Today's news -- May 2, 2017





Senate advances controversial Title I school funding bill *

Proposed dramatic changes to the way Florida schools get and use federal Title I funding gained support in the state Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, paving the way for their likely adoption into law. Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who heads the state superintendents association, tried to kill the language, which came from a House bill on charter schools. But the committee rejected his amendments to remove the provisions, which would spread the funding -- intended to improve academic programs for low-income children -- to more schools including charters, and limit district-level controls over the money. SB 1362 still requires full Senate passage. Observers held out little expectation that it would fail, given the priority the House has placed on the legislation. Still others, though, noted that powerful Appropriations chairman Sen. Jack Latvala opposed the bill in his committee, and held out hope he would fight the proposal on the floor. School district officials have raised strong objections to the measure, worrying that it would water down programs and could lead to job losses. "A number of our community members and parents are aware of the services we provide in our 63 Title I schools," said Ferlita Grant, Title I director for Pinellas County schools. "It would be a shock to them if this bill goes through the number of services we would have to cut back on." She created a three-page document for district leaders and lawmakers to understand the full scope of the proposal, which she said would reach far beyond the federal requirements on the money. Among her concerns:

  • "If the threshold for allocating Title I dollars to schools is lowered to the state’s average, we will be required to serve an additional 16 school sites, with either no additional funding, or perhaps a reduced level of funding."
  • "If this becomes State Law the Pinellas County School District will no longer be able to reserve Title I funds to target specific areas of need for individual schools or groups of schools." Those include ELA and math instructional coaches in Transformation schools, financial incentives to keep teachers at 15 needy schools, and the district's Summer Bridge program.

Pasco County schools crafted a similar letter to distribute to its legislative delegation. "It is our belief that Pasco County Schools is in tune with the specific and individual needs of our schools and should be allowed to exercise local control of our Title 1 funds," wrote superintendent Kurt Browning, who sent two staffers to lobby lawmakers on the issue. Federal funding consultant Cheryl Sattler said she was hopeful more school district officials would "come out of the woodwork" to speak against this legislation. She said it might appear to put more money directly into student education, but the result would be the opposite.  While lawmakers debated the issue, she spent her morning with Marion County school district leaders "having a very grim discussion" about who might lose their jobs if the language makes it through. "It's very bad," Sattler said.


Charter giveaway bill puts three Duval schools at risk of shutting down


Creating another pathway to privatize K-12 schools


What will cuts mean? Bad news, says teachers union. *

Under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts for education, Carol City Senior High could lose close to $500,000 in funding for after-school programs. So could a dozen other Miami-Dade schools. And Miami teachers could see more than $17 million in cuts for professional development. That’s the message American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten shared on her visit to South Florida on Monday, part of a national tour to rally teachers to fight for public education funding. “Yes, we need good jobs. Yes, we need affordable healthcare. Yes, we need good public education. Yes, that requires a democracy that works for all,” Weingarten said at a rally at Miami Dade College’s North Campus, where she started the day. “But the only way we get there is if we have a budget that helps us do what we need to do.” Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 calls for $9.2 billion in cuts to the Department of Education, including slashing funds for teacher training, after-school programs and federal aid for low-income college students. The budget would also shift $1.4 billion to expand school choice options including charter schools and private-school vouchers -- a proposal that critics say would come at the expense of traditional public schools. Trump’s proposed budget would have a devastating impact on South Florida, Weingarten said. “On top of cuts in schools for after-school programs, for enrichment programs, for guidance counselors, for social workers and for all that to help prepare kids to go to college, then there’s cuts in terms of the student loan programs,” she said. “It’s pulling the ladder out from under people.” Weingarten visited Carol City Senior High and Lake Stevens Middle School in Miami Gardens, two schools that could each lose approximately $485,000 for after-school programs. In total, Miami-Dade schools could lose more than $21.6 million for after-school programs funded through a federal grant on the chopping block, according to the teachers union. Teachers and administrators said that’s a prospect that worries them. “The neediest kids, the ones who really need a place to go after school, they’ll be affected the most,” said Brandon Douglas, the dean of discipline at Lake Stevens. “It’s almost like they’ll be victims of the streets. They’ll be hanging out on the corner.” Alexandria Martin, a 12th grade English teacher at Carol City High, said the after-school programs keep her students away from gangs. “They allow them to have opportunities to get out of some gang-infested areas that populate this community and give them resources,” she said. “Without the funding, it’s difficult for teachers to supplement the education and it’s difficult for kids to receive a quality education.” In its budget proposal, the Trump administration said it wanted to eliminate funding for the after-school programs because of a lack of evidence that such programs improve student achievement. During her tour, Weingarten also took aim at the Florida Legislature. She spoke against a proposal known in Tallahassee as “schools of hope,” which was initially conceived as a $200 million plan to attract charter schools to areas with struggling neighborhood schools. The proposal is the subject of budget negotiations with the Senate, where lawmakers want to use the dollars to also help failing traditional schools with extra wraparound services, such as after-school programs. Details of a proposed compromise have not yet been released. “Florida, like Michigan, is the wild, wild west of charters already,” Weingarten said. The original proposal would “deplete more and more and more the public dollar so that schools are further and further defunded to give [the money] to new organizations that frankly have not done a good job,” she said. Weingarten traveled from school to school in Miami-Dade with a United Teachers of Dade mobile billboard that called on Florida lawmakers to increase funding for public education. “Stop eating away at the core of our community,” the billboard read, underneath a giant worm-infested apple. Weingarten also visited Rock Island Elementary in Broward County and held a rally in Fort Lauderdale. The Florida Legislature’s $15 billion pre-K-12 schools budget includes a small increase for general schools spending — about $25 per student. The Senate had wanted a substantially higher increase, but House leaders dug in to hold the line on additional funding to K-12 schools. They said it would be a “tax increase” to increase funding using extra revenue gleaned from local property taxes. The Legislature is expected to finalize the annual state budget today before session ends Friday. (Randi Weingarten quoted)


