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438 posts from March 2016

March 12, 2016

These major education proposals failed to pass the Florida Legislature this year

@ByKristenMClark

Despite getting various levels of momentum this session, many high-profile education proposals -- such as allowing computer coding to count as a foreign language -- failed to cross the finish line during the 2016 session.

Here's a round-up of some major education-related proposals that failed to pass the Florida Legislature this year:

-- Computer coding (HB 887/SB 468): The measure -- spearheaded by former Yahoo executive and Broward County Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate -- cleared the Senate and was poised to be taken up in the House, but that final vote never came. The proposal faced opposition from civil rights groups and Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who didn't agree that computer coding should be an alternative to traditional foreign languages.

-- "Best & Brightest" teacher bonuses (HB 7043/SB 978): Attempts to permanently enact the policy -- which awards "highly effective" teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores -- in state law faltered because of opposition in the Senate. However, the bonuses will still be funded with $49 million for another school year, as a compromise to the House. Education budget Chairman Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Friday that returning lawmakers next year can further vet the policy and, with two years of data then, they can compare year-to-year gains in student and teacher performance.

-- Alternative testing (SB 1360): Gaetz's plan to allow school districts and parents to choose alternative standardized tests for their students in lieu of the Florida Standards Assessments was ambitious from the start. Gaetz never had a House companion to his bill, which is a necessity for proposals to have a chance at becoming law. The bill was scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor on this week, but Gaetz pulled it -- acknowledging its defeat. He said, though, that he hoped it sent a symbolic message that this issue was important for the Senate and that lawmakers should explore it again next year.

-- Charter school authorizer (HJR 759/SJR 976): Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, and Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, sought to put on 2016 statewide ballot a constitutional amendment that would create a statewide body to authorize, operate, control and supervise all charter schools. School district officials feared it would take away local-decision making from county school boards, and the League of Women Voters also vocally opposed the concept. The measure stalled in Senate committees; it passed all House committees but wasn't taken up on the floor.

-- City school districts (HJR 539/SJR 734): This proposed constitutional amendment from Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers -- to allow cities to break away from county school districts and establish their own -- stalled in committee. The House held a workshop discussion on it, but it was never even considered in the Senate.

-- School recess (HB 833/SB 1002): Passionate, self-proclaimed "recess moms" pleaded with lawmakers to pass this proposal this session. It would have required elementary schools to offer 20 minutes of recess each school day. They had near-unanimous support in the House but were stonewalled in the Senate, when Education Pre-K-12 Chairman Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, refused to consider the proposal in committee. The Senate sponsor, Umatilla Republican Sen. Alan Hays, attempted a last-ditch effort to get it tacked on to another bill, but he was blocked by a procedural vote on the Senate floor.

-- Elected education commissioner (HB 767/SB 942): Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, and Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, proposed changing the Florida Constitution to make the statewide education policymaker an elected position again. Garcia's bill got unanimous approval in one Senate committee, but Mayfield's bill wasn't taken up. House K-12 Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, said she felt the proposal was one that the upcoming Constitutional Revision Commission should explore.

-- Reading instruction (HB 7021): Adkins' spearheaded this measure through the House to improve instruction and early-intervention strategies for elementary school students who struggle to read, such as those who have dyslexia. It passed the House and had some consideration in the Senate. The House tried to add it to a massive education bill with two days left in session, but it ultimately wasn't included.

*This post has been corrected. The principal autonomy bill (HB 287) did pass late on Friday afternoon before session ended.

 

Donald Trump returns to South Florida ahead of primary

@PatriciaMazzei

Donald Trump has scheduled a pair of rallies Sunday and Monday in South Florida that should draw even more attention than usual following his event in Chicago Friday night, which was called off for security concerns. There were raucous street protests.

Trump will be at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater in Boca Raton at 6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets here.

He will be at the Trump National Doral Miami resort at 6 p.m. Monday. Tickets here.

His last event at Doral was in October.

Meet the South Florida super volunteer Marco Rubio mentioned at the debate

Unnamed

@PatriciaMazzei

Everett Sutton wants to make clear that he does not often sit in an aluminum chair when he greets arrivals at an early-voting site, day after day, for Marco Rubio.

