Today's news -- May 5, 2017





Testing reforms in House's hands on final day *

After several days of private collaboration among lawmakers, one major late-night rewrite and some last-minute tweaks, senators unanimously passed a sweeping education bill Thursday -- the main feature of which is to address excessive testing in Florida’s public schools. HB 549 eliminates only a single test -- the Algebra 2 end-of-course exam -- and it requires the state Department of Education to study by January 1 whether national exams, like the SAT or ACT, can be used as alternatives to the Florida Standards Assessments and other statewide tests. The results of that study could spur further action by lawmakers in the 2018 session to curb duplicative testing, which several senators had hoped to accomplish this year. “Is this bill what I wanted? No. I wanted more, but ... I know that, at least, this is a good beginning,” said Tallahassee Democratic Sen. Bill Montford, a former Leon County superintendent whose opinion on education policy is well respected by the chamber. HB 549 was the subject of prolonged haggling this week between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, and between the Senate and the House. It now goes to the House for final approval today, the last day lawmakers can vote on stand-alone policy legislation this session. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, indicated Thursday afternoon that the Senate version had the House’s support. House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, visited the Senate chambers twice earlier in the day to consult with Flores about the bill and “just to make sure we have lines of communication open.” House members could make further changes, though, if they choose. Identical language must be approved by both chambers before the end of floor sessions today in order for the bill to be sent to Gov. Rick Scott. Senators vetted amendments and debated HB 549 for about an hour and 15 minutes before they voted. The language they approved was only 19 hours old. Flores and Republican Kelli Stargel of Lakeland co-wrote a 72-page amendment — filed at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday — to rewrite the 17-page House bill so it included myriad other education proposals. Their new version, notably, kept in play for negotiation a parent-demanded proposal that mandates 20 minutes of daily recess in 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 measure to the floor, even though it has the votes to easily pass. Addressing parents from the Senate floor, Flores said Thursday: “We feel pretty good that your voices have been heard and that the House of Representatives will, hopefully, maybe, take this issue up. Sometimes democracy does work.” Although the bill passed without opposition, a sticking point emerged through a provision supported by the House that would let some charter schools set up in places such as libraries, church property, theaters or public colleges and universities without getting a special zoning or land-use exception. That language stands to benefit several charter school projects in Miami-Dade -- such as a proposed Somerset charter school, which would house at least 1,400 students just east of the Palmetto Expressway. Specifically, the provision could help charter operators avoid lengthy and expensive fights over zoning exceptions. Palm Beach County Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell criticized the carve-out, arguing it strips away control from local officials to decide how land should be used within their communities. “With this one line, that’s one of the things we’re starting to do here,” said Powell, of Riviera Beach. “These things -- charter schools or any type of school or anything that changes the use -- has certain impacts that come with it, whether it be traffic, whether it be parking, and we should still have the opportunity to look at it.” “I agree it’s a great bill,” he added. “But you cannot say I can build something as a museum or a theater, and I can turn around and turn it into a grocery store tomorrow.” Flores had ushered a separate testing reform bill through the Senate this session that was expanded two weeks ago to incorporate other education policies, like recess. Her measure was supposed to be taken up Wednesday, but it was delayed amid criticism from Montford, a key Democrat. Flores and Stargel then spent Wednesday and part of Thursday, on and off the floor, negotiating with Montford — as well as Broward County Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point — to allay concerns that the testing reforms didn’t go far enough.

The Senate opted to take up the House bill instead of Flores’ version, and by Thursday, Montford and Farmer were on board. But they also said they wished the bill could have done more to -- as Montford put it -- address a “proliferation of tests over a period of years to the point, quite frankly, where teachers couldn’t teach and students began to dread coming to school.” “We simply over-did a good thing,” Montford said of the state’s testing regimen and education accountability system. “We heard teachers and we heard students and we heard parents saying ‘enough is enough.’ And I’m very proud of the fact that this state, this Senate, at least is taking a step to address those concerns.” The overnight rewrite -- and additional changes Thursday -- incorporated multiple bills and policy ideas that lawmakers from either or both chambers had discussed this session but which stalled and didn’t reach the floor. Some of the other significant provisions include:

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

▪ Shifting the testing schedule for all statewide exams to a two- to four-week window, no earlier than April 1, depending on whether the test is given by computer or on paper.

▪ 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.

▪ Allowing schools to use phonics to teach children to read.

