Today's news -- May 10, 2017




Critics call for veto of massive education bill *

After lawmakers ignored their calls to vote down a sprawling education bill, opponents of the wide-ranging measure have turned to Gov. Rick Scott as their last hope to stop the proposal from becoming law. It is not clear when the bill (HB 7069), which covers everything from charter schools and teacher bonuses to school uniforms and sunscreen, will hit Scott’s desk. It could be weeks before the Legislature decides to forward the budget-related bill to the governor. But within hours of its passage Monday night through the Senate by the narrowest possible margin, 20-18, opponents were already beginning to urge Scott to use his veto pen on the measure. In addition to complaints about individual policy issues in the bill, critics have seized on the fact that the measure — which includes pieces of roughly a dozen separate bills considered during the legislative session — emerged from budget negotiations Friday afternoon. “Where’s the government transparency that the leadership promised this session?” Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall asked in a statement issued by the union demanding a veto. “Floridians expect a fair process, not backroom deal-making.” In a sign that the bill has taken on added political significance, former Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham — who’s running for governor — also issued a statement calling on Scott to nix the bill, along with the state budget approved before lawmakers ended the session Monday. “As governor, I will veto any budget or policy that shortchanges our schools in favor of the education industry,” Graham said. “I’ll cancel the Legislature’s summer vacation and demand they start over from scratch. We no longer have time for rhetoric or games.” Many of the social media accounts that railed against the bill as it moved through the Legislature on Monday pushed for a veto. Some organizations were slower to state the next step. Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who also serves as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said Monday night it was too early to say what position his group would take. “I know the superintendents throughout Florida are very concerned tonight about the budget that we just passed, and rightfully so,” Montford said. But around the same time, some school superintendents — including Duval County’s Nikolai Vitti — were calling for a veto. “Why will Governor Scott veto? ... Because he understands that politically beating up K-12 education does not work for FL,” Vitti tweeted. In some ways, the bill could prove to be an inviting target for Scott. It was pushed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who sparred with the governor throughout the session over economic-development incentives and tourism marketing. But there are also politically popular parts of the bill that could make it difficult for Scott to veto, particularly as he weighs a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2018.
“It is no good for parents,” said Luke Flynt, of the Florida Education Association. “It is no good for teachers. It is no good for our bus drivers or anybody who works in public education.” More veto requests are coming from the League of Women Voters and the First Amendment Foundation. Both groups object to the secret nature in which the bill was crafted. And more veto requests may be coming from the school superintendents.


One Tampa Bay lawmaker was “eating in the back” and missed vote on big education bill


Veto state budget, education bill *

State lawmakers flushed promises of transparency down the toilet as they rushed to pass a budget and education bill that are disastrous for public schools. In the waning hours of the 2017 legislative session, which had to be extended to Monday, the Legislature approved wide-ranging education changes that were crafted behind closed doors without proper public vetting. A key senator suggested lawmakers would need to make revisions to the education measure when committees met in September. Gov. Rick Scott should make them get back to work even sooner. The governor should veto the education legislation as well as the entire $82.4 billion budget, the latter of which fell far short of the funding he sought for Visit Florida’s tourism marketing programs and provided none of the money he sought for Enterprise Florida’s business incentives. Scott had also proposed increases in education funding that were ignored by lawmakers. Supporters touted the budget as making a small increase in education funding, but Alachua County Public Schools officials say it would actually result in a $20 per-student cut here. The education bill, HB 7069, would do even more damage to traditional public schools here and across the state. The 278-page legislation is a mish-mash of dozens of different bills filed this session and includes language and that was never discussed or considered before the vote. It would spend $234 million to expand the flawed “Best and Brightest” bonus largely based on teachers’ standardized test scores and $140 million on the “Schools of Hope” program to funnel more money into privately managed charter schools. Lawmakers weren’t able to amend the legislation because it was tied to the state budget that House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, crafted behind closed doors. This flies in the face of Corcoran’s promise of a “transformational leap” in government accountability and transparency. The public deserves better than the Legislature delivered in rushing through ill-considered changes and cuts to public education. The governor should veto the budget and education bill, giving lawmakers another shot at doing the work they should have done the first time around.


