Today's news -- May 11, 2017





Legislators attack public schools *

For years, some school administrators and union leaders have said the ultimate goal of Tallahassee Republicans is to destroy traditional public education. And for just as long, it was easy to brush this off as fear-mongering or hyperbole. Not so much anymore. Not with the passage this week of the vast, messy, catch-all education bill, HB 7069, and the sadly inadequate education budget that went with it. One opponent of the bill called it a "piece of junk," and even that is too kind because it implies shoddiness, while the reality is much worse. Lawmakers flat-out assaulted public education this year, casting themselves in the roles of sadistic teachers lavishing favors on their pets -- private-school vouchers and charter schools -- and pointedly withholding them from their designated black sheep, the public school system. And though at least a few Republican senators stood up to this onslaught, all three of Hernando County's Republican lawmakers — Sen. Wilton Simpson of Trilby, Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill and Rep. Ralph Masullo of Lecanto — went right along with it. Even if Gov. Rick Scott vetoes the bill or the budget measures, our local legislators should be held accountable for supporting them. What did lawmakers do, exactly? They cut the base level of per-student funding by $27, an unthinkable action considering that Florida already ranks far below the national average in this category and that districts such as Hernando have just barely started to recover from the recession. Last year, the School Board passed its first budget in years without major cuts, a deceptive indicator of health because schools continue to limp along with past cuts, including librarians and art and music teachers. Now, thanks in part to Simpson, Ingoglia and Masullo, the depleted district expects to once again face a shortfall. More outrageous, this action devastating students all over the state has only one obvious beneficiary, Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, who is looking at a run for governor on a low-tax platform and who insisted the Legislature pass on the hundreds of millions of dollars that would have accrued by just keeping the local school property tax rate at the same level rather than cutting it to the rolled-back rate. He also shepherded through the attack on another local funding source for schools, the optional 1.5-mill local tax for capital improvements. Now districts must share this with charter schools, which, as has been true for several years, will also get a big chunk of the statewide pot of capital improvement money. The remaining amount from this fund, spread among 67 counties in a rapidly growing state, comes to an insulting low total of $50 million — less than the cost of a single new high school. Lawmakers were on a path to do one good thing — set aside $140 million for low-performing schools. Unfortunately, it caps the number of schools that can qualify for this extra funding at 25, while the number of perennially substandard schools is more than 100. And who gets the rest of the money? You guessed it: charter schools. Not only that, HB 7069 gives charters an easier path to collect those funds and exempts them from pesky requirements such as zoning laws and hiring college-educated teachers. Just to round things out, a separate bill increased the funding amounts for low-income students who receive tax-credit scholarships, a.k.a. vouchers, from 82 percent of per-student funding to 96 percent for high school students, thus undermining one of the key arguments of this program — that private schools could deliver more education for less money. Now it's pretty much the same, not to mention that this program is on track to get the standard 25 percent increase it has received annually since 2010. Another large and growing scholarship program, for children with disabilities, also got a big bump in this year's budget. Lawmakers tried to cover up all this wreckage with a few student- or teacher-friendly provisions, such as mandatory elementary school recess (applying, naturally, only to public schools), cutting the tie between test scores and teacher evaluations, and expanding a bonus system of questionable value and fairness. In that way, and by touting increased "flexibility" allowed in this law, they will try to pass themselves off as friends of educators, just as Simpson and Ingoglia have claimed to be advocates of education by making sure that Hernando received the admittedly very welcome $2 million annual stipend that goes to small districts. Don't believe it. As Hernando superintendent of schools Lori Romano said in a statement about school funding, it's a "gut punch . . . a watershed moment that will negatively alter the future of our public schools." This is not an exaggeration. Now, no doubt about it, it's the truth.