Support the teachers union (FEA mentioned)


Lake School Board approves regionalizing the school district (Stuart Klatte quoted)


We are not consumers, but citizens, when it comes to schools


Political courage and school segregation


The arts help refugees, other students to master academics


Trump takes aim at school lunch guidelines and a girls’ education program


DeVos scheduled, then canceled, a visit to an L.A. charter school


A review of gender identity policies in schools


Florida NAACP wants DeVos to decline invite to B-CU

Debate over the selection of President Trump's education secretary to deliver the commencement address at a private historically black university in Daytona Beach is starting to look more like a proxy war over Florida’s controversial vouchers. Florida’s chapter of the NAACP called on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to decline Bethune-Cookman University’s invitation to speak at the May 10 graduation “based on her horrible public education record impacting blacks and minorities in Florida and around the country.” President Adora Obi Nweze also implored the institution not to offer DeVos an honorary degree. “What makes the Bethune-Cookman University approach unusual is their plan to honor a person who has been on the job less than one hundred days and has no record of advancing educational equity for all students,” Nweze said. “This would be a slap in the face to minorities, women and all communities of color.” Democrats have also criticized B-CU’s plans to host DeVos, pointing to her recent characterization of historically black colleges and universities as “pioneers” of “school choice." Leaders of the schools called her comments ignorant and accused her of whitewashing the country's history of racial segregation, during which black students had few if any options for higher education. DeVos, a billionaire GOP donor, has promoted vouchers in Florida as well as in her home state of Michigan and is hoping to expand alternatives to public schools nationally. Despite the outcry, Bethune-Cookman University President Edison Jackson defended his decision to invite DeVos in a letter and video address to the campus community. He argued it was important for students to be exposed to people who have political beliefs that are different than their own.  “When we seek to shelter our students and campus communities from views that are diametrically opposed to their own, we actually leave our students far less capable of combating those ideas,” he said. “Additionally, the sheer diversity of our human family requires us to listen to and understand one another. We cannot, and we will not, ever accomplish this if we continue to exist in ideological, social, and racial silos.” Shortly after he released the letter, the U.S. Department of Education officially announced that DeVos will speak at the May 10 graduation. The NAACP has been a chief opponent of Florida’s long-established tax-credit scholarships, which cover private school tuition for poor students through state-incentivized corporate donations. Along with a statewide teachers union, the civil rights organization drove a legal challenge of the voucher-like policy all the way to the state Supreme Court and lost.


Three FAMU deans dismissed (Elizabeth Davenport quoted)


State workers to see pay raise, pension changes *

State workers will be in line for pay raises, although the plan is coupled with major changes in the state pension fund and employee health insurance, under a bill approved Monday by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The legislation (SB 7030) represents a compromise between the Senate, which supported a pay increase, and the House, which has been pushing for state pension changes for the last half-dozen years. Sen. Bill Montford, a Democrat whose district encompasses many state workers, questioned why the Senate was embracing a pension change that in previous years had stalled in the chamber. “All of a sudden now we’ve got a pay raise wrapped up with retirement, with insurance,” Montford said. “Why are we doing it this way?” Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who made a state-worker pay raise his top priority for the session, said both chambers are getting something from the bill. “It either succeeds together or it fails together,” Latvala said. The Appropriations Committee took up the compromise as House and Senate leaders worked to finish negotiating a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. They face a deadline today for finishing the budget if they hope to end the legislative session Friday, as scheduled. That is because of a constitutionally required 72-hour “cooling off” period before lawmakers can vote on the budget. The $186 million pay raise, planned to take effect Oct. 1 for most workers, would provide a $1,400 raise for workers earning less than $40,000 a year and a $1,000 raise for state employees earning more than $40,000. Rank-and-file law enforcement officers would be in line for a 5 percent increase beginning July 1. The pay-raise package is linked to changing the state pension program so that newly hired public workers who do not actively choose a retirement plan would “default” into 401(k)-type investment plan rather than the traditional pension coverage. Currently newly hired workers default into the traditional pension plan, where they can vest in the benefits if they work at least eight years for a public agency. The default change was strongly opposed by unions that represent many of the 630,000 active workers in the pension fund, which provides retirement benefits for teachers, county workers, university and college personnel and state workers. Lynda Russell, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, which represents teachers and education staff professionals, said school workers will receive substantially fewer retirement benefits if they rely on an investment plan rather than the traditional pension benefits. “It seems that we are doing everything that we can to eliminate teaching as a profession in Florida,” Russell said. “We are having problems paying them. There is very little job security, and now there will be no retirement.”

