Today's news -- May 4, 2017




Lawmakers seek to cram in new education policies *

With two days left for lawmakers to enact policy this session, two Republican senators late Wednesday released what’s essentially a brand-new bill that salvages myriad stalled education proposals, while also preserving one of the Legislature’s top K-12 priorities: reforms addressing excessive standardized testing in Florida public schools. Sens. Anitere Flores of Miami and Kelli Stargel of Lakeland filed their 72-page amendment at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday to rewrite a House-approved education bill that had been just 17 pages in length. Their new version of HB 549 also, notably, keeps in play for negotiation a parent-demanded proposal that mandates daily recess in Florida’s public elementary schools. The Senate approved the idea in early April, but House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, ignored parents’ pleas to bring the standalone measure to the floor, even though it has the votes to easily pass. HB 549 was one of two bills House members envisioned could be a vehicle for testing reforms -- and various unresolved education policies -- before session ends. It passed the House last Friday, 117-1, but Flores’ and Stargel’s amendment creates a bill much broader than the House considered. The House and Senate have to approve identical language before floor sessions end Friday, in order for the bill to pass in time. As of late Wednesday, HB 549 wasn’t scheduled to be heard today, but there are ways for senators to still bring it to the floor. The amendment being filed indicates that is the Senate’s likely plan. It wasn’t immediately clear what the rewrite of HB 549 meant for Flores’ original testing bill (SB 926), which was supposed to be heard and amended Wednesday but was delayed amid criticism from a key Democrat. Flores and Stargel had spent the day, on and off the floor, negotiating with Tallahassee Sen. Bill Montford to allay his and other senators’ concerns that the testing reforms didn’t go far enough. Flores’ and Stargel’s proposed rewrite to the House bill incorporates multiple pieces of legislation or policy ideas lawmakers from either or both chambers had discussed this session — some of which had already previously been tacked on to SB 926 — including:

▪ Testing reforms that eliminate the Algebra II and civics end-of-course exams — two fewer than the four exams Flores’ bill cut.

▪ Mandating a study by the state education commissioner as to whether national exams, such as the ACT or SAT, could be substituted for the Florida Standards Assessments or other end-of-course exams.

▪ Requiring assessments in grades 3 through 5 to be administered in pencil-and-paper format, starting in 2018-19 school year.

▪ Shifting the testing schedule for all statewide exams so that they have to be administered within a two- to four-week window, no earlier than April 1, depending on the test.

▪ Expediting when test results are returned to parents and requiring a more “easy-to-read and understandable” report of their child’s results.

▪ Requiring the Department of Education to publish statewide assessments every three years, starting in 2019-20 school year.

▪ Mandating 20 minutes of daily recess for all elementary school students, separate from physical education classes.

▪ Allowing the use of school playground and sports facilities by local communities and non-profit organizations.

▪ Granting more explicit rights for school board members and charter school governing board members to visit schools they oversee.

▪ Allowing certain charter schools to operate in places such as libraries, church property, theaters or public colleges and universities without getting a special zoning or land-use exception.

It’s not immediately clear what reception this will get among Democrats, who Wednesday were already criticizing the annual practice of lawmakers’ building such massive omnibus policy bills in the latter days of session. Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat who is poised to be the Senate minority leader in 2018, described the political logic for such legislating by saying Republican leaders want to “make people vote for it, because they’d have to vote against good things” otherwise. “It’s a bad way to do education policy to cram all this policy in one bill,” he said.

Republicans, including Flores, have defended the practice of omnibus bills by saying it allows multiple good ideas a chance to become law that might not have otherwise.

Earlier Lynda Russell, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, told Democrats: "All of us -- teachers, parents, education stakeholders around this state -- started this session with great expectations and high hopes that we were going to have a great testing reform bill like Senator Montford's, and at a minimum, I would say it would be a disservice to go home and say that we have passed a testing reform bill that does as little as this one."


Parents desperate to stop "absolutely ridiculous" state testing (Mike Gandolfo quoted)


