Today's news -- November 27, 2017



Where is the legislative accountability for their votes? * (by Mark Castellano)

What many believe to be the most egregious legislation ever passed by the Florida Legislature disguised as an "education bill," House Bill 7069 is set to begin wreaking havoc on Florida's Public Schools. It is no small declaration that a number of Florida school districts, including Lee County, have filed a lawsuit challenging this awful excuse for legislation. Every citizen that cares about quality education for our children should call on our local legislators to publicly explain why they all voted for this bill. First, a brief background of how this bill came into existence: HB 7069 is a mammoth "education train bill" which includes the contents of 54 other bills - 43 of which were never approved by the full legislature. It was cobbled together during the final hours of the 2017 legislative session and brought to the floor, literally in the last hour of session, with no debate, no opportunity for amendments or any discussion. As stated above, it contains 43 separate bills, which never made it through the legislature during session. Many of these never even made it out of committee! Knowing that this "train" defied the legislature's own rule of "One Bill, One Topic," they lumped them together and called it an "education bill," claiming that satisfied their rule. Southwest Florida legislators Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, Sen. Lizbeth Benequisto, Rep. Ray Rodriguez, Rep. Matt Caldwell, Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, and Rep. Dane Eagle all voted in favor of HB 7069. There has been no public justification of why they voted the way they did, but the public deserves an explanation for voting for a bill with such sweeping detrimental implications for Public Education. Just a few examples of these implications are:

  • Stripping local school boards of the ability to authorize or not, for-profit charter schools, while mandating districts to share locally raised tax dollars to go toward building these charter schools. These schools would not have to adhere to school building codes or zoning regulations. Teachers in these schools would not be required to be certified or trained as educators. Parents should ask themselves if they want their tax dollars to go toward building charter schools that are not required to meet the strict building codes a traditional public school must (think Hurricane Irma and shelters), or to be taught by teachers that are not certified or trained.
  • While it claims to add $200 million statewide in increased funding, this won't cover the costs of growth in enrollment (Lee Co. schools alone add 1500-1800 students per school year), retirement, worker's compensation and inflation.
  • The share of capital outlay funding this bill sends to charter schools is outrageous. 50 percent of the funding will go to 10 percent of the student population, resulting in a stunningly disproportionate amount of money going to for-profit charters. This also starves traditional public schools, which have far more need of these funds to build and maintain schools.
  • This bill puts district-wide services at risk, especially for students in poverty. It designates for-profit charter schools as "local education authorities" which means they will get Federal Title 1 funds sent directly to them, again usurping public school board authority. This will result in districts being forced to cut sorely needed student services, such as full day pre-K and kindergarten, extended day programs, summer services, STEM programs, tutoring and more.

So what are the "sweeteners" Speaker Corcoran included that he's been touting as justification for this legislation? In contrast to the damage it will do to our public schools they are inconsequential "benefits." There is a misleading claim made by those who pushed this bill that it "reduces testing." In reality, all it does is eliminate ONE end of course exam (Algebra 2). While it makes VAM (a widely discredited evaluation model) optional for teacher evaluation, it still requires "student performance" data be used, without providing any funding to allow districts to develop an effective method to meet that requirement. It would allow up to 25 schools in a district to apply for "schools of hope" money and receive UP TO $2,000 per student for wrap-around services - BUT, takes away local control from school districts by mandating the state board get to approve those plans. Bottom line: Not one single provision in HB 7069 makes up for the harm it will cause to Public Education in Florida. So, to Sens. Benequisto and Passidomo and Reps. Rodriguez, Fitzenhagen, Eagle and Caldwell, we are waiting to hear you publicly defend your vote for a bill that has been widely described as the worst and most destructive piece of legislation to ever come out of Tallahassee. And that, putting it mildly, is a damning claim.


