Today's news -- September 20, 2017




Schools sued after doubling down on failed bonus plan *

After being twice rammed through the Legislature, Florida’s failed “Best and Brightest” faces legal challenges. Little wonder. Imagine a company created an incentive program to raise morale and help with retention. To reward and encourage its best employees. But instead, it angered and insulted the workforce. The best veterans felt passed over and questioned their career choices. Retention problems worsened. All in all, the opposite of what an incentive program should do. This program would be considered an obvious failure. Management would replace it and never speak of it again. But if the company is the state of Florida, and the employees are public school teachers, and the management is the Florida Legislature, the response is to expand the program. Florida’s Best and Brightest Scholarship Program (it’s actually a bonus, not a scholarship, but the Legislature likes to calls it that anyway) was enacted in 2015 and now is in its third year. It’s based on the premise that for every question about educational quality you can find the answer in a standardized test. The program based the bonuses on how teachers did on college placement tests when they were in high school. So yes, teachers in their 50s were graded on how well they tested back in the MTV Era. Additionally, they needed to have scored “highly effective” on their classroom evaluation. First-year teachers, however, got the bonus for their high school SAT or ACT scores and nothing else. The later version added other standardized tests that could be used. The idea came from former state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami. He used to be chairman of the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee. He’s due to be sentenced soon after pleading to charges of not filing income tax in 2011. As part of his plea agreement, he admitted to not filing returns between 2007-2016. You’d think a guy like that would have more sympathy for people who have trouble filling out forms. This is the kind of bill that can only pass when the usual legislative track is bypassed, because it never had much support. And each time it passed, that’s exactly what happened. The first time, after failing in committees, it was quietly inserted into a must-pass appropriations bill during a special session. The next time, it was one item among more than 50 in a 274-page education bill assembled in secret and passed in haste during the legislative session’s last days. The bill included legislation on recess time, student testing, American Founders Month, the right to bring sunscreen to school, and most significantly, an expansive program for shifting public money to charter schools. The Volusia County School Board voted in July to join five other counties in challenging that legislation in court. Meanwhile, the Florida Education Association teachers union last week filed suit against the state and all 67 Florida county school systems over the Best and Brightest Scholarship Program. The suit charges the program worked to disadvantage Hispanic and black teachers, noting that in its first year, more than 90 percent of bonuses went to white teachers. Particularly galling about the program is the way that it presumes that everyone displays their aptitude at an early age. We try to teach kids to be lifelong learners. We try to teach kids to go out into the workplace and always be upgrading their work skills. Yet we reward teachers on the idea that those things don’t matter. That you’re all you can be in 11th grade, maybe a little later if you retested. As someone who was not an especially stellar young student, I take this personally. If my job depended on my high school performance, I would not be asking you “why is the Legislature doing that?” I’d be asking you “do you want fries with that?” Fortunately, teaching in Florida is the only profession out there that evaluates people that way. Good thing.


Pinellas votes to help sue Legislature over HB 7069 *

They said they had no choice but to do it. They said they would rather reach a compromise. But Pinellas County school officials nevertheless moved ahead Tuesday with their long-discussed plans to join a lawsuit challenging a controversial education bill that, critics say, unfairly favors charter schools. The School Board voted unanimously to join the suit and contribute $25,000 to the fight, becoming the 12th Florida school district — and the only one in the Tampa Bay area — to do so. While the idea of suing the Legislature over the law, known as House Bill 7069, has been a hot topic across the state, it has scarcely been discussed among school officials in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties. Pinellas has taken the lead locally in part because it stands to lose a significant amount of funding under a portion of the law that requires districts to share construction and maintenance money with charter schools. A new state formula distributes the money in part based on a school district's debt load, and Pinellas officials contend that's not fair to districts like theirs that have borrowed relatively little. "I have been very proud of Pinellas County and our work on the board that has kept us out of debt," veteran board member Carol Cook said before Tuesday's vote. "And to then be penalized for it is one of the things that irritated me most with all of this." The board also takes issue with language in the law that does not require charters to apply to their local school boards when opening "Schools of Hope" near struggling traditional schools. That erodes local control or "home rule" over education matters, board members say.  "It's the home rule issue I find to be extremely important to attack right now, because if we don't, it will continue to erode our authority," said board chairwoman Peggy O'Shea. Cook noted that, with its vote, Pinellas is stipulating that it will pull out of the lawsuit if legislators address the district's concerns and amend the law. "They said they were willing to do things to fix it," she said. "I would like to believe that that would happen, but I'm not willing to put all my eggs in that basket."


