Today's news -- March 9. 2017




Bipartisan senators touts benefits of cutting state tests *

Florida should inject “common sense” into its school testing system by scrapping some required state exams and providing “stressed out” teachers and students the relief they need, a bipartisan group of state senators said Wednesday. The group wants the Florida Legislature to pass their bill (SB 964), a far-reaching proposal that would eliminate some tests, push back testing dates to the end of the school year and allow schools to use paper-and-pencil exams rather than online ones.

The proposals are backed by many school superintendents, who say existing testing requirements eat up too much instructional time. “There is far too much testing and not enough teaching,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, the bill's sponsor. “We have tied the hands of teachers and stressed out our kids.” Montford, who also runs the state’s superintendents association, said the bill would put some “common sense” into Florida’s school accountability rules, which have helped the state’s public schools improve but have grown more complex and cumbersome. The bill has the backing of other Democrats as well as key Republicans senators, who say they continue to hear from educators and parents who want standardized testing in schools scaled back. It also has a rival, a bill backed by Florida House leaders and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s influential education foundation. But Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said that bill (HB 773 and the identical SB 926) didn’t do much. “That bill has great talking points but if you read it, it actually does nothing,” Lee said. That bill, called “a path to fewer, better tests”, does not eliminate any exams from Florida’s testing stable. But it pushes testing to the end of the school year. By comparison, the Senate bill would delete five exams from Florida’s roster, require a paper-and-pencil alternative for time-consuming computer-based ones and allow districts to use national tests — presumably including the ACT or SAT — in place of the 10th-grade language arts section of the Florida Standards Assessments. The measure also would push back testing, which now starts in late February, until the last month of the school year. Florida gives its FSA language arts and math exams to students in grades 3 to 10 and also administers standardized science and social studies tests to youngsters in certain grades or courses. The Senate bill would cut the ninth-grade language arts FSA test and end-of-course exams in Algebra 2, civics, geometry and U.S. history. Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, chairman of the Senate’s education budget panel, spoke in favor of the Senate bill, too. He said the other version would be progress since it would move testing dates. But, he added, “I don’t believe that it contains all of the items that we should be including.” Senators will be “practical and pragmatic” as they negotiate with their counterparts in the House, trying to find ways to scale back testing while not damaging the state’s school accountability system. That system relies on standardized test results to help judge student and school quality.


Move to curtail public employee unions advances

A bill opponents say will cripple public employees labor unions cleared a House committee Wednesday on a 10-3 vote. Rep. Scott Plakon’s HB 11 would almost certainly result in decertification of chapters of groups representing a wide range of workers from university professors to school bus drivers. Plakon said his bill is simple. Two pages long. And that it is about democracy. If fewer than 50 percent of eligible workers refuse to become dues-paying members then the union can no longer represent the workers in collective bargaining. A United Faculty of Florida chapter sent out an alert stating if the bill becomes law it would put academic freedom at risk and UFF would lose the ability “to ensure equity in terms of course work.” Kevin Watson, the Florida Education Association lobbyist, pointed out what he saw as a flaw in Plakon's logic. He noted that in 1980, Ronald Reagan claimed the presidency in a landslide with 60 percent of the vote. That actually translated into only 27 percent of eligible voters, said Watsons, whose union represents public school employees. Statewide, about 10 percent of state workers belong to an organized labor union. Florida is a Right to Work state, that is employment is not dependent on joining UFF or the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which claims more than 7,000 dues-paying state employees. A group of Florida State University graduate school students explained that Plakon left out an important detail. Many of them would join the union if they could afford the dues. State employees have gone 10 years without a pay raise – losing 20 percent of their salaries to inflation. The grad students explained as teaching assistants and researchers they are paid below the poverty level. “For workers at the bottom of the pay scale not joining is rarely about democracy. It is far more often about poverty,” said Matt Dauphin, an FSU teaching assistant. “They rely on their union to improve their working conditions. This bill will make it virtually impossible for unions to continue functioning.” Federal labor law requires unions to represent all persons in a bargaining unit, regardless of whether they union dues. That provision does not apply to public-sector unions but they accept workers getting a “free ride,” representation without paying dues. In Tallahassee, United Faculty of Florida handles collective bargaining for professors at Florida State and Florida A&M universities. Faculty at Tallahassee Community College last year voted to unionize after tensions arose between staff and administrators over teaching loads and other issues.


Bills aim to add unnecessary regulation to teacher unions (Renna Lee Paiva and Mark Pudlow quoted),6093


House targets schools, roads and health care in proposed budget cuts


Senate Education Appropriations chairman recommends budget cuts


Charter vs. public schools: Will state fund construction or is local tax hike coming?