Bay District officials blast education bill *

A day after the Legislature narrowly passed a massive, hodge-podge $419 million education bill (HB 7069), Association of Bay County Educators President Alexis Underwood stood before the Bay District School Board and urged every parent and property owner to call Gov. Rick Scott and ask him to veto it. Underwood decried the process behind the bill, which she said took measures voted down in committee and added them to the 278-page conforming bill “in the middle of the night” Friday before putting them forward for a vote Monday. “We can do better than this,” she said. “They owe us better than this.” The bill contains policy regarding numerous aspects of education, from standardized testing to charter school funding, mandatory recess and boosts to the Best and Brightest bonus program. Officials across the state have come out against the bill, particularly in the perceived lack of transparency in negotiations leading up to its final passage. “We’re just perplexed and frustrated,” Superintendent Bill Husfelt said during Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s just ... extremely frustrating. “We haven’t had a chance to go up there to defend what they don’t know,” he added. Incensed, Husfelt said he had “never seen such hardball politics” as what played out the past two weeks in the state Legislature, and he reminded the board that, at the end of all those policies, are students and teachers. Hardest hit by the policies in the bill will be the district’s two dozen Title I schools, which use federal dollars for programs that serve high poverty students. Although Title I is a federal program, the state acts as a “conduit” through which the money flows to districts, and they set the rules on how the funds are dispersed. Districts take a portion of the money off the top to fund district-wide programs, and then divvy up the remaining money by school based on the number of students on free and reduced lunch. Contained in HB 7069 is language that limits the amount of money districts can take off the top to about 8 percent, which is only enough to cover the staff needed to monitor the program, according to Bay District Assistant Superintendent Gena Burgans. While on the surface that might look like more money for schools, she said it actually would lead to the elimination of eight programs, including full day pre-K and kindergarten, extended day and summer services, STEM programs, and school-based family engagement, administered by the district using Title I money. With pink slips, or non-renewal letters, going out Friday, the change also will lead to the elimination of 44 instructional positions in the district, including math coaches, behavior specialists, social workers and parent liaisons in the schools with the highest need for these services through $1.1 million in cuts for paraprofessionals and $308,000 in cuts for parent liaisons. Tearing up, School Board Chairwoman Ginger Littleton gave an emotional defense of public education, saying without it, “we become a nation of haves and have-nots.” “Teachers are the key to our democracy,” she said. (Luke Flynt quoted)

Hillsborough schools budget will be “very tight” if state legislation is signed into law (Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins quoted)


St. Johns critics sound off on education bill, say cuts seem inevitable (Michelle Dillon quoted)


Palm Beach School Board asks parents to join in push to veto state budget


State budget threatens Volusia school district’s finances


Students upset with schedule changes at Pasco high school (Kenny Blankenship quoted)


A literal backroom meeting helped yield compromise on testing reforms


Lake educators say Legislature didn’t provide enough testing relief


Pasco district responds in Florida third-grade retention case


Voucher proposals expose rift in school choice movement (Randi Weingarten quoted and AFT mentioned)


Bethune-Cookman grads boo DeVos at commencement (Fed Ingram quoted) (Fed Ingram quoted) (Fed Ingram and Randi Weingarten quoted) (Randi Weingarten mentioned)


A deep dive into the mind of DeVos


UF negotiates new health insurance plan with grad assistants (Charles Shields and Bobby Mermer quoted)


USF board leader vows to reclaim the school's stolen title and millions in funding


Polk State presidential candidate speaks at forums


How to stop racism from winning on college campuses


“Lack of transparency” causes calls for Scott budget veto

Both citing a “lack of transparency,” the heads of the League of Women Voters of Florida and the First Amendment Foundation are calling for Gov. Rick Scott to veto the just-passed state budget for 2017-18. But with the House of Representatives passing the budget 98-14 and the Senate approving 34-4 on Monday, there are enough votes there to override a veto, assuming none change. League President Pamela Goodman and FAF President Barbara Petersen alerted their members in separate emails on Tuesday. “The lack of transparency in the process enabled last-minute bills and amendments to be passed,” Goodman wrote in an attached letter to Scott, seeking the budget veto. “Many legislators are on record stating they did not have the opportunity to read and fully comprehend bills presented at the end after emerging from behind closed doors. “It is the job of every elected official representing their constituents to be able to vote in an informed manner and with complete transparency of the process,” she added. Goodman also criticized education funding that “starve(s) public schools and expand(s) privately run charter schools” and complained that Florida Forever, the state’s conservation land acquisition program, “was zeroed out in the budget.” In her email, Petersen wrote that 17 new exemptions to the state’s open government laws were created this Legislative Session. “Equally alarming is the secretiveness of the budget process this session and FAF will be asking the governor to veto the budget based solely on the lack of transparency,” she said. Petersen added that her letter to Scott would be sent later this week. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has rejected claims of secrecy over budget negotiations, even though much was handled behind closed doors, instead calling the Legislature’s work “bold” and “transformative.”


