Today's news -- November 20, 2017




The latest plan to undermine class-size laws *

There’s a new proposal to raise teacher pay in Florida. Sounds swell. Pay here, after all, has long trailed the national average, often by about 20 percent. A recent USA Today study found Florida ranks 43rd — behind states like Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana. It’s fine to trail Georgia or Louisiana in SEC football standings. Not in wages or education stats. Low pay is one of the reasons 40 percent of Florida teachers quit within the first five years. (Well, that and too many testing mandates. And boneheaded bonus plans. And a general lack of respect from politicians who treat teachers like hemorrhoids.) So, news that the leader of Jeb Bush’s education foundation has drafted a constitutional amendment to boost pay sounds great … until you read the fine print. That’s when you see the proposal only provides money for teacher raises if Floridians first vote to lift the cap on class sizes and agree to stuff more children in Florida classrooms. And even then, there’s no guarantee of how much in raises teachers would get. In other words, if you want to maybe treat your teachers like something better than dirt, you have to first agree to go back to the days where you treated your kids like dirt. Happy voting, everyone! In some regards, the proposal by Patricia Levesque — the head of Bush’s Excellence in Education foundation and a member of the state’s Constitution Revision Commission — is no surprise. Bush hated the idea of forcing the state to spend more on smaller classes. Back when he was governor, he opposed the 2002 amendment and announced that, if voters passed it, he had “devious plans” to undermine it. Actually, Bush didn’t announce his devious plans. He was caught divulging them to allies by a reporter with a tape recorder whom Bush hadn’t spotted in the room. So now, 15 years later, we have Devious Plans 2.0. Levesque says there’s nothing devious about her plans. She simply wants to give school districts more “flexibility” in meeting the class-size requirements, by allowing them to use averages. Your kid’s math class could have 36 students as long as another math class has 13. She says the teacher-pay part of her proposal is simply about making sure the money stays in the schools, the way voters want. Frankly, I don’t buy that. I think the teacher-raise proposal is just a gimmick — that Levesque knows there’s no way 60 percent of Floridians would vote for bigger class sizes. So she tucked a sweetener in there … a way to let backers run a campaign on a popular topic (raising teacher pay) instead of the real goal (cramming more kids in each classroom). If raising teacher pay were truly the goal, we’d see an amendment that proposed just that. But that’s not what this is. Theoretically, Levesque is right when she says implementing the class-size amendment requires flexibility. But we have been duped before on that front. In fact, legislators have flexed the intent right out of the law. The 2002 amendment, after all, was clear. It capped class sizes at 25 students for high school, 22 students in fourth through eighth grades and 18 in pre-K through third. Still, Florida schools are full of classrooms that have 28, 32 and 35 kids. How? Lawmakers created loopholes the size of Iowa (which, by the way, also pays its teachers more than Florida). Lawmakers exempted electives and extracurricular classes from the caps — which sounded OK at first. I mean, 30 students in a PE class or 40 in chorus sounds reasonable. But then lawmakers began reclassifying every class you can imagine as electives. American literature became an “extracurricular.” So did French. And Spanish. And marine biology. Does your child have 38 kids in his AP math class? Well, that’s because flexibility-promoting lawmakers labeled all Advanced Placement classes as “electives” as well. Math is a core class. An AP math class is not. That’s flexibility. If education reformers went back to the intent of the law and required the vast majority of classes to meet class-size caps, we could maybe talk about tinkering with the constitutional language. But legislators have already gutted this amendment. And this is just an effort to gut it even further by dangling the prospect of pay raises — which may not be fully realized and which the state should be providing anyway.


