Today's news -- March 7, 2012


“The ‘chaos’ that Senate President Mike Haridopolos predicted if a court rejected the state's decision to force employees to contribute 3 percent into their pension plans is on, following Tuesday's ruling by Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford. On the surface, it is a victory for state employees in this community and elsewhere, who saw their paychecks reduced by 3 percent with the contributions to their pension funds mandated last year by lawmakers. Judge Fulford said that not overturning the mandate in the case ‘would mean that a contract with our state government has no meaning and that the citizens of our state can place no trust in the work of our Legislature.’ Judge Fulford ordered that further collections of contributions be stopped and that employees be reimbursed the extra money they have paid into the system since last July. Of course, Judge Fulford's ruling is only a first step in yet another battle between the state's judicial system and the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott. … But Judge Fulford's decision seems largely based on the process by which lawmakers went about instituting the mandate. Her ruling says the decision was unconstitutional and a breach of the conditions that longtime state employees had agreed upon through their union contracts with the state. To that, she wrote, ‘this court cannot set aside its constitutional obligations because a budget crisis exists in the state of Florida.’ Predictably, the ruling sparked praise and condemnation. Andy Ford, president of Florida Education Association, urged swift action from Gov. Scott and legislators in response to the ruling. ‘If they decide to prolong this with an appeal, FEA is prepared to continue fighting for the rights of middle-class families who make our state a better place.’”
-- Tallahassee Democrat editorial.


“Gov. (Bobby) Jindal (of Louisiana) is in a race to the bottom with other Republican governors to see who can move fastest to destroy the underpinnings of public education and to instill fear in the hearts of teachers. It's hard to say which of them is worst: Jindal, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Rick Scott of Florida, John Kasich of Ohio, or ... there are so many contenders for the title, it's hard to name them all. They all seem to be working from the same playbook: Remove any professionalism and sense of security from teachers; expand privatization as rapidly as possible, through charters and vouchers; intensify reliance on high-stakes tests to evaluate teachers and schools; tighten the regulations on public schools while deregulating the privately managed charter schools. Keep up the attack on many fronts, to confuse the supporters of public education. The governors appear to be working from the ALEC playbook, ALEC (or the American Legislative Exchange Council) being an organization that shapes model legislation for very conservative state legislators. Using the right coded language is a very important part of the assault on public education: Call it ‘reform.’ Say that its critics are ‘defenders of the status quo,’ even though the status quo is 10 years of federally mandated high-stakes testing and school closings. If possible, throw mud at the defenders of public education and say that they only have ‘adult interests’ at heart, while the pseudo-reformers -- the rich and powerful -- are acting only in the interests of children.”
-- Diane Ravitch.


“Forget the high-minded promises at the onset of the Great Recession, when Florida legislators pledged they would be prudent in setting priorities for state spending. The proposed 2012-13 budget set for a final vote on Friday is a study in pork-barrel spending, reckless policy and a shortchanged future. Lawmakers will boast how they lived within their means and still granted special interest tax breaks -- but they can't claim they have invested wisely in Florida. Lawmakers, mindful of last year's negative reaction after they cut more than $1 billion from public schools, restored most of that cut for next year. Yet they refused to raise any additional revenue by extending the sales tax to Internet sales or closing sales tax loopholes, which could have increased per student spending. Despite lip service that higher education can fuel Florida's economy, the budget will cut spending on 11 public universities by $300 million. Yet Senate budget chairman J.D. Alexander still forced his colleagues to turn the University of South Florida's Lakeland campus into the state's 12th university, Florida Polytechnic University. The final university cuts, at least, were more equitable than the initial Senate proposal that gouged USF. But students still could face double-digit tuition increases while schools will spend less to educate them. This is another budget balanced on the backs of state workers, most of whom will face a sixth year without a pay raise. Those workers and local government employees who participate in the state pension plan also will be expected for the second year to pay 3 percent of their income to offset pension plan costs. But that could well change. A circuit judge in Tallahassee ruled Tuesday that the pension change is unconstitutional, a result that could ultimately require the Legislature to pay workers back $1.3 billion if the decision is upheld by the appellate courts.”
-- Tampa Bay Times editorial.