▪ Allowing the use of school playground and sports facilities by local communities and nonprofit organizations.

▪ Letting students have and use topical sunscreen at school.

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

▪ Giving “high-performing charter schools” the ability to replicate in “the area of a persistently low-performing school”.

▪ And repealing a controversial formula to evaluate teachers that is based on their students’ year-over-year growth on exams.,-fewer-tests


Superintendents deplore proposed education budget *

Many of the details remain elusive. But what they know about the Florida Legislature's proposed education budget, school district superintendents do not like. Among their chief concerns: The base allocation per student is projected to decrease by $27.07 -- something that's unheard of in economic good times -- at the same time that the local property tax rate for school operations also is set to go down by 31.6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That's a 6.81 percent drop. Meanwhile, lawmakers are considering dedicating more than $400 million to two programs -- "schools of hope" and Best and Brightest bonuses -- that leave no room to cover other expenses, if needed. And the need looks to be high, the superintendents suggested. They noted the outcome of the current proposal, which has not been voted upon, would be reduced overall funding for 18 of the state's 67 districts. Even those with growing enrollments and resulting increased revenue would still feel the pinch as they deal with the rising student count along with higher costs of utilities, employee health insurance and other operational areas, the superintendents stated in their joint release. "Considering the overall economic strength of our state, it is alarming that the basic funding needs of Florida public school students could go unaddressed," Escambia County superintendent Malcolm Thomas, president of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said in a released statement. "With a united voice, we call upon Florida legislators to increase the base student funding in support of public education in Florida."

They have looked more favorably upon the budget plan initially proposed by the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott, which would have increased per-student funding by about 3 percent.


Paltry education budget could stall teacher raises, Palm Beach schools chief says


School daze: Bogus bonus program quadrupled

The House and Senate have reconciled their education budgets and sent a bill to Gov. Rick Scott, who is not expected to meddle with it. The school budgets are incredibly important because education spending a gorilla in the state budget room, at least in terms of how much of that room it takes up. The House pushed for a modest increase this year. The Senate wanted considerably more. The compromise gives schools $20.4 billion. In 2016 it was $20.2 billion. The Senate sought $20.9 billion. The compromise comes out to $7,220 per student. The Senate sought $7,423. The bill carves out $200 million for a controversial program that will attract/reward charter schools that move into poorly performing public school districts. We predict this will prove to be a disaster for the students and public schools involved — and a windfall to the for-profit charter schools. These will also fail in time, then fade into obscurity or into other school districts to ply their taxpayer-funded trade. These “schools of hope” will be anything but. The Legislature talked a good bit about ending the Best and Brightest program that awards cash bonuses for teachers. And most expected that to come about. There’s nothing wrong with giving teachers a boost. But it was the methodology of the program that gave a majority of teachers gas. The bonuses were awarded based on SAT or ACT scores, along with “highly effective” evaluations by the district. First, many of our senior teachers never took those tests decades ago. Second, the term highly effective can be, well … highly subjective. We reported in an editorial last year that Superintendent Joe Joyner’s wife, Sudan, a teacher of 39 years, was ineligible for the bonus. And the “effective” litmus test varies between districts. Last year 110 teachers received the bonus out of 8,284 teachers in Duval County. In St. Johns County, 99 received the bonus out of 2,428 teachers. In that same editorial we pulled data from state records and discovered that of the 67 peer-reviewed and highly vetted teachers of the year from the counties across the state only four of them were judged either “best” or “brightest” among the 5,500 teachers who received bonus checks of $8,250 each. So, the talk in Tallahassee all session was cutting the Best and Brightest program, at least until a better plan came along. Thursday, we were floored to get word that the program remained in the budget sent to Scott, but rather than last year’s $49 million budget, it’s funded to the tune of $214 million this year. … Over 400 percent increase in a program that nobody admits to supporting. Apparently we didn’t ask the right people. We have no idea (and neither did our lawmakers as of Thursday afternoon) how this program will be run, other than we understand that this year the school administrators will also be eligible for the perk. It’s astounding to ponder that a bickering bunch of partisan politicians are, for all intents and purposes, handicapping winners and losers in our school system in both the new charter funding (called by insiders “schools of nope”) and the worth of our teaching staff.