And, while bill proponents say new employees can still make a one-time choice to switch to the pension plan, opponents -- like United Faculty of Florida’s Marshall Ogletree -- say it’s not much of a choice because they have to buy back into the plan. “It’s pretty expensive,” Ogletree said. “That can be cost prohibitive.” Police and firefighter union groups -- previously opposed to the bill -- have now signed off on the proposal. But, Florida Education Association’s Lynda Russell, who likes the pay raises, says it’s easy to see why. “We’ve exempted public safety workers out of this and I think it is a recognition that the investment plan is a far inferior plan,” she said. “But, I think we’ve also exempted them because we recognize the fact that our communities need career police and career firefighters. There’s no question, and they need to be able to retire with dignity. We still believe that our community still needs career teachers as well.”


Budget talks continue behind closed doors

Negotiations over a roughly $83 billion budget continued behind the scenes Monday, as other parts of the complicated maneuvering to successfully end the 2017 legislative session began to lock into place. By early Monday evening, there had been no public meetings on the budget negotiations, now being led by the top Republicans in the House and the Senate, despite assurances than any final deal would be subject to an open meeting. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, took over the talks Sunday afternoon, following negotiations between the House and Senate budget chiefs on a spending plan for the year that begins July 1. As of early Monday evening, more than 24 hours had passed since the last public meeting held by House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Because of a constitutionally required 72-hour "cooling off" period, any budget deal would need to be reached today if lawmakers hope to end the session as scheduled Friday. Speaking with reporters after a Senate floor session Monday, Negron continued to express confidence that deal could be reached. "I think that if we work diligently through the rest of the afternoon and evening, I'm still optimistic that we can get it done," Negron said. "I think it's more important to get it done right than to get it done quickly." Negron said lawmakers had made progress on an area of the budget focused on the environment and agriculture, where essentially no progress was made in earlier negotiations. He also pledged a public meeting between the House and the Senate to exchange offers "when everything's wrapped up." Those hoping to influence the final shape of the budget made one last push to lobby lawmakers. Gov. Rick Scott met with several legislators Monday, as the current contours of the deal imperiled his top priorities for the session. Scott's tax-cut package has been severely whittled down, he is likely to get none of the economic development incentives he requested, and lawmakers have allocated far less for tourism marketing than Scott wanted.


Legislature proposes fraction of tax cuts Scott wanted


Unhappy with budget talks, Scott calls on supporters to intervene again


Dark efforts to gut the Sunshine Law


Florida homestead exemption increase closer to ballot


Homestead exemption increase would be great politics, lousy governing


Priebus: Trump considering amending or abolishing 1st Amendment


On May Day, protesters take to the streets nationwide …


… and in Florida (Randi Weingarten quoted)


Winners and losers from the deal to avoid a government shutdown

Why Congress’s bipartisan budget deal should make Trump worried


Democrats confident they can block Trump’s agenda after spending-bill win


Trump says U.S. needs government shutdown


GOP likely to go it alone on tax overhaul legislation


Now we know Trump’s plan to sell tax cuts for the rich


Senate panel puts Russia sanctions bill on hold


House continue health-care push, may leave changes to Senate


GOP suffers surprise defection on Obamacare repeal


Trump’s nifty plan to spend more and hurt poor people more -- at the same time!


Trump guarantees protection for preexisting  conditions — but it’s unclear how


Trump health care promises that won't become reality


This law could prevent the next financial crisis. Lawmakers want it gone.


Treasury chief to elites: “You should thank me for your bank stocks doing better”


Despite Trump, millions hope to win what could be the last U.S. green card lottery


“They treated us like criminals”: U.S. border crossers report severe reception


Prospects for black America about to get worse under Trump, report says


If you ask, Trump is considering nearly every policy you can possibly imagine


“You’re the best,” Trump once told Pelosi. Can they deal again?


Congress claws back power from Trump


Trump’s warm words for strongmen set off alarms


Why did Trump invite a murderous autocrat to the White House? Follow the money.


Trump’s love for brutal leaders like the Philippines’ Duterte, explained


Duterte says he may be too busy for White House visit


Trump says he’d be “honored” to meet with North Korean dictator


Ross says Syria missile strike was “after-dinner entertainment” at Mar-a-Lago


Trump’s volatility in Asia distresses a longtime U.S. ally: Australia


Trump’s 100th-day speech full of nastiness


Ivanka Trump’s West Wing agenda


Top ethics officer challenges Trump over secret waivers for ex-lobbyists


Woman plans to appeal Trump U. settlement, which could delay payout to others,amp.html


Trump: “People don't ask that question, but why was there the Civil War?”


Trump's dizzying day of interviews


Trump abruptly ends CBS interview after wiretap question




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