“I’ve got one if I need it, but I stand and talk to virtually every person who walks into the polls,” Sutton said Friday.

Tha’'s partly why he didn’t recognize himself when Rubio mentioned Sutton in Thursday night’s Miami Republican presidential debate.

“Let me tell you what this election is about for me,” said the Florida senator, whose must-win, home-state primary could be his last stand.

“On Tuesday night, I didn’t do as well, obviously, as I wanted to. And I was a little disappointed when I got home. And my wife told me a story that night, which is the reason why I can get up the next day and keep fighting. There’s a gentleman here in South Florida who just got out of surgery. And his doctors told him he needs to be home resting. But every afternoon, he takes his little aluminum chair and he sits outside of an early polling center and holds a sign that says ‘Marco Rubio.’

“Because for him, I symbolize all the sacrifices that his generation made so their children could have a better life than themselves. That gentleman has not given up on me and I am not going to give up on him.”

Sutton watched the debate — “Of course I did” — and went back to his post at the Coral Reef Branch Library on Friday morning without realizing his brief brush with political fame. Then a Rubio aide came by to offer thanks for his dedication, explaining Sutton was the man Rubio had mentioned.

“I was very flattered,” said Sutton, a 69-year-old father of four from Pinecrest. He goes to the same church as Rubio — St. Louis in Pinecrest — and has seen him but never met him, he said.

More here.

Photo courtesy Marco Rubio campaign

March 11, 2016

Florida Sen. Tom Lee not certain to run for re-election

State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, has filed to run for re-election in 2016, but that doesn't mean he is certain to do so. Within moments of the Legislature's annual session ending on Friday, Lee cast doubt on whether he'll run again for the Senate later this year.

"There are some compelling reasons to call it a day," Lee said. "I'm just going to go back and think about it for a little while and see what is in the best interest of the (Republican) caucus, my family and try to make a decision later on in the spring."

Lee served in the Florida Senate from 1996 to 2006 and then returned in 2012. Lee was Senate president from 2004 to 2006 and for the last two years has been the Senate Appropriations chairman where he was responsible for crafting the state budget. 

"I feel like I've pretty much done everything there is to do up here," Lee said. "So there is part of that that is in the back of my mind. I'm a long way from my family."

Seven weeks ago, Lee re-filed to run for the newly redrawn District 20, which includes parts of Pasco, Hillsborough and Polk counties. He is the only candidate to have filed to run in the race.

If he runs for the new district, Lee will have to move north. That is because his home in Brandon is in the newly redrawn District 21, which is the same district Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton currently lives. Galvano is in line to become Senate President in 2018

Lee has amassed more than $177,000 in his re-election campaign account. In a political action committee he runs, called The Conservative, he's raised just under $800,000 since July.

Gov. Rick Scott names new acting surgeon general

@MichaelAuslen

Gov. Rick Scott has appointed the second-in-command at the state Department of Health as acting surgeon general after the Senate did not confirm Dr. John Armstrong for the position during the legislative session.

Effective immediately, Dr. Celeste Philip will take over as the secretary of health and surgeon general. Armstrong lost his job when the legislative session ended at 6:46 p.m. Friday after he was not confirmed by the Florida Senate for two years in a row.

In 2013, Philip, who has expertise in family medicine and public health, was named deputy secretary at DOH. She served as interim surgeon general last fall when Armstrong underwent treatment for colon cancer. She has been with the department since 2008 

In addition to deputy secretary, Philip is the deputy state health officer for the Children's Medical Services program. Changes to that program are among the reasons senators opposed Armstrong's confirmation.

Last year, DOH removed 9,000 sick children from coverage under the program, and it also eliminated CMS's standards for pediatric heart surgery. A bill pushing for standards to be re-instituted was short-lived in the Legislature this year.

Armstrong's confirmation was further derailed after reports in the Times/Herald about reductions to personnel and patient visits during his tenure even while rates of STDs like HIV rose dramatically.

Earlier this week, Senate President Andy Gardiner said he would allow the confirmation to end in the chamber's Ethics and Elections Committee, where Armstrong did not have enough support to win approval and proceed to a floor vote.

