hide-and-seek” with Obamacare replacement bill


Trump’s health insurance proposal would start a race to the bottom


The GOP’s wrong answers on health care


At Obamacare rally in Miami, activists call on Congress to preserve health law


Republicans already think Obamacare repeal is a nightmare


Matt Gaetz: Insurer transparency needed in ACA overhaul


Welcome refugees, churches say in a public challenge to Trump


Dreamer arrested after speaking to media will be deported without hearing


In cooperating, Miami-Dade folded to Trump’s “blackmailing,” judge hears


A “sanctuary city” seizes the moment, and the name


Democrats dismiss Trump's immigration reform talk


After a wave of bomb threats, Homeland Security offers help to Jewish centers


Florida reps to Trump: Get tougher on anti-Semitism


Jewish donors boost fundraising effort after Thonotosassa mosque arson


Across the country, a Republican push to rein in protesters


Trump’s latest fear-mongering media lie


A great new accidental renaissance


Touring warship, Trump pushes plan to expand military


Trump may give the Pentagon more authority to conduct raids


Military expects more shopping money, if not all Trump seeks


Throwing more money at the military won’t make it stronger


Under Trump, an already depleted IRS could face deep cuts


Top Trump advisers are split on Paris Agreement on climate change


Trump’s war on science


Five Trump Cabinet members who’ve made false statements to Congress


Trump’s FCC chair is already gutting public-interest regulations


Public lands in private hands?


Carson is confirmed as HUD secretary


Senate votes to confirm Perry as energy secretary


McMaster was rebuked in 2015 over handling of officers accused of sexual assault


White House pushing back against Mattis appointment


Rubio chides Tillerson over absence on Human Rights Report's launch


How Trump’s post-election stock surge compares with other presidents


Trump courts donors with eye on 2020


Pence used his AOL email for state business as governor – and was hacked


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