Gov. Rick Scott, veto education bill *

Gov. Rick Scott should veto the monstrosity of an education bill the Legislature passed Monday. We will get to what is — and isn't — in the bill. First, consider how a few legislators produced a budget that actually cuts money for education, even though times are good. Worse, they further undercut traditional public schools, which the vast majority of Florida students attend. Legislative leaders proudly proclaim the $82.4 billion budget passed Monday will increase funding for education. But given the growth headed our way, it's misleading to call the money an increase. Broward Schools, for example, is scheduled to receive an extra $26 million. However, $19 million would go to cover the new classrooms and teachers needed for the new students headed our way. Plus, lawmakers imposed a $5 million increase for the state retirement fund and changed the formula for utility rates. When all is said and done, the district is looking at a $7 million decrease from last year. This, in a year when Florida's economy is booming. Gov. Scott tried to do better by kids. He proposed a $216 increase in per-pupil spending, or 3 percent. But focused on other priorities, lawmakers undercut his proposal to $25, or 0.34 percent. So that you know, Florida spends an average $7,200 per-student every year, compared to an average $11,000 nationwide. The real priority for legislative leaders was HB 7069, which began as a six-page bill focused on the teacher bonus program. By Monday, it had swelled to 278 pages and was stuffed with nearly 60 pieces of legislation. All this happened in secret. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, orchestrated the back-door deal-making, despite his pre-session pledge of transparency. The goal was to force approval of controversial proposals that might have failed on their own. HB 7069 spells out how another $419 million in education priorities will be spent. It includes some good things, like teacher bonuses, recess for elementary school students and allowing students to take assessment tests using pencil and paper. It also would let students bring sunscreen to school. Who knew we needed a law for that? But HB 7069 also would create the bad precedent of letting for-profit charter schools get public money to construct privately-owned buildings. Charter schools are public schools run by private operators who, when they first came to Florida, claimed they wouldn't need such money. Now they want it. Consider that for years, the Legislature has starved traditional public schools of money for construction and maintenance. That's why Broward voters approved an $800 million bond in November 2014 to fix aging facilities. It's also why Palm Beach County voters last November approved a one-cent sales increase, with half of the money going for school maintenance and construction the state used to finance. Vetoing the bill would give Scott a chance to re-engage on an issue that matters more to everyday Floridians than Enterprise Florida. Scott staked everything on money for the business recruitment agency, and he lost. Given the importance of quality schools in recruiting companies to Florida, here's his next best cause. Corcoran appears to have the votes in the House to override a veto of the bill. But in the Senate, Democrats could join with Republicans to uphold a veto. It would be a good use of power they rarely have. In an op-ed article for the Tampa Bay Times, two House Republicans referenced Frederick Douglass in touting HB 7069 as a way to help at-risk kids. Actually, the bill is a fraud upon the state. Scott should veto the bill and focus on getting education right.


A turbulent session for education *

When it came to K-12 education, the Florida Legislature this session giveth, and it taketh away. Lawmakers went into overtime Monday to pass two major pieces of legislation that, if they survive Gov. Rick Scott’s veto pen, will have enormous impact on public schools. The most immediate will be the 2017-18 budget, which decreases the state’s per pupil spending by $27 from last year’s base student allocation (from $4,161 to $4,134) — the only source of flexible funding school districts receive. The Florida Association of District School Superintendents says that is the first time since the Great Recession that the base student allocation has been cut. In contrast, the governor in the budget plan he submitted to the Legislature proposed boosting spending by $141 per student. That cut will fall particularly hard on Volusia County, which already suffers from fiscal inequities because of the way the state calculates how it distributes property tax revenues annually to districts. School officials here estimate that Florida’s cost differential formula will shortchange the district more than $10.8 million in the next fiscal year; since the funding formula was established in 2004, the district has received $140 million less in tax revenues than what it has sent to Tallahassee. In addition, The News-Journal’s Erica Breunlin reports that the district stands to lose another $11 million in light of a decrease to the rate Volusia County Schools can levy in property taxes. Those factors will combine to put the squeeze on a district that last summer agreed to give its teachers $8 million in pay raises for next school year. That contractual obligation, as well as the other funding shortfalls, will force cuts in spending elsewhere. Also Monday, the Legislature narrowly approved a bill (HB 7069) that is a $419 million, 278-page monstrosity that was assembled behind closed doors in the waning hours of the session Friday, with House and Senate negotiators attaching various unrelated education items like ornaments on a Christmas tree. The problems lie in the execution, primarily a lack of fiscal accountability for the charters. An Associated Press analysis in 2015 found that, since 2000, Florida had lost $70 million in capital funding given to charter schools that later closed, and the state recovered just $133,000. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate had sought to impose restrictions on charters to ensure public dollars would not be wasted. Yet, they were absent in HB 7069, despite the fact it expands the state’s commitment to charter schools. Much like how the health care reform bill passed the U.S. House recently, HB 7069 was rushed through with insufficient transparency, leaving lawmakers to acknowledge they will have to go back and fix the things they admit are flawed but voted for anyway. That’s an irresponsible way to legislate.