Schools continue fight against Title I funding changes *

Florida school district leaders are seeing a glimmer of possibility that proposed changes to the way they receive and use Title I funds won't make it into law. Neither HB 7101 nor its Senate counterpart SB 1362, which includes the House-promoted language, has been scheduled for the full Senate, with just days remaining in session. But that hasn't stopped them from barraging lawmakers with the message to kill the bill. Okaloosa County's superintendent and a School Board member are among the latest to join the fray. Here are some excerpts from their emails to their representatives. "Despite the poverty levels in our county, Okaloosa was one of three districts in the state to make an 'A' grade for the 2015-2016 school year," Okaloosa board member Melissa Thrush wrote. "St. John's County which was #1 has the lowest poverty level in the state. Okaloosa County has proven that Title 1 schools can earn good grades, despite the legislature changing the grading rules, standards and assessments too many time to count, Okaloosa County has no D or F schools. All Okaloosa County schools earned an A or B, except 4 schools which earned a C. Two of our Title 1 schools earned A's, 8 earned B's and 4 earned C's. We have been diligently working on placing the right people and programs in these schools to increase student performance and we've shown it works. No other district in the state has our poverty levels and record of academic performance. Hands down we are the example to the state of how to ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed in public school. I cannot understand, besides greed, the desire of the legislature to create another new system, 'schools of hope' to supposedly correct D and F schools. The legislature will be robbing us to create this new system and it will have chilling effects on our children. More schools will fail as a result of funding losses and then the legislature will continue to divert more schools to for-profit charter companies. Senate Bill 1362 dictates control of Federal funds; what happened to the campaign rhetoric of local control? Where is researched based evidence that shows evidence of the programs that work and those that do not?" Okaloosa superintendent Mary Beth Jackson got straight to the very similar point. "This bill will take funds away from our most needy students in our highest poverty schools," she wrote. "I asked myself why the legislature would take away school district control over Title I funding. The only reason I can see for this piece of legislation is to ensure that our highest poverty schools fall academically and can be taken over by 'Schools of Hope.' Is this right for those students?" In the fast moving end of a tumultuous session, where budgets have not yet been completed, the issue remains up in the air, along with several others including testing reforms and required recess. Stay tuned.


Charter school bill could cost Polk district $15 million in Title I funds


Lawmakers steer $500 million to schools for construction *

Florida lawmakers on Wednesday approved a $500 million list of school construction and maintenance projects, including $207 million for state universities and $115 million for state colleges. The Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) program, which is part of the $83 billion budget agreement, is smaller than this year’s $625 million education construction program and does not use any bonding. The 12 state universities will receive $161 million for construction projects. The largest projects include $19.4 million for Norman Hall at the University of Florida; $16 million for an earth ocean atmospheric sciences building at Florida State University; $15 million for the School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University; $15 million for the School of Integrated Watershed and Coastal Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University; and $12 million for the Morsani College of Medicine project at the University of South Florida. The 28 state colleges will receive $77 million in construction projects. The largest projects include $10 million for an allied health center at Hillsborough Community College; $6.5 million for a student center at St. Petersburg College; and $10.4 million for two projects remodeling classrooms, labs and a gym at Miami-Dade College. The Legislature’s budget plan also includes $45.6 million in maintenance funding for universities and $38 million for state colleges. In the kindergarten through high school system, public schools and charter schools are each slated to receive $50 million in maintenance funding. A half-dozen small rural counties are in line for $57 million for local school projects, including $19 million to begin building a K-8 school in Jackson County and $10 million to finish the construction of an elementary school in Hamilton County. The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine will receive $2.2 million for maintenance work, while Florida public broadcasting facilities will receive $3.1 million. Among the special projects, the FSU laboratory school in Tallahassee will receive $7.5 million for an arts and sciences building and the city of Hialeah will receive $1.8 million for an education academy. The construction and maintenance projects are subject to Gov. Rick Scott’s review, and last year he vetoed more than $53 million in university and state college projects.


Petition supported by teachers' unions asks college to disinvite DeVos

After an historically black college in Florida announced that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would deliver its commencement address, an online petition appeared Monday, courtesy of alumni, who asked the college to rescind the invitation. On Wednesday a second petition appeared, this one created by a leader of the Florida Education Association and endorsed by the nation’s largest teachers unions. In just a few hours, it had earned thousands of signatures. The new petition comes just a week before DeVos is due to deliver the May 10 keynote address at Bethune-Cookman University’s (B-CU) spring commencement ceremony. Located in Daytona Beach, the school was founded by civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune. It is one of a handful of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The Trump administration in February began trying to forge closer ties with the schools, inviting leaders to the White House. But after the meeting, critics slammed DeVos, who has long championed school choice nationwide, when she praised HBCUs as “pioneers of school choice." They pointed out that the schools, many of which were founded in the South in an era of racial segregation, were often the only choice for many African-American students.