State seeks dismissal of challenge to education law


Anti-bullying bill is smokescreen for expanding vouchers *

It sounds good on its face: Give kids in public schools who are being bullied scholarships to transfer to private schools. But as a matter of education policy, this is a myopic idea that does nothing to address structural problems that allow bullying to persist. Nevertheless, it’s one of Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s top priorities next year. Why? Because it creates a vehicle to further expand Florida’s voucher programs — to the detriment, as usual, of public schools. The legislation, HB 1, filed by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, would require school districts to investigate incidents of bullying and inform parents of bullied children that their kids are eligible to change schools. The new "Hope Scholarships" would provide $750 to pay for busing to another public school, or a scholarship of about $7,000 to help offset tuition at a private school. The bill is rife with unanswered questions, such as how school districts are supposed to accommodate these individual busing needs. Or how a student who has been bullied would be better off in a private school where there is less state scrutiny and even less accountability. Or why it makes sense to deal with bullying by moving the victims and allowing the aggressors to stay. Supporters say the bill would ensure that parents know their options. It spells out a time line for investigating incidents and notifying parents. But Florida law already requires school districts to have detailed policies for dealing with bullying, defining what it is, having a procedure for investigating incidents, referring victims and perpetrators for follow-up services and informing parents. The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, passed unanimously in 2008 in response to the suicide of a teen who had been bullied for years, even ties school districts’ funding to compliance. But that law doesn’t apply to private schools, meaning a bullying victim who has transferred out of his or her public school could potentially be left more vulnerable. Simply enforcing existing law or strengthening it would forthrightly deal with bullying, but that isn’t this legislation’s real objective: expanding vouchers. HB 1 creates a whole new funding mechanism for vouchers, allowing people who are purchasing a vehicle in Florida to voluntarily contribute $20 to the scholarship fund that they would get back in the form of a sales tax credit. Scholarships would be available only until the money runs out. This is not intelligent policy. It’s crowd-funding education on a first-come, first-served basis. Donalds, the bill sponsor, is building quite a track record of terrible proposals. He was behind a bill in this year’s legislative session to allow two members of elected boards to discuss public business in private. Thankfully, that didn’t pass. But his push to allow challenges to public school educational materials for any reason did become law. So now someone who finds Renaissance art too risque can force a school district to hire a hearing officer to determine if the complaint is valid. Donalds’ wife, Erika, is a member of the school board in Collier County and was appointed to the powerful Constitution Revision Commission by Corcoran. Her primary contribution on the commission so far is a proposal to allow public money to fund private or religious schools. At least that is a straightforward, frontal assault on public schools that can be contested directly rather than this smokescreen of combating bullying to expand vouchers. To seriously address bullying, state leaders should start with a commitment to making all schools safe. This legislation could have the opposite effect: removing victims of bullying from public schools while leaving the bullies behind. That is the fallacy of vouchers — they ignore structural problems. Donalds’ bill is just a means of expanding that system, draining more money from public schools and funneling the dollars to private institutions that are not answerable to taxpayers.


Florida’s new school-voucher plan for bullying is a farce *

There’s a new plan to deal with bullying in Florida schools. If your kid gets bullied, you can get a voucher to send your child to a private school. The bully stays. The bully is then free to bully other kids … until those kids’ parents report the bullying … at which point they too can get vouchers. The bully stays again. If this idea sounds ridiculous to you, that is probably because you have a brain. Florida legislators weren’t counting on that when they proposed this idea — which their staffers say has a price tag of more than $30 million a year. If cops operated the way legislators want schools to, then every time someone reported a home burglary, the cops wouldn’t arrest the burglar … they’d give the victim a voucher to buy a new home.