Polk County School District officials urge veto on 'hurtful' state budget (Marianne Capoziello quoted)


Duval School District Urging Gov. Scott To Veto ‘Devastating’ Education Bill (Terrie Brady quoted)


Duval Board struggles to fund programs at high-poverty schools


Bay District School leaders expect budget cuts and terminations soon (Alexis Underwood quoted)


Cuts loom as Pasco school officials digest effects of state budget (UTEP mentioned)


Horrible charter bill deserves the criticism it’s getting *

Duval school superin­tendent, Nikolai Vitti, didn’t mince words when describ­ing what the Legis­la­ture did to public schools in the legislative session. In fact, he nailed it. “This bill is about power and corruption,” Vitti said. “It’s about anti-public accountability and anti-public schools.” Perhaps Vitti spoke with the freedom of getting ready to move to the Detroit school system, but I suspect he would have said the same thing even if that were not the case. The bill was passed Monday on the last day of the extended session. As is the case with most bad bills, its details were worked out in secret. The bill cuts public school funding and would force the closure of some schools in Jacksonville deemed to be failing, perhaps as many as 20, and turn them over to charter operators. Flying under the misnomer “Schools of Hope,” the bill is really about private charter school companies ever hopeful of having their pockets stuffed with taxpayer cash. The bill provides $200 million for charter operators to open charter schools within five miles of schools closed because of consistently receiving bad grades from the state. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig; this is what state Rep. Jason Fischer of Jacksonville said in support of the bill: “This bill puts our children first,” Fischer told the Times-Union. “We have a moral obligation to do everything in our power to give the kids in our communities the hope they have long been denied by the failure factories in these neighborhoods.” Vitti retorted accurately that the closed schools would be replaced with “profit factories.” That’s what this whole school choice movement in the Legislature has really always been about. It’s about private companies cashing in. Public accountability would go away as elected school board members would have little power over the charter schools. And capital dollars needed to improve our public schools would instead flow into privately owned buildings that would profit from any improvements if a charter school folds, which School Board member Rebecca Couch pointed out four in Jacksonville have done in the past 18 months. Having served on the School Board before moving to the Legislature, Fischer should know better. Charter schools don’t have an unblemished record of improving the academic performance of struggling students, many of them from low-income families. If the Legislature really wanted to “put our children first,” the practice of handing out billions of dollars in tax cuts the last several years would end. Instead, that money would go to fund coaches, tutors and mentors in struggling schools and provide enriching experiences that students from poor neighborhoods often don’t have access to. If children were really at the heart of the matter, instead of giving more tax breaks, focus on improving those neighborhoods with more job opportunities and better living conditions. I had thought that the worst thing the Legislature did in this awful session was refusing to provide any money for conservation land purchases in the Florida Forever program just as voters overwhelmingly told it to do when they approved Amendment 1 in 2014. But this attack on public schools is just as bad. Gov. Rick Scott has many reasons to use his veto power since the Legislature ignored almost all of his priorities, including funding VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida. This education budget bill should move to the top of the list. It only passed the Senate by two votes, so a veto would likely survive any attempt to override it. Do the right thing, governor. The Legislature didn’t.


