Today's news -- March 30, 2017





Bill targeting public-employee unions advances *

A proposal that could decertify public employee union chapters across Florida moved closer to a final House vote Wednesday, as its sponsor denied it was “union busting.” Sponsor Scott Plakon, a Republican business owner from Longwood, argued his bill was about transparency and democratic principles. “This empowers the majority who may not be paying dues,” he said. “Should a very small minority be able to impose their will on people who don’t want to be a part of it?” he wondered aloud at one point in the debate. HB 11 would require the decertification of any public employee union unless at least 50 percent of the eligible workers in a unit pay dues. Plakon has argued that he knows of one workplace where only 3 percent of the eligible workers are unionized. Florida is a right-to-work state, meaning that workers are not obliged to join a union. About 10 percent of state employees affiliate with organized labor. There’s an exemption for firefighters’ police, and corrections officers’ unions. That’s to avoid “labor unrest” among public safety workers, Plakon said. Democrats repeatedly tried to get Plakon to acknowledge his target was teachers unions. He denied it repeatedly. “I’ve never said that. Impugning those motives on why I’m doing the bill is just not correct — that’s not what’s in my heart or in my mind,” Democrat John Cortes, a retired corrections officer from Kissimmee, was blunt. “Is this some kind of form of union busting?” he asked. “That, again, would go to the intentions of me filing the bill,” Plakon said — frowned upon by House rules. “But to answer your question: No,” he said. “The bill weakens unions, which are already weak in this state,” Broward Democrat Richard Stark said.' (Karla Hernandez Mats and Rich Templin quoted)

Lawmakers at odds over “tax increase” to fund schools *

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran famously said “hell, no” last month to any property tax increases during the 2017 legislative session. That’s not scaring off the state Senate, though. Senators plan to test Corcoran’s hardline stance and are proposing to spend almost $540 million more than the House next year on K-12 public education by using extra property tax dollars gleaned from rising property values. Senate budget leaders contend it is “not a tax increase” because the tax rate won’t change under their budget plan. But the House says that it is, because homeowners and businesses will pay more money toward their tax bill if their property value went up this year. Those opposing philosophical views -- now laid out in official House and Senate education budget proposals released Tuesday -- set up the Legislature for a showdown in budget negotiations over the next month in how much to spend on public schools in 2017-18 and how to fund any increase. The Senate specifically proposes spending nearly $21 billion on K-12 education in 2017-18, $790 million more than this year. That includes a nearly 3 percent increase, or an extra $210 each, in per-student funding, bringing it to $7,414 per student. By comparison, the initial House plan calls for just a $19 per-student increase, to $7,224 — barely a quarter of a percentage point hike because the House isn’t willing to collect more state dollars from the rising property values through what’s called the “required local effort” for school funding. The House wants only a $251 million increase in K-12 funding for a total budget of $20.4 billion next year. The Senate’s budget proposal for K-12 public schools is quite similar to what Gov. Rick Scott recommended in January. Like the Senate, Scott also argues using revenue from rising home values doesn’t constitute a tax increase.


“Best and Brightest” expansion ready for full House vote

A bill to expand the controversial "Best and Brightest" teacher bonus program is ready for a full House vote, after clearing the 30-member Appropriations Committee on Wednesday on a party-line vote. HB 7069 was fast-tracked to the floor in the past three weeks, with only two committee hearings. It's unclear how fast the House will take up the bill; it could be as early as next week. The expansion proposal allows more "highly effective" teachers and — for the first time — principals to qualify for an annual bonus. Instead of only using on the teachers' SAT or ACT scores from high school, teachers could qualify next year by also using graduate school entrance exam scores, like the GRE or the LSAT. The number of educators who would be eligible for the money would increase greatly. Pre-K-12 Education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said he doesn’t yet have an estimate for how many might be eligible, but he told the Appropriations Committee funding it at $214 million -- as the House proposes to do -- is intended to keep the awards at around $10,000 per person. With those figures, that would be enough to cover bonuses for potentially more than 21,000 teachers and principals statewide. In 2015-16, about 5,300 teachers qualified and received $8,248 each. This school year, nearly 7,200 teachers qualified and each got $6,816. (There are 188,300 certified teachers statewide.) Democrats on the Appropriations Committee said they still don’t like the premise of rewarding teachers based on assessment scores and they want the Legislature to use the additional funding to instead find a way to raise the salaries of all teachers. “We just need to give our teachers raises and stop beating around the bush in how we do it,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park.


Florida may shift students away from some schools

Calling it an "emergency," Florida may agree to spend up to $200 million to shift students from chronically failing schools to charter schools run by private organizations. The idea crafted by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other top Republicans in the Florida House is this: Offer up money to help build "Schools of Hope" in neighborhoods, many of them in urban and poor areas. The schools would be within five miles of or in the zones of existing traditional public schools that have repeatedly earned low grades under the state's school grading system.