It’s statutory nonsense. So why would legislators propose such an obviously flawed program? Because this isn’t really about bullying. It’s about trying to expand the state’s billion-dollar voucher program — which is already under fire. How do we know this? Because, aside from the fact that this anti-bullying bill doesn’t actually target bullies, it doesn’t require verification either. Or even bullying. Parents can simply claim their child had to deal with “intimidation” (one of the 14 voucher-worthy conditions cited in House Bill 1) — and then get a voucher or the state’s help in paying for transportation costs to another public school. Parents aren’t required to say who or what intimidated their child, much less prove any intimidating even took place. I asked House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the primary champion of this plan, if I’d missed anything in the bill that actually required verification of bullying before a voucher was granted. In a written response, Corcoran said he believed “the overwhelming majority of parents in Florida love their children and would never teach them that lying like that is OK.” I took that as a “no.” He went on to say that “any parent who would lie and require their child to lie presents a bigger problem to society than what school their child attends.” A fine sentiment … yet also a “no.” I mean, it’s safe to say that anyone who commits tax or Medicaid fraud also constitutes a “problem to society.” But we don’t simply wring our hands and wish upon rainbows that these things won’t happen. We establish checks and balances — which this proposal simply doesn’t have. Why? Because, again, this isn’t really about bullying. It’s about again expanding Florida’s voucher program — a largely unregulated system where students aren’t guaranteed certified teachers, safe classrooms or even that accused molesters won’t be roaming the halls. The Orlando Sentinel has documented these problems. In its “Schools without Rules” investigation, the Sentinel found voucher schools that falsified safety reports and hired teachers accused of crimes against children. Reporters found schools accused of stealing tax dollars, denying therapy for special-needs kids and whose finances were so shady and shaky that some were evicted in the middle of the school year. The state should fix this largely unchecked program before expanding it. For the sake of children — and taxpayers. Corcoran, after all, has made “accountability” his hallmark. I’ve repeatedly touted him for it. But if taxpayers deserve to know how “every penny” is spent at places like Visit Orlando and Visit Florida, they deserve the same details about voucher schools, which operate like black holes for tax dollars with hidden details about how much money is spent on curriculum, salaries and more. Accountability for all is a solid policy. Accountability for some is just politics. To his credit, Corcoran has said he will look into more accountability for voucher schools. He should. Immediately. Legislators want to pay for the anti-bullying vouchers (or “scholarships”) by letting citizens designate a portion of their vehicle taxes to the voucher-school cause. It’s another shell game. I might like to designate a portion my taxes to fight child abuse. Or to bolster the arts. Or to beef up the state’s white-collar crimes bureau. But that’s not how state officials let us pay most of our taxes. That’s because this state has one set of rules for public schools — which they choke with regulations and testing mandates — and another for voucher schools, which are largely unregulated free-for-alls. It’s inconsistent. It’s unfair to taxpayers and students. And it needs to be fixed before politicians try to use “bullying” or any other rationale as an excuse for expansion.,amp.html


Legislature, governor making school problems worse


Florida’s teacher gap is no mystery *

Shocking news in last week’s Sun-Sentinel: Almost three months into the school year, thousands of public school students in South Florida still don’t have a permanent teacher — a problem expected to get worse as more educators flee the classroom and the number of those seeking teaching degrees plummets. OK, not shocking. Utterly predictable, given Florida’s unending efforts to create the worst atmosphere for public education in the country. Here are some of the things they’ve done, in no particular order:

* They have tried to make it possible for parents to stamp out the teaching of science.

* They have given charters the unchecked ability to steal local tax dollars.

* They have made an absolute disastrous amateur-hour hash out of their Big Standardized Test.

* They have made successful students repeat third grade for failing to love the BST.

* They have declared ― in court ― that teacher-prepared report cards are meaningless.

* They have demonstrated how badly teacher merit pay can fail.

* They made a dying child take the Big Standardized Test.

* They turned recess into a political football.

* They based a strategic plan based on bad retail management.

* They abolished tenure and fired teachers for advocating for students.

* They’ve allowed racist underfunding of schools to flourish.

* They have provided ample proof that an A-F school rating system doesn’t work.

* They host experiments in computerized avatar classrooms.

* They have charter legislation hustled through the capital by lawmakers who profit from it

* They allow more charter misbehavior than you can shake a stick at

* They have created a charter money grab law so onerous and obnoxious they have actually moved public schools to sue the state government.

All of this over and above the continued drip, drip, drip of starving public schools of resources and finding new ways to treat public school teachers with disrespect. And the pay stinks. There is no reason to be surprised that Florida teachers are “fleeing.” And the article notes just how much fleeing is going on. Broward County lost 1,000 teachers last year ― and that’s not counting retirees. The Sun-Sentinel article is brutal, noting that the drain of teachers leads to economic problems for communities, as well as becoming a self-perpetuating problem ― as the teacher pool is drained in schools, schools become less effective, which means they turn out fewer and fewer grads well-prepared for or interested in teaching. The article piles on the anecdotal evidence. A teacher who left, tired of constant testing and lack of autonomy. A teacher who left because you can’t afford to be a single mom on a Florida teacher salary. A teacher who handles more than 30 kids in an honors class because the state class size law only applies to “core” classes. And of course, Florida is “solving” the problem by opening up alternative paths, because the way to get better teachers and fill teaching jobs is by making it possible to slap any warm body into a classroom. My favorite bar-lowering idea― Florida Atlantic University will give Palm Beach Schools a list of students who flunked out of medical and science programs so that those students can be recruited to teach. And meanwhile the remaining dedicated, qualified teachers of Florida wonder how much longer they can hold on. Of course, somehow, these champions of free market, these lovers of the invisible hand, cannot figure out that if people won’t sell you a good or service under the terms you set, free market competition demands that you offer better terms and conditions. It’s as simple as that. If you can’t buy a Porsche for $1.98, that doesn’t mean there’s an automobile shortage. Even convenience stores understand that if you can’t get enough quality people to work for you, you have to offer better terms of employment. Florida’s leaders simply insist on pretending not to understand this, even as they try to starve public education so that the unregulated world of Florida charter schools will look more appealing. This is like setting fire to an apartment building so that the tenants will “choose” to move into a shifty trailer park operation, while in the meantime you “try” to hire firefighters by offering $1-an-hour wages and a punch-in-the-face benefits. This ― all of this ― I have to remind you, is what USED Secretary Betsy DeVos thinks is the shining light that our nation should be following. This disastrous train wreck, this state that has worked hard to destroy its public education system ― this is what DeVos thinks the nation should be emulating. Run the public system into the ground, drive the teachers away, and sell the pieces to privatizers.