Nine ways Florida schools would change if the Legislature gets its way


More on Palm Beach union’s election (Kathi Gundlach, Justin Katz and Mark Pudlow quoted, Gordan Longhofer mentioned)


Orange school district tests paying teachers more to keep them at middle school


Passage of HB 7069 ignites worries about Tallahassee elementary school


Brevard residents clash over textbook's chapter on Islam


Duval superintendent: Detroit negotiations going well, could leave in late May


If Miami-Dade schools chief runs for Congress, who will replace him?


Puerto Rico’s debt crisis claims another casualty: its schools


Universities get boost amid USF uproar *

Florida lawmakers on Monday approved a budget that will dramatically increase university funding and student financial aid, while leaders defended a performance standard that could impact the University of South Florida. The new budget (SB 2500) will increase the Bright Futures merit scholarship program to cover 100 percent of tuition and fees for the top-performing students, known as “academic scholars.” It will also extend the scholarships to summer classes and provide $300 per semester for textbooks. Need-based aid will increase by more than $126 million, with the bulk of it going toward “Florida student assistance grants,” the state’s largest program to help students with financial need. Operating funds will increase for all 12 state universities, including $245 million in performance-based funds, a $20 million increase. The agreement provides $71 million to universities to attract top-level faculty and researchers, with another $50 million aimed at high-achieving medical, law and business graduate schools. The spending increases were tied to Senate President Joe Negron’s initiative to elevate Florida’s universities to “elite, national destination” institutions, while holding the schools to higher performance standards and offering more financial support for students. But controversy erupted over the weekend when University of South Florida advocates learned a related budget bill (SB 374) had been changed Friday to increase the performance standard for “pre-eminent” universities from requiring that more than 50 percent of students graduate in four years to a 60 percent standard. USF has a 54 percent four-year graduation rate. Currently, only the University of Florida and Florida State University have gained pre-eminent status, which will entitle them to an additional $48 million in funding in the next year. USF and the University of Central Florida are striving to reach the pre-eminent level. “Late at night Friday, the goal posts changed,” said House Democratic leader Janet Cruz of Tampa, where USF is located. She said the school had “been cheated” out of its effort to obtain pre-eminence. But Negron, R-Stuart, and Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who oversees higher-education spending, defended the performance standard, saying it would not apply to USF or any of the other schools until next year. They also said USF would be held to the current pre-eminence standards which are tied to a 70 percent goal for graduating students in six years and the school would come up just short with a 67 percent rate. “No one was punished in this budget or in the conforming bill,” Galvano said. “To me, moving a goal post or punishing is when someone is entitled to something and then you take that entitlement away.” Galvano also said he was open to discussing the 60 percent standard when lawmakers meet in their 2018 session early next year, before the new pre-eminence standard would be applied to the 12 universities. “Everything we’re talking about is prospective and based on future achievement,” he said.


With DeVos slated to speak at B-CU's graduation, foes sound the protest alarms (FEA mentioned) (FEA and AFT mentioned) (FEA mentioned)


