Today's news -- March 8, 2012




“The definition of insanity, the adage goes, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Yet Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature are at it again, embracing legislation that ignores constitutional limits on their authority, forcing costly taxpayer-financed litigation and resorting to name-calling and threats to the judiciary when the courts rule against them. Tuesday's ruling that cutting public employee salaries to help pay for pensions is unconstitutional is not the result of an activist judge as some Republicans complain. It reflects the failure of the executive and legislative branches to recognize their limits and the role of an independent judicial branch. The issue before Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford was not whether state and local employees should have to contribute to the Florida Retirement System, a reasonable policy already common in the private sector. Fulford ruled that last year's legislation requiring contributions violated the employees' contract rights under the state pension law and amounted to an illegal taking of property. It should not have been a surprise. Public employee advocates had warned this policy should be adopted through labor negotiations, not legislative fiat. The state is facing the same argument in another lawsuit over the Legislature's 2011 teacher merit pay law that rewrote how teachers across the state can be compensated. … Every time elected leaders make bad law, taxpayers pay the legal bills. The legal tab in the pension case already is $800,000 and rising. This isn't a question of judicial activism but of arrogance by Republicans who hold the Governor's Mansion and a super-majority in the Legislature — and have little regard for constitutional protections or the courts.”

-- Tampa Bay Times editorial.


“Regardless of whether the high court affirms or reverses her, Judge Fulford is not guilty of judicial activism, despite knee-jerk accusations in Tallahassee. Gov. Scott said, ‘This is another example of a court substituting its own policy preferences for those of the Legislature.’ Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said ‘46 other states already ask state employees to contribute to their own pensions’ and called the ruling ‘a radical departure from past precedent.’ In fact, Judge Fulford explained that she is upholding the Legislature's 1974 law establishing the non-contributory pension with a cost-of-living adjustment. It says the benefits are ‘legally enforceable as contract rights’ and ‘shall not be abridged.’ What 46 other states do has no bearing on Florida's law. … Judge Fulford said a compelling state interest -- such as keeping the pension fund solvent -- might allow the Legislature to make major changes. But she noted that the fund is sound. So the state essentially took the money from teachers and other employees to plug unrelated budget gaps. The state can't legally do that absent collective bargaining.”
-- Palm Beach Post editorial.


“Limits were part of the deal when I chose my career. More than 30 years ago, it was not a secret that teaching offered less financial compensation than private enterprise. Prospective teachers were presented with a deal: You get less now, but your retirement will be better than most. The deal was a simple trade-off, and people made their calculations and acted accordingly. In my case, the decision was easy; I would ‘do history,’ even if I weren't a history professor -- I love my subject and generally like people. In my view, the only thing better than discovering history is talking about it. It's my passion, and I get paid, too -- how good is that? Well, mostly good. Remember, there was this deal we made about wages and retirement. Teachers have kept their part of the bargain, but the governor has taxed us 3 percent for the pleasure of working for the state. And many in Tallahassee have the gall to label this targeted income tax a ‘contribution.’ Call it what it is: breach of contract.”
-- Dan Gilmartin teaches history at Seminole State College.,0,896409.story


“That doesn't mean state and local governments shouldn't keep looking for ways to reduce taxpayer liability against rising public employee entitlement costs. It does mean that such cost containment efforts will have to be done in collaboration with public employee bargaining units to meet constitutional muster.”

-- Gainesville Sun editorial.


“The state could save a lot by keeping the polytechnic college in Lakeland under the University of South Florida's control instead of wasting millions on Sen. J.D. Alexander's lame plan to make it an independent university. It's just a thought. Here's an even bigger thought. How about the governor realizes state employees are not serfs? In his statement denouncing Fulford's ruling, Scott said the decision will leave ‘working Floridians with 100 percent of the tab.’ I wonder if Scott has ever stepped to the front of a classroom filled with students and tried to open their minds. Has he ever tried to arrest a fleeing felon or charged into a burning building armed only with a fire hose? The people who do these things every day are working Floridians, too. Scott's suggestion that their labor counts less than everyone else's shows how out of touch he remains.

‘The judge's ruling confirms that the Florida Constitution requires the state to live up to its promises, including those made to the public workers by the state itself,’ Florida Education Association President Andy Ford said.”
-- Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson.


“Labeling a judge "an activist judge" unfairly insinuates that she is not following the law and the facts of the case. It is an inappropriate personal attack on a judge for doing her job. Further, the attacks by Haridopolos were initiated before a ruling was issued on the case, in an apparent attempt to intimidate. These tactics undermine the integrity of the judiciary and the public confidence in our system of justice, which is essential for our democracy to function.”
-- Kathy J. Maus.