Manatee teachers union reaches tentative agreement, but “quite a ways to go” (Pat Barber quoted)


A year after impasse, Pasco school contract talks run more smoothly (Don Peace and Jim Ciadella quoted, Kenny Blankenship mentioned)


Thank a teacher this week (by Alexis Underwood)


Alachua elementary schools need space and money


Brevard school support staff gets 1.5 percent raise; teacher raises at standstill


Palm Beach district leaders throw crumbs to teachers


More students going to college before finishing high school


High-school physics at core of Florida's future in aerospace


New law expected to increase conflict over textbooks *

A parent in Florida is citing profanity and violence in trying to get the local school to ban Ray Bradbury’s "Fahrenheit 451" — itself a cautionary tale on the banning of books. Another wants to remove Walter Dean Myers’ "Bad Boy" for using the word "penis" and a homophobic slur. Elsewhere in Florida, some say global warming and evolution are a hoax and should not be taught in textbooks unopposed. Others say their local school’s textbooks shortchange Islam’s role in the world, while their opponents argue it’s the danger posed by Muslim terrorists that’s underexposed. Under a bill passed by the Florida Legislature this year, any district resident — regardless of whether they have a child in school — can now challenge material as pornographic, biased, inaccurate or a violation of state law and get a hearing before an outside mediator. The mediator advises the local school board, whose decision is final. Previously, challenges could only be made by parents to the school or district. There was also no mediator and fewer mandates. Districts must now also post online a list of all new books and material by grade level to make monitoring easier. The Florida Citizens’ Alliance, a conservative group, pushed for the change, arguing that many districts ignored challenges or heard them with stacked committees, and didn’t consider residents who don’t have children in the schools. Members say boards rejected complaints over sexually explicit novels like Toni Morrison’s "The Bluest Eyes" being issued to middle school students. They also don’t believe evolution and global warming should be taught without students hearing counterarguments. Keith Flaugh, a managing director of the alliance, said schools are using pornographic materials and textbooks that "totally distort our founding values and principles. They are teaching our kids socialism versus free markets. They are teaching our kids that the government is our nanny, the government is supposed to protect them." He also said children receive a biased presentation against freedom of religion and gun rights. Brandon Haught, spokesman for Florida Citizens for Science, which opposed the bill, said his group is prepared to fight any challenges made against the teaching of evolution and climate change, which nearly all biologists and climatologists agree are proven facts. Haught, a high school environmental science teacher, said he is surprised social studies and English teachers have not formed similar coalitions to defend their courses. "The alliance is pushing their narrow ideology on the public schools in any way they can and so far they’re meeting with success. I can’t speak for the other academic subjects they’re targeting, but I know beyond a doubt that their ideology when it comes to science is grossly ignorant and doesn’t belong anywhere near a classroom," Haught said. Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie, who is president of the state superintendents association, said the changes, which took effect July 1, are "cumbersome." Districts have always encouraged parents and residents to voice concerns about materials and curricula, he said, and the mediator is an unnecessary step. The new law "creates a level of bureaucratic hurdle that could be disruptive to some good processes that are already in place," he said.