Judge rules Florida pension changes unconstitutional

In a dramatic defeat for the governor and the Florida Legislature, a Leon County circuit judge ruled Tuesday that the decision last year to cut public employee salaries was an unconstitutional breach of the state's contract and ordered the money returned with interest. The ruling leaves a potential $1 billion hole in the state budget for the 2011-12 budget year and another $1 billion hole for the 2012-13 budget year. It also has a $600 million impact for counties whose employees are in the Florida Retirement System. "The 2011 Legislature, when faced with a budget shortfall, turned to the employees of the State of Florida and ignored the contractual rights given to them by the Legislature in 1974,'' wrote Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford, who also relied on a 1981 state Supreme Court ruling favoring public employees. She said the Legislature's decision to cut public employee salaries 3 percent, without renegotiating their contracts, was an "unconstitutional taking of private property without full compensation" that violated the rights of public employees "to collectively bargain over conditions of employment." The governor and Republican legislative leaders cut salaries 3 percent, eliminated cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, and shifted savings into the general revenue fund to offset the state's contribution to their retirement account. The change saved the state $1 billion during the 2011 legislative session and saved local governments $600 million. Gov. Rick Scott blasted the ruling and said he would pursue a "swift appeal" of the decision so that it has no effect on the current budget. The state has already spent $500,000 defending against the lawsuit and has entered into a contract for another $300,000 for the appeal. "As you would expect, I believe this decision is simply wrong,'' Scott said in a statement. He accused Fulford of ignoring "30 years of Supreme Court precedent" and called it "another example of a court substituting its own policy preferences for those of the Legislature." The Florida Education Association and other state and local government unions challenged Scott and lawmakers, arguing that cuts to existing benefits for the 560,000 state and local employees in the Florida Retirement System needed to be negotiated in collective bargaining talks. "This was a gamble that the governor and Legislature made last year,'' said Ron Meyer, attorney for the FEA. "They gambled taxpayers' money that they could balance the budget on the backs of the hardworking employees of this state. They lost that bet." Lawyers for the House and Senate refused to comment on the ruling, but Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, was critical of Fulford and vowed to continue the legal battle. "I think this is an example of judicial activism, and this is why we are immediately going to appeal this decision," Haridopolos said. Meyer disagreed. He said "judicial activism is when a court ignores the law" and noted that the judge referred to a 1981 decision by the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled that while the Legislature could cut employee salaries, it could not breach the current contract it has with existing employees. "This court cannot set aside its constitutional obligations because a budget crisis exists in the State of Florida,'' Fulford wrote. "To find otherwise would mean that a contract with our state government has no meaning."

FEA President Andy Ford called the ruling "historic" and said it proves "the Florida governor and the Florida Legislature are not above the law." (Andrew Spar quoted) (Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins and Paul Terry quoted) (John Biro and Karen McCann quoted),0,6405243.story


Breaking down judge's ruling against Florida's pension law


Parent trigger: A farce in Florida

There’s one important thing missing from the effort in Florida to pass a bill that would institute a “parent trigger” allowing parents to force specific changes at low-performing public schools: support from Florida parents. The Legislature has been considering whether to join a movement started in California that gives parents with children at low-performing (based on standardized test scores) to ask the state or school district to bring in a private company or charter school operator to take over the school. Upwards of 20 states are considering similar laws, and a few have already passed “parent trigger” legislation. When this was first tried in Compton, Calif., the effort was organized by a pro-charter school organization called Parent Revolution -- a Los Angeles organization funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation rather than by local parents, and it severely divided the community. In Florida, the effort is being pushed by pro-charter forces, including Parent Revolution and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is run by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has an unusual amount of influence in Florida education for an ex-governor. In fact, the there is a coalition of parent organizations, led by the Florida PTA, that has been opposed to the bill. Why?  Because many parents see the parent trigger as a divisive measure that is more about converting traditional public schools into charter schools – which are often run by for-profit entities – than about finding authentic ways to improve education for kids. "It has everything to do with laying the groundwork for the hostile, corporate takeover of public schools," Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. "Parents will divide against parents and even children will divide against children." Supporters of the bill say that teachers unions are behind the opposition. But, in fact, there isn’t a major parent group in Florida that has come out in support of the legislation. In fact, parents who spoke in support of the bill in Florida weren’t from the state! Let’s hear it for real parent engagement.