Politifact rates “false” Scott’s contention that FRS is "not funded"


“For generations, public education has been where the American dream begins. At a public school, all students — no matter who they are, what skills they start out with or where they come from — have a chance to learn and the opportunity to succeed. As longtime advocates for quality education and as parents of school-age children, we're alarmed that Florida politicians are chopping up our piece of the dream. Our state is engaged in an unprecedented effort to dismantle public education, and the attack has just kicked into an even higher gear. The Senate could vote as early as today on a misguided ‘parent trigger’ bill (SB 1718). And the state is pursuing radical changes in assessment rules that will give many more schools ‘failing’ grades. The abandonment of equal opportunity for Florida students is the wrong solution to a real problem. Although we are far from the poorest state in the nation, we rank near the bottom in per capita funding for K-12 schools. This is a values issue: Do we want to invest in the future of our children? Under Gov. Rick Scott and leaders in the Florida House and Senate, the answer is a clear ‘no.’”
-- Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins is executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. She is also the mother of two elementary school children in Hillsborough County. Melissa Erickson is president of the Hillsborough County Council PTA/PTSA. She is a former teacher and the mother of a high school student in Hillsborough County.


“We have a better vision for public education than the expensive, unproven reforms meant to hurt children and privatize our public schools. We believe in a single, well-funded system that offers remarkable choices. We believe in fair assessment and fair accountability. We believe that mutual respect and collaboration between teachers, parents and districts are the key to rescuing our vibrant public schools from being strangled by a punitive, profit-driven ‘success is never final and reform is never finished’ agenda. We are frustrated that, for the third time in a week, a Florida parent testifying against the ‘Parent Empowerment Act’ was cut off after less than 15 seconds. We travel to Tallahassee on our own dime. We arrange for baby sitters, help with homework over the phone and miss precious hours of our children's lives in order to tell our elected officials what we want. We're tired of being cut off, interrupted or not allowed to speak. We've heard one politician after another say that ‘parents really need to be empowered.’ The irony is that we are empowered. We're here. We've been here. When politicians grant highly paid lobbyists unlimited time to testify and refuse to let us speak, it makes us furious. We are Florida taxpayers, parents and voters. If we don't have a right to speak during ‘parent empowerment’ testimony, who does? We are tired of being told by wide-eyed politicians that they have never heard from us. Our position on the ‘parent- trigger’ bill has been published by every major newspaper.”
-- Kathleen Oropeza is co-founder of, one of the plaintiffs that has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Legislature has violated the Florida Constitution by failing to fund public education adequately.


“This is what happened in California. This past year, their legislators passed a similar ‘Corporate Trigger.’ A group called ‘Parent Revolution,’ which claims to be grass-roots and parent driven sent paid volunteers into neighborhoods who serve California's most at-risk kids to obtain parent signatures. They had no direct ties to the local communities and their presence created divisiveness and strife. ‘Parent Revolution’ operates on a $1 million budget, funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. This same organization has been in Tallahassee this week lobbying on behalf of this bill in Florida, even though they are under investigation in their home state for fraud relating to their parent petition drives in California. These types of organizations don't care about our kids. They care about getting their hands on our taxpayer money and turning it over to private companies who will be more concerned with their profits than our kids. We don't need operatives like that here in Florida. I encourage everyone who cares about public education to contact their senators before their vote on this bill this week to let them know we want local control of our schools.”

-- Mary Beriau,


“The so-called ‘parent trigger’ bill is the crowning blow to a decade-long effort to take ‘public’ out of education and unload struggling schools, especially those that serve poor, black, Hispanic and special-needs students. The proposed legislation supposedly gives parents more ability to direct what happens at their failing schools. But the options are limited to transferring their child out of the school, hiring a private corporation to run the school or closing the school and reopening it as a charter school. Nowhere is there an option to force school districts to reallocate funds to recruit better teachers or use innovative strategies.”
-- Rick Outzen is the publisher/editor of Pensacola's Independent News.






Unions unite in Tallahassee power struggle

Today's expected Senate vote over giving parents the right to order turn-around programs at their struggling schools is less about parents and more about undercutting the role of Florida's powerful teachers unions, say labor organizers. After numerous assaults on them last year, unions have banded together in a united front to persuade legislators -- mainly the fragile majority in the Senate -- to stop efforts to undercut the unions. The vote count on the so-called parent trigger bill appeared too close for its sponsors to call late Wednesday. But the alliance in opposition to it was clear. Unions, which previously had worked independently to pursue their agendas, have locked arms in an election-year strategy to reward their friends and penalize enemies on a handful of union-breaking proposals this year. "Gov. (Rick) Scott and the Florida Legislature have done more to unify the Florida labor movement in the state of Florida than anybody else could have ever done,'' said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, which represents schoolteachers. The alliance extends to police, fire, nurses and other public safety workers, said Robert Suarez of Miami, vice president of the Florida Professional Firefighters. "We jeopardize a lot of the security that we typically have among our supporters by building these coalitions,'' Suarez said. "But we're much stronger in representing the working class people if labor unions coordinate more." "The parents did not ask for this — not the 330,000 in the Florida PTA," said Dawn Steward, vice president of the Florida PTA and an Orange County resident. "We feel very strongly it is a systematic approach to privatize education.",0,4010324.story