"No longer will we rob children of dignity and hope," Corcoran said. "Now every single child will be afforded an opportunity of a world class education." Corcoran, a Republican from Land O'Lakes, has touted the idea for months of using charter schools to serve low-income students, but his ambitious proposal is sure to ignite an ongoing debate over expanding the role of charter schools. Charter schools are considered public, but they are run by private organizations that sometimes use privately run companies to manage them. The "Schools of Hope" proposal is coming at the same time that the Republican-controlled Legislature is considering a contentious idea to force school districts to share part of their local property taxes with charter school operators. Rep. Shevrin Jones, the lead Democrat on the House's main education committee, called the House plan part of a long-running movement in the state to offer assistance to charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools run by districts. "We are creating a mess," said Jones, who is from Broward County. "We should be taking $200 million to put the resources into those failing schools to ensure those schools are successful."


House scales back school vouchers plan

A wide-ranging school choice bill was stripped down before passing a key subcommittee this week, but the shape of the final legislation is still in flux as it nears the House floor. The proposal (HB 15), filed by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, began the day as a bill that would touch the state’s three major school-choice programs. But after a pair of amendments offered by Sullivan, the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee narrowed the bill to a proposal that would increase funding available to students under the state’s de facto voucher program. The bill passed the subcommittee on a 12-3 vote after little debate.

But even as the measure was whittled down, Sullivan suggested that at least some of the provisions — particularly those related to the “Gardiner scholarships” aimed at helping parents pay for education services for children with disabilities — would return. “It’s my intent at the next (committee) stop for the bill to reinstate the good policies in the Gardiner scholarship program that will make the administration of the program more efficient and effective for all program participants,” Sullivan told the panel. Sullivan said she was trying to make the bill revenue-neutral for the subcommittee vote as she works through some language on the measure. The part of the bill left standing would increase payments to private schools for students enrolled in the voucher-like Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Under the program, businesses can receive tax credits for donating money to organizations that, in turn, provide scholarships for children to attend private schools. If the bill is ultimately approved, payments for children in private elementary schools would be as much as 88 percent of the public school per-student funding amount. It would be 92 percent for children in middle school and 96 percent for those in high school.


Upset teachers file complaint on Duval school survey (DTU mentioned)


House education chairman: I’ve been clear where I stand on school recess


House spares school military family funding -- for now


New mega charter school in Miami-Dade? Not so fast, neighbors say


DeVos wants more choice, saying money isn’t the answer

Betsy DeVos, in her first extended policy address as education secretary, argued Wednesday for an expansion of school choice programs, pointing to lagging test scores and a program championed by the Obama administration that funneled billions into low-performing schools but failed to produce better academic outcomes. Speaking at the Brookings Institution, which released a ranking of choice options in the country’s 100 largest school districts, DeVos made her case for choice policies that she said focused on the “individual child.” And she called for the rejection of an “us versus them mentality” when it comes to investing in programs, like charter schools and school vouchers, to which President Trump has proposed giving part of a $1.4 billion funding increase in the fiscal year that begins in October. “Our nation’s commitment is to provide a quality education to every child to serve the greater public, common good,” Ms. DeVos said. “Accordingly, we must shift the paradigm to think about education funding as investments made in individual children, not in institutions or buildings.” While DeVos offered no new details about the Education Department’s budget — which in the president’s budget blueprint takes a $9 billion, or 13.5 percent, cut — she rejected the notion that money was a panacea for the challenges facing public schools. DeVos likened the opposition to the school choice movement to that of taxi companies that opposed ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a consistent critic of DeVos’ school choice ideology, took to Twitter to rebuke Ms. Devos’ ride-sharing analogy. “Is she equating kids to cab riders and teachers are drivers?” Weingarten asked in her post. “Cab drivers are hard-working pros, but teachers have advanced degrees to teach.” Weingarten also pointed out that Uber “is in turmoil.”


Trump budget cuts would hit program that benefits high-poverty schools


Trump signs bill undermining school accountability


How America fails black girls


Universities seek to boost mental health services, safety and student aid


Rollins student suspended for treatment of Muslim professor


Rollins falls prey to fake-news hysteria,amp.html


Revived pension reform package back in House

House Republicans are back at it again. They’ve revived an effort to make changes to Florida’s Retirement System. Rep. Matt Caldwell’s (R-North Fort Myers) proposal includes an expansion of the number of people who will now qualify for full benefits upon the death of their spouse. Left with only one option, newly elected officials would also no longer have a choice in retirement plans. “If you are newly elected after July 1, 2018, you’re only option would be investment plan,” said Caldwell. “We would no longer allow newly elected officials to participate in the pension plan.” Within the Florida Retirement System, state employees now choose between the traditional pension plan and the investment plan—a 401 K style option.  The more popular retirement option is the traditional pension plan. It’s also the default for employees who don’t make a choice. But, Caldwell’s bill would change that default to the investment plan. Rich Templin with the AFL-CIO calls the 401-style plan inferior. “The 401K was never designed as a retirement instrument,” he said. “It was actually designed for folks with a quick influx of money needing a place to park that money for a short period of time to escape liability on that money. As a matter of fact, Ted Benna -- who is credited as the creator of the 401K -- now calls the 401K and related plans like we have in the investment plan here in Florida -- a monster that he wishes he had never created.” Lynda Russell with the Florida Education Association agrees. “A first-year teacher starting today that worked a full 35 years until retirement in the pension plan will expect a whopping monthly benefit of about $2,000 a month,” she said. “They will live on $24,000 a year in their retirement. That is not a wealthy retirement by any stretch of the imagination. That same teacher -- who either elects or is defaulted into the investment plan will get a whopping benefit at the end of 35 years of about $9,600 a year. That is $800 a month.” Still, the House Government Accountability Committee -- which Caldwell chairs—approved the proposal 14-8 with Democrats opposed.