Come clean on school tax *

When Gov. Rick Scott released his budget, he made a lot of noise about the $180 million in tax cuts he was proposing. But he didn’t really mention the $534 million local property-tax increase also tucked into his budget proposal. Or rather, he did — but only by touting his “historic increases” in education funding. Don’t blame Scott too much, though. He’s just playing the game — by the same rules Florida lawmakers have used for years. Pumping up Florida’s education budget by shifting the burden onto local taxpayers is way too easy for state politicians, especially when they realize they’ll rarely have to take any of the heat for it. Here’s how the Tallahassee two-step works. Classroom funding has two main components: State general revenue, which mostly comes from sales taxes, and local property-tax revenue. Technically, that rate is the province of school boards in each of Florida’s 67 counties. In reality, it’s not. Because every year, the Legislature and Department of Education prescribe a property-tax rate known as the “required local effort,” and requires districts to levy at least that much. School boards can opt for an additional “discretionary” tax — but the state counts that money in its school-financing calculations, leaving local districts precious little discretion. Thus, the Legislature only has to cough up about 60 percent of school funding, including Lottery proceeds. But state officials have all the control, and are quick to take all the credit every year. Scott already has come out strong in favor of raiding local piggy banks. He argues he’s actually holding on to the same property tax rate, and that the additional revenue is the result of increased property values. That’s a dodge elected county and city officials aren’t allowed to make. Under Florida’s 1980 Truth in Millage law, local governments must “roll back” their tax rates every year to account for increased property values (minus new construction). Any tax rate that results in more tax revenue in the coming year is considered a tax increase — even if it lowers the rate — and must be advertised as such. It’s unnerving to watch state officials flatly denying the reality of state law. Describing Scott’s budget, Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley told the News Service of Florida, “It’s not a tax increase. It’s just simply not.” Both Bradley and Scott are simply wrong. The tables are starting to turn — former state Rep. Fred Costello of Ormond Beach argued that the Legislature should be more transparent when setting local property taxes, including calling a tax hike a tax hike. (Predictably, that proposal went nowhere.) Over the past few years, the House has insisted that the state make up the bulk of the increase in K-12 funding from its own coffers. But it could be tougher for House officials to hold the line in coming budget negotiations. Lawmakers are facing a lean budget year, with an almost nonexistent surplus, big bills from hurricane recovery (including the influx of thousands of displaced families from Puerto Rico, putting direct pressure on public schools) and other big-ticket items including the Indian River Lagoon cleanup. Meanwhile, local property values are skyrocketing, producing an ever-more-tempting way to balance school budgets. In the end, lawmakers might not have a choice. If they want to increase classroom funding, boosting local tax revenue might be the only way to do it. But at the very least, they should play by the same rules governing cities and counties, and trust Floridians with the truth. They may be justified in claiming more property-tax revenue. But they can’t pretend it’s not a tax increase.


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State will help displaced Puerto Rican 11th and 12th graders earn island diplomas


Make sure school districts have the means to educate Hurricane Maria evacuees


New high school program aims to groom future Orange teachers


Duval ups its schools’ career-technology game


A troubling lack of accountability


Gutting Wisconsin teachers unions hurt students, study finds


DeVos won’t publicize voucher downside, but it’s leaking out anyway


A major report on charter schools by the Network for Public Education


How the billionaire Sacklers finance privatization of public schools


Our response to school massacres? A booming classroom security industry


Questioning evolution: The push to change science class


Why are corporations undermining public education?


Obama’s school discipline guidelines next to go?


Kids need more civics education — but they need to be taught civility as well


Meet the Texas pastor who opposes public funding of religious education


Analysis shows House tax bill would increase cost of college by $71 billion


Tax bill reflects rift between many Republicans and higher education


UCF graduate students fear paying higher taxes


Local professors warn: GOP tax plan could put graduate education “out of reach”


When unpaid student loan bills mean you can no longer work


How first-generation college students do Thanksgiving break


The new campus censors


State spent $22,000 to remove online nursing home info from public view


Senate hires special master as second Latvala probe gets under way


Last legislative committee week to start December 4


State may counter “growing threat” to election security


A great migration from Puerto Rico is set to transform Orlando


Puerto Rico is still in the dark


Two months after Maria, Central Florida families say Puerto Rico is still in need


When Jacksonville floods, the rich don’t worry; the poor fight to get through


No citrus aid in latest disaster relief request from White House


After years of job cuts, Scott calls for more state workers


State let hepatitis C go untreated in prisons. Now it may cost taxpayers.