Last year, he was not confirmed during the showdown over Medicaid expansion.

Still, Scott has stood by the embattled surgeon general, who was among his longest-serving agency heads after being appointed in 2012.

“Even while battling cancer in recent months, Dr. Armstrong displayed unwavering determination to protect Florida families, and I truly appreciate his hard work," Scott said in a written statement Friday. He has been instrumental in ensuring Florida is the leading destination for cancer research and treatment, and has done a tremendous job preparing Floridians and visitors when our state has been confronted with health epidemics like Zika or Ebola."

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, who led the opposition against Armstrong's confirmation, said he believes Scott has every right to appoint who he wants to the job and that he did not support Armstrong because of his three-year record. This new surgeon general will not have that record.

"I've been second-in-command many times, and I do what first-in-command tells you to do," Braynon said. "So I would give that person the opportunity to be a different person."

Legislature makes Everglades and springs bills last one to pass the session

Florida legislators sent a message to voters Friday that they are committed to funding the state's ailing Everglades ecosystem and polluted springs and passed legislation that will carve out at least $250 million a year for those purposes for the next 20 years.

The bill, known as the Legacy Florida Act, builds on Amendment 1 which voters approved by a 75 percent margin in 2014, by earmarking a portion of that money to be spent on the state's most fragile ecosystems. It was the last bill to pass this session.

"This is an historic commitment by the Florida Legislature,'' said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sponsor of the bill. "Tell my constituents, help is on the way."

Under the amendment, lawmakers are obligated to devote  one-third of the revenue from the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions to the Land Acquisition Trust fund to pay for land and water conservation programs.

Last year the fund collected $743.5 million and this year lawmakers benefited from an improving real estate market and more robust tax collections to have $902 million to dedicate for environmental programs.

The Legacy Florida Act, (HB 989/SB 1168) proposed by incoming Senate president Negron and Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, requires the state to set aside at 25 percent of all Amendment 1 funds up to $200 million a year to fund Everglades restoration projects over the next 20 years, whichever is less, and $50 million to pay for springs restoration.

Legislators are also poised to approve their $82 billion budget and will steer the bulk of the new revenue in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund into already-identified projects intended to restore the Everglades. Last year, legislators dedicated $79 million for the Everglades, but this year they will spend $205 million. Another $50 million will go into springs restoration and $35 million in rural and family lands.

The state is facing two lawsuits from environmental groups accusing lawmakers of steering millions of the nearly $750 million from the trust fund into state programs that they argued should have been paid for by general revenue funds.

This year, environmentalists are still unhappy about the Legislature's decision to dedicate $188 million in the environmental money to salaries and expenses, freeing up general revenue funds to finance other projects in the budget.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, defended it, saying it is "almost unheard of that your administrative expenses be less than 10 percent" and this budget spends 3 percent of Amendment 1 funds on salaries and expenses.

Session's final act: Senate secures down syndrome coverage

In the last important deal of Florida's legislative session Friday, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, successfully held out for one final victory: a new insurance mandate for people with down syndrome, requiring health insurance companies to offer that coverage in insurance plans.

Gardiner and his wife Camille have a son with down syndrome, and Andrew Gardiner has been a popular and photogenic presence in the Capitol this session. Gardiner, who will leave office in November, has made expansion of programs and services for people with unique abilities the hallmark of his two-year agenda as Senate president.

The insurance mandate was a last-minute addition to House Bill 221, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, a piece of legislation dealing with "balanced billing," the practice of insurers charging patients the difference between the cost of a procedure and what health care plans cover. It was one of the most heavily-lobbied health care bills of the session and included provisions important to many lobbyists, medical and business groups.

After the down syndrome language appeared on the House floor, Gardiner asked for questions or debate. Not one senator spoke, but there were knowing looks in the chamber. One sign that serious horse-trading was afoot was that the package of tax cuts (HB 7099) languished on the Senate calendar throughout the day Friday before a final Senate vote -- even though it had overwhelming bipartisan opposition.