Alachua joins as well


State Supreme Court tosses Palm Beach case on charter school approvals


Stewart offers state schools two days for Hurricane Irma


Some Keys schools to open Monday. For others, it could be much longer.


Manatee School Board to ask voters for extra school tax


This man teaches kids in the South why the civil rights movement matters today


Authorities close in on pro-charter school nonprofit for illicit campaign contributions


Even college doesn’t bridge the racial income gap


Florida earns C for government spending, budgeting


Hurricane damage could be as high as $65 billion


Corcoran creates select committee to study hurricane response


Corcoran's hurricane panel faces clashes with Senate, Democrats


Death toll rises to nine in South Florida nursing home that overheated


Two more lawsuits say nursing home and FPL share responsibility for deaths


After hurricane, nursing homes scramble to meet a hard deadline


Federal and state lawmakers look at new rules for nursing homes


Nelson, in slap at Scott, asks about “all the phone calls”


20,000 homes, businesses in South Florida still out of power


FPL's hurricane storm charge for customers could come before full cost analysis


Cable, internet still out for 900,000 in Florida


Hurricane debris piles could be around for months


Floridians without flood insurance face astronomical bills


Hurricane Maria makes landfall on Puerto Rico as residents seek refuge


Labor shortage gives workers an edge


Induction of union-busting Reagan into Labor’s Hall of Honor shocks union


Mueller team's focus on Manafort spans 11 years


How the FISA order against Manafort spells big trouble for Trumpworld


Special counsel’s office has interviewed Rosenstein, who has authority over probe


Senate panel cancels meeting with Trump lawyer over public comments


Trump’s lawyers just keep stepping in it


Trump using campaign, RNC funds to pay legal bills from Russia probe


Who pays for the White House to lawyer up?


For Trump aides caught in Russia probe, legal bills and paranoia


Backlash throws last-ditch Obamacare repeal effort into doubt


The shocking dishonesty of the GOP’s latest repeal push


Another execrable health-care bill proves bad ideas never die


The Graham-Cassidy health-care bill puts millions of Americans at risk


One reason to take the latest repeal seriously, and three reasons it could fail


The stark difference between Republicans and Democrats on health care


Under latest health-care bill, red states would benefit disproportionately


Democrats ask base for one more ACA rescue mission


Lindsay Graham brags about his shockingly cynical strategy to repeal Obamacare


Cancer patients will face a nightmare scenario if Trumpcare becomes law


AARP calls on senators to reject GOP’s latest Obamacare repeal effort


Ryan, White House reject bipartisan health fix


House GOP under pressure if Senate passes repeal


It’s unusual to vote on a health-care bill before Congress knows what it will do


Republicans rip Paul for rejecting Obamacare repeal


Senate Democrats ponder tying up repeal debate for days


Rubio embraces block grant idea in new GOP health care bill


Kobach defends using a private email for government business


“My daughters are going to be OK.” Then Trump phased out DACA


Democratic lawmakers arrested outside Trump Tower


Senate Republicans embrace plan for $1.5 trillion tax cut


White House considers abandoning some tax cuts for the wealthy


Trump’s tax proposals are wildly out of sync with what most Americans would do


Bail disparities reflect inequality: “It is the poor people who suffer”


Before the breach, Equifax sought to limit exposure to lawsuits


Before Wisconsin, Foxconn vowed big spending in Brazil. Few jobs have come.


Report: Trump administration has been terrible on environmental justice


Conservative-leaning court issues surprise ruling on climate change and coal mining


Evidence of spills at toxic site during Texas floods


Chemical industry ally faces critics in bid for top EPA post


Trump threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea


Bluster and belligerence at the U.N.


Trump undermines his own advocacy for human dignity


Trump offers a selective view of sovereignty in U.N. speech


Trump's U.N. speech left presidential norms in the dust


Trump’s U.N. speech had more than a few glaring inaccuracies


Trump is sending more than 3,000 troops to Afghanistan


Trump's August rally cost Phoenix taxpayers more than $450,000


Price’s private-jet travel breaks precedent


Why foreign propaganda is more dangerous now


No one listens to women when they speak around here


Undercover with the alt-right




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