DeVos later noted that the schools were created “not out of mere choice, but out of necessity, in the face of racism, and in the aftermath of the Civil War.” B-CU earned a measure of criticism on Monday for comparing DeVos to Bethune herself: President Edison O. Jackson said the longtime mission of the new education secretary, a white Michigan billionaire, GOP mega-donor and philanthropist, “resonates with the history and legacy” of Bethune. Jackson said the founder “was not constrained by political ideology, but worked across all parties to support B-CU.” It was all too much for Fedrick Ingram, a 1996 B-CU alumnus and former Miami high school band teacher who is now a statewide union vice president. “On a number of levels, I think this invitation is wrong,” he said. “I think it sends the wrong message, that Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration support higher education.” Ingram, a former president of United Teachers of Dade, the union representing Miami-area teachers, is now a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which said it was co-sponsoring the petition. By early evening on Wednesday, Ingram's petition, titled, “Betsy DeVos has no place at our HBCU,” had garnered more than 17,500 signatures. The president of the National Education AssociationLily Eskelsen García, on Wednesday said she supported the effort as well. "Given Sec. Betsy DeVos' outrageous comments about Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and her long-standing antipathy towards public education, Bethune-Cookman students have a right to express their disapproval about her choice as their commencement speaker," Eskelsen Garcia said. "Politicizing a commencement speech by inviting a controversial public figure like Betsy DeVos is a disservice to the graduating students, the alumni, and the legacy of Dr. Bethune. The graduating students and their families deserve to mark this important milestone in their lives without distractions. I stand with the Bethune-Cookman students and their families during this time." Liz Hill, DeVos’ spokeswoman, said the university had been “extremely supportive” of the secretary since the invitation went out, pointing out that Jackson, the school’s president, on Wednesday wrote an op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel that acknowledged the controversy but said: “I am of the belief that it does not benefit our students to suppress voices that we disagree with, or to limit students to only those perspectives that are broadly sanctioned by a specific community.” Jackson added: “One of the lasting hallmarks of higher education is its willingness to engage, explore and experience that which we deem as ‘other.’ When we 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.” But Ingram said his petition is less about ideology than budget priorities. He noted that President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget cuts U.S. Department of Education funding by $9 billion, or 13 percent. The cuts, he said, would adversely affect HBCUs. “This is not about not liking a person," he said. "This is not about ideology. This is about what is going to happen if this budget goes through as-is.” Ingram said potential deep cuts to HBCUs could mean that, a year after the May 10 commencement, as many as one-third of B-CU students might not have the same opportunity to graduate. Invoking Bethune himself, Ingram said, “This is not what she stood for.”

Just months after a major gaffe by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about the origins of historically black colleges and universities, a Florida HBCU is taking heat for inviting her to speak at its spring commencement ceremony next week. The Florida chapter of the NAACP asked Bethune-Cookman University this week to reconsider the invitation and to withhold an honorary degree for DeVos. The Florida Education Association circulated a petition Wednesday calling for the university to rescind the invitation. Fedrick Ingram, vice president of the association, said the organization's objection to DeVos had less to do with her past missteps on issues involving HBCUs than her association with a proposed White House budget that would deal major cuts to programs supporting the students who attend institutions like Bethune-Cookman. “This is not about what she believes, it’s not about the history -- this is about what she says she will do going forward,” Ingram said.


Franklin teachers, support personnel get pay hike (FCTA and FESPA mentioned)


Despite some bipartisan opposition, school bus safety bill heads to Scott


Arizona lawmaker: Let’s end compulsory schooling


Pennsylvania: How the state’s charter law cripples public schools


Half the students opted out of state math test on Long Island in New York


How an Australian school solved the homework problem


UF adminstrators given excessive perks


University demand for counselors continues


Legislature has budget on track for Monday approval

Florida lawmakers closed in on an elusive budget deal Wednesday, even as Gov. Rick Scott ramped up criticism of the spending plan as he toured the state. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced Wednesday that the two chambers have agreed in principle on how to spend nearly $83 billion in the year that begins July 1. There are still a few details to be worked out, according to the budget chiefs for the House and Senate, but nothing is expected to derail the emerging deal. The grinding pace of negotiations has already forced lawmakers into legislative overtime. Lawmakers will move the final day of the annual session from Friday to Monday to allow time for a 72-hour budget “cooling off” period required by the Constitution. At a noon meeting, House and Senate negotiators formalized their agreements on such things as the budget for environmental programs and said they were close on critical health-care issues. They also agreed to language on an array of issues and a list of education construction projects. The meeting came after nearly 72 hours of talks behind closed doors aimed at bridging the budget gap. As a part of the deal on the environmental budget, lawmakers decided not to set aside money for the Florida Forever land conservation program. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who boasts of being the father of the program, said he was “disappointed” by the decision, but it was necessary because the House demanded the state hold onto more money in reserves.