State prisons ordered to treat hepatitis C


Millions spent in South Florida to jail small-time offenders


Increase in anti-Semitic vandalism throughout state found in audit,amp.html


State jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops


Watch out, Florida Constitution changes coming


Let the Haitians stay


State confirms second local Zika virus infection for 2017


Report: State rarely punishes doctors sued for malpractice


Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills


Rising seas: Fortifying state’s coastlines


Trump extends his Thanksgiving stay in Palm Beach


Russian yacht docks in Palm Beach; Will Putin friend pay Trump a visit?


Trump in Palm Beach: Wall of school buses to protect the president


President’s helicopter arrives. Will he use it?


A smarter minimum wage


Worker rights preemption in the U.S.


Myths of the 1 percent: What puts people at the top


Big money rules


GOP law fails to break Iowa's largest public-sector unions


Iowa workers defy attempt to weaken their unions


Tax fight gets personal as senators spar over bill


The debate over whether GOP tax bill will only help the rich, in one heated video


Senate, like House, opts to keep tax break for rich that Trump vowed to end


Trump’s tax cuts are likely to increase trade deficit


Accounting gimmicks in GOP’s tax overhaul mask higher cost, deficit hawks say


Murkowski tax vote contingent on stabilizing individual health insurance market


Taking on Obamacare with tax reform may backfire for Republicans


Will cutting the health mandate pay for tax cuts? Not necessarily


As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise


Forget alternative facts. We’re now in an alternate reality.\


The GOP is fooling itself on taxes


Why a firm believer in tax cuts could derail the Senate tax cut plan


The House tax bill unleashes a dangerous avalanche of campaign cash


In Democrat-led state capitals, GOP tax reform push could scramble fiscal plans


How cutting taxes makes life worse for the rich


Nelson brings top Democrat on Finance Committee to Tampa for tax bill discussion


Rubio pushes child tax credit, says GOP tax plan can't just help corporations


Frankel: GOP tax, health plans spell pain for middle class


Russian official tried to broker “backdoor” meeting between Trump, Putin


Moscow meeting in June under scrutiny in Trump probe


Kushner failed to disclose outreach from Putin ally to Trump campaign


Congressional aides may have answers on pro-Russia GOP platform change


Special counsel sends request for documents to Justice Department


White House aides divided over scope, risks of Russia probe


Trump to pay his own legal bills, set up fund to cover staff


The GOP’s “boil the frog” strategy to save Trump


Ivanka Trump and the fugitive from Panama


Ivanka Trump’s big real estate deals were linked to cartels, money laundering


Trump Jr.'s 2016 trip to Paris for lunch with Moscow-linked couple remains a puzzle


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Clovis expressed staunchly pro-Russian views a year before campaign


How Russia tapped into our racial anxieties to fuel social divisions


We’re at cyberwar. And the enemy is us.


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Report: Black men get longer sentences for same crime as white men


For Latino Democrats, “Dreamers” underscore tense relationship with Kelly


Trump names Supreme Court candidates for a nonexistent vacancy


Chairman of conservative group proposes court-packing scheme


Senate just made it a lot easier for Trump to appoint federal judges


Why are corruption cases crumbling? Some blame the Supreme Court


Pruitt says he’s taken more actions to fight pollution than Obama, can’t name any


U.S. general says he would resist “illegal” Trump nuclear strike order


The Trump administration is making war on diplomacy


Frustrated foreign leaders bypass Washington in search of blue-state allies


U.S. pursues quiet troop buildup in Somalia


The media is giving up its place in our democracy


The Kochs are inching closer to becoming media moguls


Gianforte misled police after assault of journalist, report reveals


Anatomy of a Fake news scandal


We can’t trust Facebook to regulate itself


Election was a warning to Democrats’ corporate education reform wing


The “DeVos effect” on the November elections




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