Darwin deniers inject religiosity into Florida biology classes


Private school enrollment contributes to school segregation, study finds


How a powerful senator schooled DeVos


DeVos to tour schools in Southwest Florida today


Indianapolis: On the way to phasing out public schools


San Jose: Muslim teacher wearing head scarf repeatedly bullied by students


Corcoran says he backs bulk of Negron’s higher ed agenda


Push to limit local control could hurt state colleges, leaders say


Taxes would skyrocket for grad student workers under House bill


FAMU Board of Trustees looking to solidify university president (Elizabeth Davenport quoted)


Part-time professors struggle to put food on the table. Some want a union.


Give college students equal access to early voting


A self-proclaimed Nazi is banned from UNF — but allowed to remain a student


FSU researchers land $8-million NIH grant to study learning disabilities


Push for higher-education certificates over college degrees gets mixed grades


A Trump supporter explains rising conservative anger at American universities


Number of foreign students coming to U.S. colleges drops


D.C. tuition aid program facing cut by federal lawmakers


Justice Department investigating Harvard’s affirmative-action policies


Doubts linger after Scott pitches biggest budget (Mark Pudlow quoted)


Shoot straight on schools tax


Record-breaking hurricane season nears close


Police say 12 deaths in nursing home tragedy are homicides


Florida’s foolishly makes it harder to see nursing home inspections


Florida death toll from Hurricane Irma keeps rising


Citrus industry hurt by hurricane needs federal disaster help


Congress should help Florida agriculture recover from hurricane


The next threat for coastal cities is flood insurance reform


Trump’s paper towels aren’t helping Puerto Rico


The mainstream media didn’t care about Puerto Rico until it became a Trump story


Added to the storm’s toll, guilt and heartache for Puerto Ricans who fled


Osceola “ground zero” for Puerto Rico evacuees


Do more to insulate state judiciary from politics, cronyism


State keeps fighting for suspended law requiring 24-hour abortion waiting periods


Florida crime rate drops despite increase in rapes


End of federal protection threatens thousands of Haitians with deportation


Ruling on Haitian immigrants sparks protest near Mar-a-Lago, calls for change


“Think about the children”: Kids scared of losing parents in TPS termination


Don’t kick out Haitians who fled quake, Miami’s archbishop urges Congress


The United States torments its poorest neighbor


Bipartisan outrage over Trump administration’s decision on Haitians


As rules change, many Florida immigrants face a choice: Do they stay or go?


Proposal would make it harder to change state constitution


103 proposals for changing Florida's constitution


Floridians to decide on state constitution changes


Lawmakers call to stop legislative sweeps of affordable housing funds


Fighting the opioid crisis on many fronts


It’s a real headache correcting “tampon tax”


Bethune gets backing to replace general


Industry to fight proposed amendment for “clean, healthful environment”


Trump returns to Mar-a-Lago. So do busloads of outraged protesters.


Trump flight rules again to bring Lantana airport to standstill


Palm Beach business owner said he loses $1,000 a day when Trump visits


42 top economists on if the tax plan would grow the economy. 1 said yes.


37 of 38 economists said GOP tax plans would grow debt.


Will a corporate tax cut lift worker pay? A union wants it in writing.


GOP says corporate tax cuts will boost wages, but CEOs might have other plans,amp.html


GOP leaders in advanced talks to change tax plan in bid to win over holdouts


Senate GOP tax bill hurts the poor more than originally thought, CBO finds


The Senate’s tax bill is still a cruddy deal for the middle class


Attention, fence-sitting Republican senators: Here’s what’s at stake in the tax vote


Theory behind Trump’s tax cuts is exactly what gave us the failed Bush economy


Real estate agents mobilize to shield homeowners on tax plan


House GOP has a little-known plan to raise taxes on teachers by $2 billion


How a $250 break for teachers explains a House-Senate divide on taxes


What GOP tax plan will do to students should make every parent ashamed


How the Republican tax cut plan goes after health care


Senate should not repeal health insurance mandate to pay for tax cuts


Congress’s assault on charities


States warn of budget crunch under Republican tax plan


GOP deficit hawks fear tax plan is budget-buster


Republicans push hard on GOP tax plan, but voters just aren't that into it,amp.html


Republicans fret over White House sales job on taxes


The Republican plan is the opposite of tax reform


The Republican tax on the future


In tax debate, gift to religious right could be bargaining chip


GOP lawmaker uses fuzzy math to make case for small-business tax cuts


McCain could save the country from this terrible tax bill

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