DeVos compares school choice to switching phone carriers


Polk State begins public forums for president candidates


Why Yale graduate students are on a hunger strike


Scott berates “backroom deal,” could veto budget *

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, whose priorities were largely ignored by the Florida Legislature in passing an $83 billion budget Monday night, accused lawmakers on Tuesday of acting “largely behind closed doors” and mentioned the possibility he’ll veto the entire spending blueprint. Florida governors regularly exercise line-item veto authority, but a governor hasn’t vetoed an entire budget since Lawton Chiles did in 1992. The Republican-controlled House and Senate stung the Republican governor by not approving business and tourism incentive money Scott wanted and by rejecting his request for $200 million for repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee. With Scott expected to run for the seat of Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018, Republican lawmakers previewed a likely Democratic line of attack by deriding the incentive money Scott favored as “corporate welfare.” House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, Corcoran even borrowed a line from Bernie Sanders last fall to slam Scott’s beloved Enterprise Florida business incentive program. “The government engaging in social engineering to pick winners and losers that benefit the 1 percent is a bad deal for Florida taxpayers. There will not be any corporate welfare in the House budget,” Corcoran said in September. Scott defended the incentive money in a statement his office released Tuesday afternoon. “Once again, the Florida Legislature has turned their back on Florida’s ability to fund economic incentive deals that help our state outcompete our top competitors for important jobs,” Scott said. “This is very concerning to me and is an action that each member will have to defend as their local communities lose out on new manufacturing facilities, headquarter relocations and thousands of high wage jobs for families.” Scott said the failure to fund tourism marketing at the level Scott wanted could lead to a “drastic reduction in visitor spending” in the Sunshine State. Scott also said he was “shocked” by the Legislature’s decision not to fund repairs of the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee. “For years, I urged President Obama to fix the dike, and now when President Trump has committed funding for this project, the Legislature irresponsibly ignored it,” he said. And he criticized the Legislature for operating out of the public eye. Negotiations over several portions of the budget, and budget-linked bills called “conforming bills,” took place largely behind closed doors. This included a 278-page education bill that wasn’t unveiled until after 4 p.m. on Friday, the last day of the regular session. With the budget undone until Friday, lawmakers couldn’t vote on it until Monday, because the Constitution requires a 72-hour waiting period after all lawmakers have received a copy of the budget before they can vote. “Last night, the Florida Legislature passed a budget that was done largely behind closed doors. It was done without important input from the public and many members of the Legislature who were elected by Floridians to serve them. That’s unfortunate,” Scott said. “I ran for governor to fight career politicians and it’s backroom deals like this that make families think politics is nothing more than a game.” Scott added: “I am beginning to review the budget and I have the option of vetoing the entire budget or vetoing the items that circumvented the transparent process and do not have an acceptable return on investment for hardworking taxpayers.”


Audit finds pattern of loose spending at Broward tourism bureau


State workers' comp rate hike backed by appeals court


How state keeps kids in the criminal justice system


Judge Pop Tart: Eisnaugle attacks judiciary for years, now named judge


Want to change Florida's Constitution? Here's your chance


Rubio throws wrench into oil drilling debate


Trump fires FBI director Comey


Behind Comey’s firing: An enraged Trump, fuming about Russia


Firing fuels calls for independent investigator, even from Republicans


Comey’s removal sparks fears about future of Russia probe


With Comey’s firing, democracy is officially in crisis


Comey misstated key Clinton email evidence at hearing


After Trump fired Comey, White House staff scrambled to explain why


The shocking firing of Comey puts new pressure on Trump and his team


Firing Comey won't save Trump from the flames of the Russia scandal


Comey’s firing should make all of us “mildly nauseous”


Trump is lying again, now about Comey


Comey’s dismissal may turn the anti-Trump wave into a tsunami


Comey timeline: Everything that led up to his firing


National reaction to the firing of Comey


Where are the Republicans?


Trump assails Democrats for hypocrisy on Comey


Florida politicians react to firing of Comey


Here’s how unusual it is for an FBI director to be fired


Grand jury subpoenas issued in FBI's Russia investigation


Senate Russia investigators ask Treasury for Trump team financial information


White House says it ignored Yates’ warnings because she was a partisan


Comey sacking “a diversion from Yates testimony”: Bob Graham


In Trump’s firing of Comey, echoes of Watergate


If GOP doesn’t stand up to Trump on Russia, it’s helping undermine our democracy


By firing Comey, Trump is continuing the work Putin started


Trump to sit down with Russian foreign minister, one day after firing Comey


Poll: Support for GOP health bill declines


A health care bill that’s bad for moms and babies


Senate Republicans face their own divisions in push for health-care overhaul


The GOP will tell lie after lie to pass Trumpcare


Critics at town halls confront Republicans over health care


GOP lawmakers are dodging constituents angry over their health care vote


“Die-in” at Rubio's office in Orlando targets Republican health care bill


Floridians to senators: Don't back Trumpcare


Mast defends health care vote


At raucous town hall, Brat struggles to speak above the jeers


Trump’s proposed tax cut could open a path to widespread avoidance


Senate custom could trip up GOP’s march to reshape courts


Sessions weighs return to harsher punishments for low-level drug crimes

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