Ruling could be “devastating” to St. Johns schools

St. Johns County School Superintendent Joe Joyner says a judge’s ruling declaring legislators’ decision to cut workers’ salaries by 3 percent unconstitutional could be “devastating” if the district ends up having to repay the money. “My fear is that somehow the (Florida) Legislature will pass that cost on to us. For us that would be about $4 million, and that would be devastating,” Joyner said Tuesday after Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling was announced. It might be even higher because the judge has ruled state workers’ money be returned with interest. The Florida Education Association, the state teacher union, joined with other unions to sue over the decision. Dawn Chapman, president of the St. Johns Education Association, called the decision “a huge win for everyone, not just for teachers. ... It affects everyone who contributes to the Florida Retirement System.” She said it was one thing if the legislators had decided to start off with all new employees having to pay the 3 percent for their retirement, but that taking something away from teachers that had been agreed upon in existing contracts was wrong.


Furlough days for Manatee teachers begin (Pat Barber quoted)


State budget includes funding increase for schools

Duval's school bus woes show downside to privatization


High school sports recruiting bill ready for final vote

House votes to expand school voucher program

A program allowing corporations to receive tax credits for funding vouchers for private schools will receive an extra $10.25 million under a bill passed by the House on Wednesday. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program is capped at $175 million for the current fiscal year, and is scheduled to increase to $218.75 million for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. HB 859 would increase the cap to $229 million, and do away with random inspections for participating schools by the Department of Education. The vouchers amount to about $4,000 per student, and only low-income students are eligible for the program. Proponents of the bill note that the vouchers cost less than the per-student funding for public schools, which is $6,224 for the current year. Several Democrats decried the bill, though, as siphoning off money that would otherwise go to public schools. Republicans fended off an amendment from Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, that would have allowed corporations to direct their tax credits for the program to public schools. “If a parent wants to send their child to a private school, let them. Just don’t use my tax dollars to pay for it,” said Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami. The bill now heads to the Senate, which must pass the bill in the final two days of the legislative session before it can go to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.


Teacher survey shows morale is at a low point

The slump in the economy, coupled with the acrimonious discourse over how much weight test results and seniority should be given in determining a teacher’s worth, have conspired to bring morale among the nation’s teachers to its lowest point in more than 20 years, according to a survey of teachers, parents and students released on Wednesday. More than half of teachers expressed at least some reservation about their jobs, their highest level of dissatisfaction since 1989, the survey found. Also, roughly one in three said they were likely to leave the profession in the next five years, citing concerns over job security, as well as the effects of increased class size and deep cuts to services and programs. Just three years ago, the rate was one in four. The results, released in the annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, expose some of the insecurities fostered by the high-stakes pressure to evaluate teachers at a time of shrinking resources. About 40 percent of the teachers and parents surveyed said they were pessimistic that levels of student achievement would increase in the coming years, despite the focus on test scores as a primary measure of quality of a teacher’s work. Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan advocacy group in Washington, said the push for evaluations, punctuated by a national movement to curb the power of unions, had fostered an unsettling cultural shift. “It’s easy to see why teachers feel put upon, when you consider the rhetoric around the need to measure their effectiveness -- just as it’s easy to see why they would internalize it as a perception that teachers are generally ineffective, even if it’s not what the debate is about at all,” Jacobs said. More than 75 percent of the teachers surveyed said the schools where they teach had undergone budget cuts last year, and about as many of them said the cuts included layoffs -- of teachers and others, like school aides and counselors. Roughly one in three teachers said their schools lost arts, music and foreign language programs. A similar proportion noted that technology and materials used in the schools had not been kept up to date to meet students’ needs. “The fixation on testing has been a negative turn of events when the things that engage kids in schools are all being cut,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.


The challenges that teachers face


Florida colleges and universities: Pay more -- get less

Pay more. Get less. That’s the reality at the state’s 11 public universities, where prices have gone up six years in a row. This year, an additional 15 percent increase is likely, and a bill making its way through the Legislature could allow certain top universities to charge even more in years to come -- so-called market-rate tuition. State leaders justify the increases by pointing out how cheap Florida’s higher education is compared to other states. At an average of $184.36 per credit hour, Florida ranks 45th out of 50 states in tuition costs. But behind that argument is a fundamental problem: While prices at universities have gone up, state support has dwindled. The extra tuition money is not filling the gap. That means students are paying more than ever and getting larger classes, fewer professors and fewer course offerings.,0,2270754.story


Tuition hikes mean students work more, take fewer classes,0,5806956.column


UF facing nearly $36.5 million in cuts


USF St. Petersburg grapples with 25 percent budget cut


Florida Polytechnic accreditation could take six years


Session sleepwalks toward finish


Tax cut package sails through Senate panel,0,4653181.story


Florida gave $750,000 tax deal to company that went bankrupt,0,1796819.story


Florida to renew back-to-school sales tax holiday


Bill to give Scott more power to pick judges stalls


Bill inspired by missing Scott transition emails now heads to his desk


Florida Senate leader struggles to keep GOP “soldiers” in lock-step



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