Lynn and Thrasher quibble over parent trigger bill

The hotly debated parent trigger bill will make it to the Senate Floor after all. The controversial proposal, SB 1718, would allow parents to demand sweeping changes at low-performing public schools, including having the school converted into a charter school. The proposal has divided the Senate, and insiders predict any vote on the bill would be really, really close. On Monday night, the Senate Rules Committee voted 3-3 to block the bill from being placed on the calendar. But on Tuesday night, Republicans made sure a fourth vote (a previously preoccupied Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander) attended the Rules Committee meeting. What's more, Rules Chairman John Thrasher prevented members from voting on each bill separately. The move outraged Republican Sen. Evelyn Lynn. Lynn said she had received thousands of calls from constituents on the issue -- and argued that she should be able to vote her conscience. "The political maneuver was unnecessary," Lynn said. "I do not quite understand why that process was used." Democratic Sen. Nan Rich, another opponent of the bill, was also incensed. "If something is that egregious to us that we would like to separate it out, we should be able to," she said. Still, Thrasher denied the request, saying he had done everything possible to be "as open and transparent to everyone on the committee." The committee voted 4-3 to hear the entire proposed agenda -- including the trigger bill -- on Thursday. The meeting was more evidence that the Senate is in a state chaos. We'll see what happens on the Floor Thursday.


Opponents say “parent trigger bill” driven by the private sector


Jeb Bush foundation using “parent trigger” to trigger donations


Teacher job satisfaction plummets  
It’s not fun to be repeatedly punched in the gut. And we can now quantify how not-fun it is, at least when teachers are the punchees. Over the past two years of gut-punching, teacher job satisfaction has fallen from 59 percent to 44 percent. That’s according to the annual ­ MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. While this 15-point plummet is no doubt caused in part by the bad economy and budget cutting, it’s also hard to overlook things like Waiting for Superman , the media deification of Michelle Rhee, and the publishing of flawed “scores” that purport to evaluate teachers based on students’ test results -- an offense first committed by the Los Angeles Times and now taken up by the New York Times and other New York papers. Teachers knew these evaluations were unreliable and invalid even before researchers documented those problems. Similarly, teachers see states and districts implement policies that largely base their performance evaluations on student test scores. These new policies are layered on top of No Child Left Behind and the subsequent years of narrowed curricula and teaching to the test. Teachers have been watching sadly as the sort of engaging learning that attracted them to the profession is increasingly squeezed out. Further, teachers in many states are facing attacks on their collective voice in education policy by anti-union governors such as Walker (Wisconsin), Scott (Florida), Christie (New Jersey), Daniels (Indiana), Kasich (Ohio), and Brewer (Arizona).

None of us would want to have our job performance judged on an outcome that we don’t really control. Research suggests that a student’s teacher for a single given school year influences as little as 5 to 10 percent of her or his test-score growth. Sensible policymaking does not leap from “teachers are important” to “teachers can be evaluated as if they are the only thing that’s important.” Similarly, none of us would want to have our evaluation based on an outcome, like test scores, that we know represents only a fraction of what we do and why we do it. And we wouldn’t want to pursue a good evaluation by doing our job in ways we think unwise or even harmful. But that’s where teachers now find themselves. Maybe we should feel grateful that their job satisfaction only dropped 15 percentage points. (Randi Weingarten quoted) (Dennis Van Roekel quoted)

“Creative ... motivating” and fired

By the end of her second year at MacFarland Middle School, fifth-grade teacher Sarah Wysocki was coming into her own. “It is a pleasure to visit a classroom in which the elements of sound teaching, motivated students and a positive learning environment are so effectively combined,” Assistant Principal Kennard Branch wrote in her May 2011 evaluation. He urged Wysocki to share her methods with colleagues at the D.C. public school. Other observations of her classroom that year yielded good ratings. Two months later, she was fired. Wysocki, 31, was let go because the reading and math scores of her students didn’t grow as predicted. Her undoing was “value-added,” a complex statistical tool used to measure a teacher’s direct contribution to test results. The District and at least 25 states, under prodding from the Obama administration, have adopted or are developing value-added systems to assess teachers. When her students fell short, the low value-added trumped her positives in the classroom. Under the D.C. teacher evaluation system, called IMPACT , the measurement counted for 50 percent of her annual appraisal. Classroom observations, such as the one Branch conducted, represented 35 percent, and collaboration with the school community and schoolwide testing trends made up the remaining 15 percent. Her story opens a rare window into the revolution in how teachers across the country are increasingly appraised -- a mix of human observation and remorseless algorithm that is supposed to yield an authentic assessment of effectiveness. In the view of school officials, Wysocki, one of 206 D.C. teachers fired for poor performance in 2011, was appropriately judged by the same standards as her peers. Colleagues and friends say she was swept aside by a system that doesn’t always capture a teacher’s true value.