The Senate has consistently backed the current plan.


Senate plan gives Scott job incentive money, but there's a catch


Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida amend contracts with Scott administration


House pitches $297 million in tax cuts, half what Scott wanted


At legislative prayer breakfast, Corcoran mentions “consequences”


Prayer breakfast turns into pep rally, celebration over Trump win


Like Trump, Corcoran accused of admiring Moscow-style leadership


Levine calls for statewide referendum on minimum wage after loss in court


Constitution Revision Commission gets earful in Orlando


Progressive groups slam panel’s “lack of transparency”


Groups urge CRC to put open primaries on 2018 ballot


Bill on public records abuses passes Senate


House passes 12-year term limits for justices and judges


Eisnaugle, up for judgeship, votes against term limits for judges


Legislature tries to turn the tables on judges in redistricting cases


State Attorney Ayala decries budget cuts as “political posturing”


Agree with my politics, or else


Lock ’em up? Prosecutors who say “not so fast” face a backlash


Richardson wins approval to shift oversight of private prisons to a single agency


Florida can reduce prison population


Push back against Stand Your Ground


As Feds ax affordable housing, state dare not raid trust fund


Health care workers get extra protection on the job


Trump not concerned about Mar-a-lago costs, criticism


China confirms details of Trump-Xi meeting at Mar-a-Lago


Rubio, still seeking Tampa Bay home, has staff hold office hours at libraries


Bondi appointed to Trump's drug commission, headed by Christie


Ryan in Palm Beach today; Democrats already attacking


Mast’s independence may be best path to holding swing seat


Gwen Graham smacks Legislature over fracking


Little sign of a “Trump bump” in the economic forecast


Trump threatens to drown out the voices of despair


Senate Intelligence Committee leaders vow thorough Russian investigation


The Nunes-White House question, assessed minute-by-minute


Pressure on Nunes is intensifying. He won’t be able to hold off a reckoning forever.


Lindsey Graham: Nunes' meeting with secret source was “a breach of trust”


House Republicans cancel all hearings on Russian investigation, blame Democrats


GOP lawmaker: Senate should take lead on Congress’s Russia investigation


Who is “Source D”?


What Cold War intrigue can tell us about the Trump-Russia inquiry


Liberals see fresh opportunity in health care after GOP meltdown


Trump administration still plans to undo parts of the ACA, Price testifies


Trump says forming a bipartisan health-care bill will be “so easy.” It won’t be.


Hill Republicans trying to avert a shutdown need Democrats -- and Trump


Trump’s agenda is now squarely in McConnell’s, and the Senate’s, hands


“The budget from hell” and raising the debt ceiling


Is Ryan a policy guy, or does he just play one on TV?


Congress strips away your online privacy


Snoops may soon be able to buy your browsing history. Thank Congress.


What the repeal of online privacy protections means for you


Hawaii judge refuses to overturn block on Trump travel ban


Immigration crackdown enables worker exploitation, Labor Department staff says


In lawsuit after lawsuit, it’s Everyday People v. Trump


This Army veteran served his country. Will his undocumented wife be deported?


Trump’s immigration policy has some in Southwest Florida on edge


The empty Supreme Court confirmation hearing


Democrats go to war over Gorsuch


Nelson defends decision to filibuster Gorsuch


Gorsuch puts big money over people


Trump revokes executive order, weakens protections for LGBT workers


Trump’s Labor nominee is more dangerous than you think


FDA nominee, paid millions by industry, says he’ll recuse himself if needed


Trump has pulled an epic bait-and-switch


U.S. war footprint grows in Mideast, with no endgame in sight


Trump drops human rights demand in bid to sell Bahrain F-16 jets


Ignoring diplomacy’s past and its future promise


Trump’s ignorance extends to foreign affairs. That’s a big problem.


When the president is ignorant of his own ignorance


What you need to know about history, according to Trump


Ivanka Trump reverses course, will become a government employee


Melania Trump honors women affected by bias and abuse


Ex-Trump University student wants the president's apology


Trump’s company pursues second Washington hotel


Trump’s big environmental regulation rollback is all kinds of unpopular


Energy Department climate office bans use of phrase “climate change”


Trump leaves science jobs vacant, troubling critics


Trump order could ease restrictions on oil and gas drilling in some national parks


What you can do about climate change


Trump’s executive order on climate is the opposite of good business practices




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