A possible explanation for why the House hasn't heard school recess


Open letter to supporters of Bethune-Cookman * (by Fedrick Ingram)

My alma mater Bethune-Cookman, a historically black university in Florida, has invited U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to deliver the commencement speech and receive an honorary degree. But the policies DeVos pushes would have terrible consequences for future generations of Bethune-Cookman students — and for Historically Black Colleges and Universities themselves. Bethune-Cookman historically serves students from challenged backgrounds, the lion’s share of these students graduate from public schools throughout America. But DeVos is no fan of public education, calling our public schools a “dead end,” and using millions of dollars of her family fortune to promote private-school vouchers; unregulated, for-profit charter schools; and other policies that defund, destabilize and privatize the public schools our communities rely on. DeVos’ ideology and advocacy are especially harmful to students of color — the very students Bethune-Cookman and other HBCUs were created to serve. And the budget proposed by President Trump and Betsy DeVos would slash billions of dollars in federal funding for programs that help students of color reach, attend and graduate from college. Graduates of Bethune-Cookman’s school of education understand the value and importance of public education, and overwhelmingly return to teach in public schools — a path I took myself after graduation. And it’s not just DeVos’ antipathy to public education that raises concerns about this invitation, but DeVos’ seeming indifference to the history and role of HBCUs in the first place. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune founded Bethune-Cookman to provide African American students with the opportunity to receive the highest level of academic quality at a time when black students were refused entrance into colleges and universities across America. On February 28, 2017, DeVos released the following statement after meeting with presidents and chancellors of HCBUs at the White House: “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.” At best, this is an outrageous assertion that black students had opportunities to study where they chose; at worst, this is a failed attempt to use HBCUs to push an educational reform movement that continues to disenfranchise children throughout this country, especially in her home state of Michigan and specifically Detroit. The students graduating this year and their families deserve to celebrate their achievement without controversy — and future generations deserve the opportunity to attend high-quality public schools and reach for their dreams at institutions like Bethune-Cookman. Inviting Betsy DeVos creates an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction for students who have worked hard to earn a degree, and elevating DeVos and her radical ideas threatens the future of public education and the vision and mission of Bethune-Cookman and all HBCUs nationwide. Please join me in asking university President Edison O. Jackson to reconsider and rescind DeVos’ invitation.


Deadline approaching to pass textbook review bill


Schools work to acclimate, embrace refugee children


Economics, access enhance dual enrollment trends


Community school initiative moving ahead in Polk


Want to improve a district? Let teachers collaborate


Trump touts D.C. school voucher program but ignores new study slamming it (Randi Weingarten quoted)

Three problems with school choice that advocates won’t talk about


Why for-profit education so often fails


Shaming children over school lunch bills


Controversial campus gun measure becomes law in Georgia


Student teachers at Yale on 'indefinite' hunger strike


“Running out the clock” on grad unions?


Lawmakers finally cut final budget deal *

Behind schedule and late in the evening, House and Senate negotiators agreed Thursday to an $83 billion spending plan for the year that begins July 1, setting up a delayed end to the legislative session. The agreement provides for a modest increase in the main state formula for funding public education, cuts payments to hospitals by more than $500 million, and provides a raise to state employees for the first time since 2013. Negotiators also agreed to restore $1.5 million to a PTSD program run by the University of Central Florida, a program that had been cut in earlier talks. It also closes out an arduous, weeks-long negotiation between the two chambers that has already pushed them into overtime -- a final vote on the spending plan will come Monday, three days after the annual legislative session was supposed to end. The state Constitution requires a 72-hour "cooling off" period before any agreement between the House and Senate can be approved. “The budget is closed. ... No more. No more. The budget is closed,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. The final piece of the massive puzzle fell into place Thursday night, when lawmakers agreed on how to divide $521.1 million in Medicaid cuts to hospitals. An earlier draft of the spending cuts had proved unacceptable to the Senate. The second draft of the cuts rejiggered the final reductions for many hospitals. The largest beneficiary appeared to be Orlando Health, which received $1 million more under the second House proposal than under the first. Meanwhile, the cut for Florida Hospital in Orange County grew by $2.6 million, while the reduction for Baptist Hospital of Miami increased by almost $1.2 million. Along with the hospital agreement, the chambers closed out a slew of other spending issues Thursday. The two sides formalized an agreement on pay increases. Most state employees who earn $40,000 or less will get a $1,400 salary increase; those making more will get an extra $1,000 a year. Law enforcement and some high-ranking state officials, like Supreme Court justices, will receive more. There are still some budget-related bills to hammer out, though those do not face the same 72-hour “cooling off” period as the main spending plan. The most contentious of those deal with education proposals from the House meant to encourage charter schools to set up near academically struggling traditional public schools and an expansion of the state’s “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus program. Those bills seem to buck a trend in recent legislative sessions of keeping policy decisions out of so-called “conforming bills,” which are tied to the budget and are essentially must-pass legislation. Using those bills for significant changes led to a meltdown in the 2011 session. Latvala, one of the senators who rebelled six years ago, made it clear Thursday he was not pleased with the change. “Is that my preference to do that? No,” he said. “It’s not my preference to do that. But I’m a member of the Senate, and we have to try to accommodate the wishes of the rest of the Senate sometimes.” With lawmakers facing heightened questions about the transparency of the budget process this year, particularly after House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s pledge to clean up the way the House operates, lawmakers said there would be a public hearing on whatever emerges on education. House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, suggested that hearing could come today, or perhaps Monday. “We want to give the public ample opportunity to review them,” he said. “We’re not going to drop them, you know, 30 minutes before the meeting.” And there remain questions about whether Gov. Rick Scott might veto the budget, as he has begun to hint he might do. Many of Scott’s priorities, including spending on economic development and an increase for tourism marketing, were discarded by the House-Senate agreement. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, refused to answer directly Wednesday when asked whether he believed Scott would nix the entire spending plan, a rare move. Trujillo was also somewhat evasive when asked about the possibility Thursday. “I would say it would be very difficult to veto the entire budget,” he said.