 

Session's final act: Senate secures down syndrome coverage

In the last important deal of Florida's legislative session Friday, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, successfully held out for one final victory: a new insurance mandate for people with down syndrome, requiring health insurance companies to offer that coverage in insurance plans.

Gardiner and his wife Camille have a son with down syndrome, and Andrew Gardiner has been a popular and photogenic presence in the Capitol this session. Gardiner, who will leave office in November, has made expansion of programs and services for people with unique abilities the hallmark of his two-year agenda as Senate president.

The insurance mandate was a last-minute addition to House Bill 221, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, a piece of legislation dealing with "balanced billing," the practice of insurers charging patients the difference between the cost of a procedure and what health care plans cover. It was one of the most heavily-lobbied health care bills of the session and included provisions important to many lobbyists, medical and business groups.

After the down syndrome language appeared on the House floor, Gardiner asked for questions or debate. Not one senator spoke, but there were knowing looks in the chamber. One sign that serious horse-trading was afoot was that the package of tax cuts (HB 7099) languished on the Senate calendar throughout the day Friday before a final Senate vote -- even though it had overwhelming bipartisan opposition.

 

Session's final act: Senate secures down syndrome coverage

In the last important deal of Florida's legislative session Friday, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, successfully held out for one final victory: a new insurance mandate for people with down syndrome, requiring health insurance companies to offer that coverage in insurance plans.

Gardiner and his wife Camille have a son with down syndrome, and Andrew Gardiner has been a popular and photogenic presence in the Capitol this session. Gardiner, who will leave office in November, has made expansion of programs and services for people with unique abilities the hallmark of his two-year agenda as Senate president.

The insurance mandate was a last-minute addition to House Bill 221, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, a piece of legislation dealing with "balanced billing," the practice of insurers charging patients the difference between the cost of a procedure and what health care plans cover. It was one of the most heavily-lobbied health care bills of the session and included provisions important to many lobbyists, medical and business groups.

After the down syndrome language appeared on the House floor, Gardiner asked for questions or debate. Not one senator spoke, but there were knowing looks in the chamber. One sign that serious horse-trading was afoot was that the package of tax cuts (HB 7099) languished on the Senate calendar throughout the day Friday before a final Senate vote -- even though it had overwhelming bipartisan opposition.

 

Lawmakers pass massive 'school choice' bill after late negotiations over charter schools

@ByKristenMClark

Florida lawmakers struck a compromise Friday to pass a sweeping "school choice" education package that includes significant changes to how the state's 650 charter schools can get funding for construction and maintenance projects.

As part of a last-minute deal, the House rejected efforts by the Senate to crack down on businesses using state capital dollars to profit from charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed.

The Senate gave up on its plan to ban "private enrichment" in trade for the House accepting a revised formula that weights capital funding in favor of charter schools that serve mostly impoverished students and those with disabilities -- which was, in part, what charter schools were intended for when they were established in the 1990s.

But Democrats in both chambers blasted House Republicans for not agreeing to a "legitimate" solution to safeguard public money given to charter schools and to ensure the schools aren't used as a means to line business-owners' pockets.

"This is very bad and the lack of accountability is really amazing," Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, said. "There are some good charter schools -- they’re engaging in innovation -- but many of the charters are engaging in imitation and bringing nothing new to the game except plundering the public treasury."

An Associated Press analysis a few months ago found that, since 2000, the state has lost $70 million in capital funding given to charter schools that later closed.

How charter schools are eligible for state capital funding was a sticking point of House Bill 7029, which House and Senate leaders negotiated well into early Friday afternoon -- the last scheduled day of the 2016 legislative session.

The bill has been revised multiple times within the past couple weeks, with re-writes ballooning the bill to, at one point Thursday, 168 pages.

The Senate passed the final version by a 29-10 vote. The House then passed it by a 82-33 vote. Both votes were mostly along party lines.

The multi-faceted bill now goes to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who still needs to sign it into law.

The package also includes measures limiting school districts' spending on capital projects, allowing open enrollment for all K-12 public school students, granting immediate eligibility for high school athletes who transfer schools, and codifying public college and university performance funding in state law, among a dozen other policy proposals.

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