Florida Lottery is not the education jackpot you may think (Pam Miller, Liz Cannon and Mark Pudlow quoted)


Pasco calls on former lawmaker to bolster point in contract impasse (Kenny Blankenship quoted and FEA mentioned)


Hillsborough union: No forced teacher transfers (HCTA mentioned)


Another story on Trump’s voucher visit (Wendy Doromal quoted)


Despite concerns, personalized learning experiment may expand


Mandatory recess bill sails through second Senate committee


No need for religious liberties bill


What reformers don’t understand: “The process of little things”


Teachers will be a formidable force against Trump


Support for First Amendment spikes among high school students


A school where raising the bar lifts hope


Ohio educators told to intern at local businesses to renew teacher licenses


Alabama has its own tax credit voucher program, run by Floridians


Negron's higher ed agenda ready for Senate passage *

The Senate on Wednesday amended a broad higher education bill to ensure universities that serve underprivileged students aren’t penalized by stricter performance standards before teeing it up for passage later this week. During its first substantive floor session this year, the chamber took up Senate President Joe Negron’s chief priority, SB 2, which would require universities to adopt block tuition policies, change metrics that determine performance-based funding for colleges and universities and dramatically expand student financial aid programs, among other provisions. Senators considered a series of amendments, approving those offered by the sponsor and voting down the rest, which were proposed by Democrats and considered hostile. One of the changes they adopted, proposed by sponsor and Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano as well as Democratic minority leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens, would reward universities that enroll low-income students under the metrics that determine how hundreds of millions of performance-based dollars are distributed. The bill initially stated the metrics must evaluate universities based on “access.” An amendment Galvano and Braynon first filed elaborated, requiring the “access” metric to use “benchmarks that reward institutions with significantly higher access rates.” The two then proposed more specific language instead, which was ultimately adopted, requiring “benchmarks that reward institutions with access rates at or above 50 percent.” Braynon said the change was meant to help protect Florida A&M University, a historically black school, and others that serve low-income students from being penalized by a concurrent change in the bill that emphasizes four-year, rather than six-year, graduation rates. Schools whose students must work while they study shouldn’t be penalized when they take longer to graduate, he argued. One of the existing performance metrics set by the State University System’s board of governors addresses access; it evaluates the schools based on the percentage of students they serve who receive federal need-based Pell grants. Senators also adopted another Galvano amendment that specifies a timeline by which universities must adopt block tuition models. The bill originally stated each institution’s board of trustees must approve universities’ plans in time for implementation in fall of 2018. The amended version requires the local boards to adopt the new policies by Oct. 1 “and submit the policy, including, but not limited to, information on the potential impact of the policy on students, to the Board of Governors.” Though the bill is expected to sail through the Senate, it will likely be held up throughout session during budget negotiations with the House, since it requires millions of dollars in appropriations to be implemented.


Block tuition could be costly for universities


Bill could cap four-year degrees at state colleges


House faults universities over salaries and spending


The five biggest questions of the 2017 session


Senate advances bill to weaken citizens’ leverage in records disputes


New wage theft rules approved to help Miami-Dade workers


Corcoran tells Democrats he needs them to override expected Scott vetoes


House looks to clamp down on local taxes


Don’t stiff local control, Tallahassee


“Day without a woman” protest tests a movement’s staying power


Women of color are front and center in the anti-Trump resistance


Reports from Florida


A girl stands firm on Wall Street


In the Trump administration, it’s always “a day without a woman”


On nearly every issue, more oppose Trump’s agenda than support it


White House officials say Trump isn’t target of any investigation


Spicer muddles answer when pressed on Trump and Russia investigation


Sessions likely met Russian ambassador a third time


This may be the worst defense of Trump’s Obama-wiretapped-me claim


Warner faces a stand-and-deliver moment in Russian inquiry


Top Democrat wants to meet with author of unsubstantiated Trump dossier


CIA scrambles to contain damage from WikiLeaks documents


Spicer won’t confirm WikiLeaks documents— but wants Democrats’ outrage


How Trump undermines intelligence gathering


Russia has deployed missile barred by treaty, U.S. general tells Congress


Huntsman accepts Trump's offer to be US ambassador to Russia, sources say


Health groups denounce GOP bill as its backers scramble


American Medical Association opposes Republican health plan


Who wins and who loses under Republicans’ health care plan


Health bill clears House panel in pre-dawn hours


Ryan downplays conservative backlash against health-care plan


GOP trashes CBO before it scores their Obamacare replacement


How the Republican health care debacle is making everyone’s values clear


Why Republicans are battling Republicans on Obamacare repeal


Conservatives meet with Trump, who hints that GOP ACA fix could drift further right


Trump goes into deal-making mode, works behind the scenes on health bill


Follow the health care money


Collins: House Obamacare repeal bill won't be “well received” in Senate


Trump team feigns ignorance of tax giveaway to CEOs in their health care bill


Democrats thwart progress on Obamacare repeal


“They will suffer the consequences,” Democrats say of Republicans on Obamacare


Spicer’s alternative Obamacare facts


Rubio: Trump-backed health care bill “not 100 percent of what I would want”


The Republicans did this to themselves


Hawaii sues to block Trump travel ban; first challenge to order


Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants is silencing exploited workers


Fix immigration without sacrificing innocent children


Kelly is missing in action on immigration


Profitable companies, no taxes: Here’s how they did it


At labor’s crossroads


How Trump could soon be at war with Yellen


Senators seek to reform justice system nationwide by launching commission


Trump activates team for $1 trillion infrastructure plan, but challenges mount


Trump reportedly wants to slash NOAA hurricane satellite program


Florida Sea Grant could face Trump budget ax


Trump administration considers $6 billion cut to HUD budget


Killing a program that brings history to life


Ethics questions dogged Agriculture nominee as Georgia governor


Questions about loyalty to Trump stall Mnuchin's Treasury picks


Trump nominates D.C. lawyer as solicitor general


Meet the hundreds of officials Trump has quietly installed across the government


Welcome to Trump’s fantasyland


A lie by any other name


The Trump administration has a lot to learn about African American history


ACLU emerges as main Trump antagonist


Alternative history: The dangerous byproduct of fake facts




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