Scott says parts of Florida budget made in secret, will cost jobs


Scott says vetoing budget an option, but one unused since Chiles in ‘92


Increased homestead tax break could lead to fewer services


Trial attorneys and Chamber both pushing to kill workers compensation bill


Controversial fee for private auto tag vendors springs back to life


Florida drought escalates to “extreme” level


El Niño will decide how active this hurricane season will be


Rubio: Florida faces risks of drilling


Keep moratorium on oil drilling


Atwater gives big raises on way out


American middle class shrank in 20 years


U.S. job growth bounces back; unemployment at 10-year low


House passes measure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Lily Eskelsen García quoted) (Randi Weingarten quoted)

What's actually in the GOP health care bill


Betrayal, carelessness, hypocrisy: The GOP health-care bill has it all


U.S. House's health care repeal is pyrrhic victory


Every Republican who voted for this abomination must be held accountable


While House passes GOP health-care bill, Senate prepares to do its own thing


Democrat: Trump voters will know Republicans took their health coverage away


Who wins and who loses in the latest GOP health care bill


Planned Parenthood would be defunded for one year under GOP health bill


In rare unity, hospitals, doctors and insurers criticize health bill


Republicans get their health bill. But it may cost them.


Republicans didn’t like their health-care bill but voted for it anyway


The House Republicans who could lose their jobs over Obamacare repeal


Trump crows about his health-care victory -- even though he hasn’t really won yet


This is not the health-care bill that Trump promised


Trump on Australia’s universal health-care system: “You have better health care”


The hidden reason Republicans are so eager to repeal Obamacare


How the House got a health-care bill after Trump and Ryan stepped back


Florida gains health care flexibility but a million could lose coverage


Republican health care bill passes with partisan Florida split


Private hearing with intelligence chiefs revives House inquiry on Russia


The mystery behind a Flynn associate’s quiet work for the Trump campaign


“Tell me what you would do”? Challenge accepted, James Comey.


Senate passes $1 trillion spending deal, averting shutdown


Trump signs order to allow churches to engage in more political activity


Clergy members aren’t being persecuted for their politics


Trump made it easier for pastors to preach politics, but most oppose the idea


Equality Florida says executive order on religious liberty not as bad as it feared


A path to America, marked by more and more bodies


Refugee admissions plummet under Trump, analysis finds


Uber faces criminal probe over software used to evade authorities


Trump names a birth control czar who doesn’t believe in birth control


Trump is turning other countries against the United States


Trump admits to “testy” phone call with Australian leader, but calls it “fake news”


Trump’s victory lap delays and cuts short meeting with Australian leader


Flying Trump to Mar-a-Lago twice cost at least $1.2 million$1.2-million


Feds investigate work at Pacific island casino project with Trump ties


Amid scrutiny, Lewandowski quits his new lobbying firm





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