All eyes on Scott as he considers “surgical but massive” budget vetoes


Scott has a friend in White House, foes back home


Scott came to Tallahassee as an outsider, and that’s just how he might leave


Crying wolf? With cuts, Visit Florida predicts tourism apocalypse


Legislature again ignores voters


Child abuse tips silenced for months by DCF computer glitch


FPL charges customers millions in lobbying fees every year


Business groups want workers' comp fix, now


Experts see climate change peril for South Florida's black and Hispanic communities


Government to begin seismic surveys in Atlantic in drilling push


Furor over Comey firing grows as he sought resources for investigation


Inside Trump’s anger and impatience -- and his decision to fire Comey


Trump defends Comey firing, says both parties will thank him


Trump has fired three who were investigating his campaign or administration


Why Trump holds all the cards on an outside investigation of Russia’s activities


After Comey, here are the options for an independent Russia inquiry


The top priority after Comey’s firing


Trump puts country “on the verge of a constitutional crisis”


Senate committee subpoenas documents from Flynn in Russia probe


House chairman asks Justice inspector general to probe Comey firing


Why Trump’s efforts to shake his Russia problem only make it worse


‘Teflon Don’ faces his biggest test yet


Trump praised Comey in October, fired him Tuesday. Explanations don’t add up.


Did Trump and Sessions flip-flop on Comey’s decisions in the Clinton investigation?


Firing Comey is a thuggish abuse of executive power


Democrat on Comey firing: “This is a serious moment in American history”


McConnell rejects calls for special prosecutor


McConnell may be making the most important mistake of his career


From Fox News to the Senate, Republicans close ranks behind Trump firing Comey


These Republicans could set the Comey disaster right


McCain on Comey firing: “There will be more shoes to drop”


Collins believes FBI will continue Russia investigation


Why did Trump really fire Comey? Only a special counsel can tell us.


Trump's firing of Comey reaffirms need for special prosecutor


Trump is insulting our intelligence


The shame of Trump not seeing what’s wrong with firing Comey


How abnormal was Comey’s firing? Experts weigh in


After Comey, justice must be served


Sessions promised he would recuse himself on Russia investigation. He didn’t.


Sessions emerges as Trump's most valuable ally


Justice official’s reputation for impartiality is tested by Comey firing


Rosenstein fails his ethics test


An open letter to the deputy attorney general


Trump has crossed a once-unthinkable red line


Inside the FBI, stunned agents wonder about future of Russia inquiry


I worked with the FBI as a prosecutor. Trump threatens the bureau’s independence.


In firing Comey, did Trump unleash the next Deep Throat?


FBI refuses to disclose documents on Trump’s call to Russia to hack Clinton


Trump bars U.S. press, but not Russia’s, at meeting with Russian officials


Russia’s Oval Office victory dance


Conway directly contradicts the official story on Comey’s firing


Nelson says he has no faith in McConnell to allow fair Russian investigation


On Comey firing, Rubio says only that he was “surprised”


Diaz-Balart says he's totally cool with Trump firing Comey


St. Petersburg protesters rally against Trump's firing of Comey


Abusing power hurts leaders, too


Where’s Ryan in all the Comey chaos? In Ohio, talking taxes


Comey’s firing may imperil Republicans’ legislative agenda


Republicans don’t feel your pain


They voted for Trumpcare over your health. Will they pay at the ballot box?


“Die-in” at Yoho’s office


Republican who rescued health-care bill faces voters


Miami billionaire plans political fund to defend unauthorized immigrants


Trump’s poll numbers just hit a bunch of new lows


An invitation to wage theft


The 2020 Census is in big trouble


The census won’t collect LGBT data. That’s a problem.


In victory for environmentalists, Senate keeps an Obama-era climate change rule


Translating Trump’s religious liberty order


When it comes to vaccines, rich parents get away with child neglect


U.S. may ban laptops on all flights from Europe


Mattis reaffirms U.S. commitment to NATO


The most frustrating thing about Ivanka Trump


White House job for Schwab heiress raises new ethics questions for Trump





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