“I have no earthly idea what’s in the budget,” Scott said in Tampa on a 10-city swing to blast “politicians in Tallahassee” for eliminating job-incentive programs at the state’s economic development agency, Enterprise Florida, and for slashing Visit Florida’s tourism ad budget by two-thirds to $25 million. The budget is missing Scott’s late-session request for $200 million for renovations to the aging Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee. Scott also said the budget has too few tax cuts and too little money for schools — issues sure to resonate with voters. “This is just a few people, you know, back door, deciding the budget for the entire state,” Scott said.

The K-12 education budget may include less than half a percentage point increase in per-pupil spending, but large sums have been set aside for teacher bonuses and a new program that will help high-performing charter schools get established in areas where traditional public schools are struggling.


Scott hints at vetoing entire budget

Gov. Rick Scott is starting to use the V-word. For almost two months, Scott refused to say if he would veto the entire Florida budget for next year if state legislators gutted spending for tourism marketing and financial incentives for businesses to relocate to the Sunshine State.  But now that lawmakers are ready to cripple those programs, Scott this week began suggesting for the first time that he could cancel the entire spending plan, which weighs in at roughly $83 billion. “I have the option to veto the entire budget,” Scott said Wednesday in Orlando. “I can go through every line and do that, so I’m going to look at all the options I have.” Scott also showcased a new criticism: the lack of transparency in the Legislature as legislative leaders have negotiated entire sections in secret. They’ve taken so much time doing it that the 60-day lawmaking session won’t end on time Friday. As of Wednesday afternoon, there was still no printed budget to even look at. “They’ve turned their back on their constituents. They’re doing this in the dark, not in the sunshine,” Scott said. “I haven’t seen the final budget. Have you?” House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has called the session the most open in history, suggested that he didn’t believe the governor would cancel the entire budget.


Scott's ad aimed at supporting Florida jobs not filmed in Florida


Shame on politicians who voted to gut Sunshine Law


Legislature tries to limit home rule


Scott declares Florida's opioid epidemic is a statewide emergency


Blocking slavery memorial cannot erase state's history


Millions in taxpayer dollars to be spent to save golf courses in Tamarac, Boca Raton


Dozens suggest changes to state constitution


Bill would let voters prove ballots are theirs's-a-fix:-Bill-would-let-voters-prove-ballots-are-theirs


One element of the workers’ compensation fix headed to the governor


How to prepare for an automated future


FBI director says he feels “mildly nauseous” that he affected election


Comey is “mildly nauseous” about the election. It’s not enough.


The fundamental contradiction at the heart of Comey’s testimony


Takeaways from Comey’s hearing


Tillerson says deteriorating U.S. relationship with Russia is dangerous


Russia, feeling slighted by Trump, seeks a reset


Republicans plan health-care vote today, capping weeks of fits and starts


Extra billions for health bill? Researchers say it’s still not enough.


Here’s what you need to know about preexisting conditions in the GOP health plan


What Republicans changed in their health care bill to try to get more votes


The new study that shows Trumpcare’s damage


A little-noticed target in the House health bill: special education


The GOP just has no good answer for Kimmel


Latest GOP health plan would be devastating to Floridians


Activists, constituents urge Curbelo to vote against GOP health care plan


Webster now a “yes” on GOP health care bill


The Trump zone of uncertainty shows up in the health-care debate


The press is dangerously botching its Trumpcare coverage


House approves spending deal, clearing a hurdle to avoid a shutdown


Trump’s immigration proposals “conspicuously absent” from spending bill


“No asylum here”: Some say U.S. border agents rejected them


It’s Groundhog Day in Washington, with Trump peddling the same old snake oil


Fed leaves key interest rate unchanged amid lackluster economic growth


Trump begins to put in place team to oversee banks


The false claim that Obama imposed regulations without considering costs


Giving the behemoths a leg up on the little guy


Trump to sign order making it easier for churches to support political candidates


Trump hit with first lawsuit over Arctic drilling order


Rumors surround Justice Kennedy exit, but he's not talking,-but-he's-not-talking


Trump, bullish on Mideast peace, will need more than confidence


America first? No, says Condoleezza Rice


Trump wants to leave the Paris agreement. That would be a huge mistake.


Trump is learning -- and sometimes mislearning -- the lessons of the presidency


Trump calls Andrew Jackson “a swashbuckler.” Cherokees called him “Indian killer.”


On more than a third of the days since Nov. 8, Trump has mentioned the election


Trump was “directly involved” in hunt for rogue National Park Service retweeter


A hotel lobby as a symbol of this presidency


Government-funded website promotes Ivanka Trump’s new book


In Mar-a-Lago blunder, a glimpse at the difficulties of “soft diplomacy” under Trump


Lewandowski’s firm quietly inked Citgo deal


Meet longtime Trump ally Stone, an attention-craving political hit man


Spicer has been talking to the media a lot less lately


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