The trouble with humiliating teachers


Time to raise teacher pay


America's schools are still separate and unequal (Randi Weingarten quoted)


Pinellas School Board approves notice of termination for Life Force charter school


Manatee school board reverses months of pay cuts for nonteaching employees


Workers scold Duval School Board over pay cuts in light of $100 million reserve


School prayer bill sure to spur lawsuits


The wrong approach to discipline


NEA president: Disturbing data should serve as call to action


AFT members swap strategies for green schools


Ohio coalition pushes for positive change in schools


Florida Higher Education May Face Big Budget Cuts

With three days remaining until the end of the legislative session, Florida lawmakers are moving forward with a $70 billion budget that would create the state’s 12th university and cut hefty amounts of money from higher education. The House and the Senate are expected to vote this week on the budget, which also includes a $1 billion increase for prekindergarten through high school, a priority of Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican. Scott’s position on the overall budget bill, with its plan for a new university, is unclear. For weeks the budget has been tangled in a disagreement between state Sen. J.D. Alexander, the Republican chairman of the budget committee, and the University of South Florida. Alexander, who must leave the Legislature this year because of term limits, had lobbied vigorously to turn the University of South Florida’s Lakeland campus, in his district, into an independent state polytechnic school. But the University of South Florida opposed the move, and then found itself fighting off a 58 percent reduction in its budget. Many saw the move as punitive. Students organized protests, and a flood of e-mails poured into the Legislature asking the House and the Senate to save the campus and pare back the cuts. After a frantic series of meetings, a compromise was struck this week. Alexander would get his Florida Polytechnic University, and the University of South Florida would face a less severe drop in financing. Over all, the Legislature agreed to $300 million in cuts to the state’s universities and colleges, an amount that would be shared among them, depending on their reserves and other considerations. The Legislature expects universities to use their reserves to make up much of the shortfall.,0,7469998.story

Democrats say budget shortchanges schools

Democrats slammed the proposed budget today, saying the spending plan shortchanges Florida's students. "This budget, which is before the Legislature now, is an assault on education unlike anything we have seen in recent time," Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said. Smith pointed out that the plan includes $300 million in cuts to higher education. And while the budget boosts schools spending by $1 billion, it doesn't make up for the $1.3 billion in education cuts the previous year, he said. Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, raised another issue: no construction and maintenance money for traditional public schools. Charter schools are set to receive $55 million. "If we really want to make the state move forward, what we have to do is invest in the future," Gibbons said. "Investing in education is investing in our future."


Florida's weak commitment to higher education


USF Poly to become Florida Polytechnic University


Genshaft reassures students of USF Poly


Scott should veto Polytechnic


$70 billion budget will spend a little more than this year,0,5929387.story


Senate unveils $120M tax package with many new business breaks


Bill slashing tipped minimum wage dies in Senate

A bill that would have cut the hourly pay of restaurant servers and other tipped employees by more than half has died in the Florida Senate -- a development that drew cheers from hourly workers. "To hear it has died is phenomenal," said Cheryl Hennessey, a server at Epcot's Garden Grill restaurant. "[I'm] thrilled to death." The measure (SB 2106) never got a House companion and stalled after getting approval from the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee. Sen. Nancy Detert, who heads that committee, declared the bill's demise. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, which had proposed it, acknowledged Tuesday that it has given up this year. "It was terrible policy, unconstitutional, and as we saw over the last couple of weeks, wildly unpopular with Floridians who realized that ... the worst thing that should be done in this economic climate is to cut working people's wages," said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for lower-income workers. The proposal would have allowed some restaurants and other employers to pay staff the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour instead of Florida's minimum of $4.65. To qualify, companies would have had to guarantee that employees would make at least $9.98 an hour when tips were included. It met with outrage across Florida, where more than 200,000 people work as bartenders, servers and other jobs that depend heavily on tips. The bill garnered national attention, too, with TV satirist Stephen Colbert lampooning it on "The Colbert Report" last week. Workers praised the death of the bill, saying it would have made getting by financially even harder than it already is. Joel Melendez, 27, has to pay for college tuition and child support making about $11 an hour waiting tables at a Ruby Tuesday in Orlando. He shares a cellphone with his roommate to save money and can't afford health insurance. "We kind of depend on every scrap we can get," he said.,0,1077418.story


Nelson, Durbin applaud Justice Department’s push for trial in Florida voting law challenge


Legislature OKs state pension chief's plan to expand limit on special investments


Bill would boost governor's power over judge selection


Hands off our water


American workers: the best bet


Unions reach out to tornado victims



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