Today's news -- March 6, 2012




“The Florida Legislature is still trying to shed its responsibility for the state's struggling public schools. The latest scheme, enabling a majority of parents at a public school to force a conversion to a charter school, is not the answer. Republican senators who care about their communities and accountability should join Democrats and say no to the so-called "parent trigger" law. This bill (SB 1718) is the latest policy pushed by former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future under the guise that the threat of competition from the private sector will improve public education. But there is also an incentive for the private sector, given that more public schools are expected to be deemed failing in coming years due to pending changes in the state's grading formula. This parent trigger bill would allow a small cadre of parents to influence how millions of taxpayer dollars will be spent. Those groups would be more susceptible to a for-profit charter operator's pitch than the seasoned public education professionals who decide under current law.”
-- Tampa Bay Times editorial.


“After failing to bring the bill straight to the floor, supporters scheduled a rare Senate Budget Committee meeting for Saturday morning, then cut off opponents. Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, got all huffy when Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, asked a man speaking for the bill where he worked. He had identified himself as a former teacher. His current job: He works as a part-time intern at Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future, which has been lobbying for the bill. Ironically, one major concern about the legislation is that parents can manipulate the process to ‘trigger’ a takeover. A for-profit charter school could take over the public school by obtaining the signatures of 51 percent of parents. Parents could replace staff or move students to other schools. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, claims that if 51 percent of parents sign a petition, that must be a sign of deep parental involvement and support for a turnaround plan. Actual experience with this kind of law refutes that. In California, which has such a law, parents who signed petitions say they were misled by petition-gatherers and/or harassed into signing. Two school boards have rejected petitions after parents have asked to rescind their signatures. ‘Parent-trigger’ supporters respond that parents who rescinded their signatures were misled and bullied. The whole mess is tied up in court. If parents are to decide how to fix a school, they would need in-depth information about the plan and an understanding of what works. Does anyone seriously think that 51 percent of parents at any public school would take the time and trouble to develop that level of expertise? Even if a majority well above 51 percent was deeply concerned and signed a petition, there would be no assurance that the group passing around the petition -- and perhaps standing to profit from it -- had a plan to really improve the school.”

-- Palm Beach Post editorial.







Judge to rule today on FEA lawsuit
Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford said Monday that she will announce her decision in the union lawsuit against the state over state worker pensions at a special hearing in her courtroom today. Depending on how Fulford rules, legislators could face a $2 billion budget hole or dodge a bullet. The Florida Education Association and other state and local government unions sued the state last year after the Legislature cut worker salaries 3 percent, eliminated cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, for retirement benefits, and shifted the money into the general revenue fund to save the state $1 billion during the 2011 legislative session. If Fulford rules against the state, legislators may have to find $1 billion to repay state workers for the money removed from their salaries this year and come up with another $1 billion to repair another budget in the 2012-13 budget year. If she rules in favor of the state, the 3 percent cut from worker salaries will remain. Fulford heard arguments in the case October 25 and concluded that the state broke the contract with employees but left unanswered whether the move was unconstitutional. Senate President Mike Haridopolos is no fan of Fulford, who previously ruled to throw out a legislative plan to privatize 30 South Florida prisons because they used the budget to make the policy change. He predicted that if she ruled against the state there would be "chaos" and the state would appeal the ruling immediately.


Battle over corporate trigger bill heating up

A coalition of Democrats and Republicans is gearing up to fight the so-called parent trigger bill. On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, spoke out against the proposal, which would allow parents at low-performing schools to demand changes of the administration, including having the school converted into a charter school.  “The centerpiece of this legislation has nothing to do with empowering parents,” Rich said. “But it has everything to do with the hostile corporate takeover of public schools across Florida -- a direct attack on public education.” Rich was joined by Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland. Said Dockery: "Even if you support school choice like I do ... this bill goes too far." The parent trigger bill is expected on the Senate Floor today. It should be an interesting debate. Late last week, Sen. John Thrasher tried to put the bill on a fast track through the upper chamber. But 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans blocked the move, setting the stage for a tense Floor vote. Will there be enough votes to defeat the bill? Rich said she is "optimistic." Florida parents have voiced fierce opposition to the bill.  Its high-profile backers include former Gov. Jeb Bush and education reformer Michelle Rhee.


Scott to enter school grade debate

Gov. Rick Scott may soon be stepping in to help settle the debate over Florida's new school grading formula. Supporters of the new, tougher formula -- which raises standards, incorporates new tests and places greater emphasis on scores posted by children who are learning English or have special needs -- say it will push children to achieve at higher levels. But opponents, including urban school superintendents, say the state is ignoring the possible consequences, including a spike in the number of failing schools. And business leaders say having more F schools could depress home values and discourage businesses from coming to Florida. Late last week, Sen. David Simmons, chair of the Senate PreK-12 Budget Subcommittee, introduced new budget language that would require the state Department of Education to hold off on the new grading formula for one year. Simmons now plans to withdraw the issue. The reason: Simmons said he spoke with the governor, who "understands the problem and the magnitude, and the need to address it. I have his commitment to seek to find a solution after session."


Students need support to reach higher bar,0,1790868.story


New York schools chancellor: Value-added ratings don’t tell full story


Report: Labor-management collaboration essential to reform


Bill would modify Florida schools' harsh zero tolerance policies


Black students face more discipline, data suggests


More on Monroe ruling (Holly Hummell-Gorman quoted)


Board members boycotting Manatee executive sessions


Duval school union protesting pay cut


How to complete budget talks? Just add pork

Even in dour economic days, piecing together a $70-billion state budget requires a sprinkling of special projects to appease powerful politicians. A spending plan House and Senate leaders finalized Monday comes loaded with earmarks for top GOP leadership. Some are high-profile – like the public push by Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, to break the University of South Florida-Polytechnic off into a stand-alone Lakeland university this summer. The budget now includes $39 million to do that and civil liability language to shield both USF and Polytechnic from lawsuits. And despite projections that lawmakers faced a revenue shortfall of $1.9 billion, a raft of other projects found their way into the final compromise. "I haven't added it all up, but it's a fair amount, all in all," Alexander said. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, got $10 million for a new Space Coast "economic development commission," to promote commercial research in towns like Cocoa and Rockledge hit hard by the retirement of the space shuttle. House budget chief Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, secured $520,000 for an "international baccalaureate" program at her hometown high school to help under-privileged children. "We're trying to get them into college and make them productive citizens so they can contribute to the economy," she said. And House Speaker Dean Cannon scored projects all over the map.,0,6054682.story


Final budget deal includes new state university


UNF escapes state budget cuts

Plan would give governor more power over universities


Adult education programs at Daytona State College hit hard by fees


Court ruling will affect maps, future redistricting

Haridopolos: We'll be back for a special session on redistricting


Union leaders join fight for local wage-theft law


GOP leadership unsuccessfully tried to sneak prison privatization in budget


Lawmakers pile on the pain for health care,0,3027018.story


Growth bill amendments seen as benefiting developers are thwarted in Senate

Sideshow of social issues in Tallahassee


Legislators bravely decline drug tests for themselves


AFT mobilizing to fight voter suppression


Challenging the self-made myth

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