May 22, 2017

If Gov. Rick Scott vetoes K-12 budget, here's what will happen

Every day brings Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature closer to an inevitable clash over the budget.

County school superintendents from Miami to Pensacola want Scott to trash the K-12 education chunk of the budget that increases spending by $24 per pupil next year. A similar education-only veto of that size hasn't happened since 1983 when Gov. Bob Graham blasted his fellow Democrats' "willing acceptance of mediocrity" in public education.

Graham1983As the AP's Ken Klein reported, Graham dramatically vetoed the education budget after midnight on June 30, 1983, after lawmakers refused to raise taxes, forcing school districts to start a new fiscal year with no new state money. They kept the lights on with reserves, property taxes and loans, and Miami-Dade Superintendent Leonard Britton said that was better than Tallahassee's "abandonment budget."

Britton told The Miami Herald that he wasn't sure Graham had the nerve to make such a big move. But he did. The Legislature did not override Graham's veto and after a quick special session of wheeling and dealing, he got most of what he wanted.

Now it's Scott's turn. A similar Scott veto would make him the toast of Florida educators -- for the moment, anyway -- and how could Democratic politicians or the teachers' union fault him for demanding more money for schools? But Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the two main architects of this budget, won't like being portrayed by Scott as secretly plotting to punish innocent children, so it's a safe bet that tensions in Tallahassee would get worse. Maybe a lot worse.

The K-12 budget of nearly $24 billion accounts for nearly one-third of the entire $82.4 billion budget, so if Scott is willing to go that far, why not go all the way and veto the whole thing? After all, some back-bench House Democrats got more out of this budget than Scott. His sweeping veto would remind people who's in charge, and if Republicans try to override his veto by two-thirds votes (likely in the House, less likely in the Senate), Scott has a new reason to campaign against "those politicians in Tallahassee," one of his favorite sound bites.

Scott, who's expected to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018, began his first term in 2011 with a politically disastrous call for a 10 percent cut to public schools. He later tried to make amends with a call for $2,500 raises for teachers, but their union, the Florida Education Association, still backed Democrat Charlie Crist for governor in 2014 -- and the union will stand by Nelson next year, too.

Scott has no serious Republican primary challenger in sight, but if he tacks to the left again, it will unleash more wrath from Corcoran, who will accuse Scott of nakedly pandering to a liberal teachers' union and bloated school districts, and if Scott also vetoes Corcoran's signature charter school legislation (HB 7069), it's only the beginning.

Words matter in politics. Scott has spent weeks traveling the state, criticizing every aspect of the Legislature's budget. How can he now possibly sign a budget he has spent so much time condemning? For the governor, it will soon be put-up-or-shut-up time. 

Conservative group thanks senators, urges Scott approval of schools bill

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@ByKristenMClark

A national Hispanic conservative group is showing its gratitude to 18 Republican state lawmakers who were crucial to passing a controversial and charter-friendly K-12 public schools bill, in the hopes of building more support for Gov. Rick Scott to sign the legislation into law.

The LIBRE Initiative -- which is supported by the Koch Brothers -- is mailing out bilingual fliers this week to voters represented by the three House members and 15 senators. The group is letting residents know their senator supported HB 7069 and is urging the resident to ask Scott to approve it.

The Initiative and another Koch-affiliated group, Americans for Prosperity, are among the school choice proponents of HB 7069 that want to see it enacted -- in contrast to county school superintendents, almost all elected school boards, and parent groups and teachers unions that want the legislation vetoed.

"Right now, too many Florida students are trapped in failing schools that are not meeting their educational needs. This is why it is essential for Governor Scott to sign H.B. 7069 into law and empower students and parents with more options to choose schools that better serve their educational needs," Cesar Grajales, the LIBRE Initiative’s coalitions director, said in a statement. "We urge Gov. Scott to quickly sign this bill and remove unnecessary barriers so our students don’t have to remain stuck in schools that are failing to provide a quality education."

Those targeted by the mailers are: House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, and Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah and Michael Bileca of Miami; and Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart and Sens. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, Rob Bradley of Fleming Island, Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Anitere Flores of Miami (shown above), Bill Galvano of Bradenton, Tom Lee of Thonotosassa, Debbie Mayfield of Vero Beach, Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, Keith Perry of Gainesville, Wilton Simpson of Trilby, Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, Greg Steube of Sarasota and Dana Young of Tampa.

Corcoran, Diaz and Bileca shepherded HB 7069 through the House, one of the chamber's top priorities of session. The 15 senators listed represent most of the 20 Republican senators whose votes were vital in ensuring HB 7069 passed.

It was approved on a 20-18 vote in the Senate, so one more opposing vote would have killed it. (Flores was the only Miami-Dade County senator to support it.)

The LIBRE Initiative's latest direct-mail campaign comes two weeks ago after the group sent out mailers hailing five select Republicans -- Negron, Corcoran, Diaz, Bileca and Clearwater Rep. Chris Latvala -- who were key to pushing through the school choice measure in the final days of session.

May 19, 2017

Miami Dade public schools to host town halls on Legislature's K-12 spending plan

Carvalho at MH editboard 031417 (1)@ByKristenMClark

Miami-Dade County Public Schools — namely through its superintendent, Alberto Carvalho — has been one of the most vocal opponents in the past couple weeks against the Legislature’s approved K-12 spending for 2017-18 and related legislation (HB 7069) that has $419 million earmarked for special programs and myriad policy critics say would diminish traditional public education.

Now Florida’s largest school district is taking its opposition on the road to amplify its message in local neighborhoods — by hosting a series of six town hall meetings next week in Miami-Dade County.

The purpose of the events is “to discuss the financial forecast for Florida and the proposed budget for public education for next year,” the district said in a news release.

RELATED: “Veto schools bill and ‘starvation-level’ K-12 spending, critics urge Gov. Scott”

“Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the economic development of our community will be greatly impacted,” the district said. “Please stay informed, and help maintain world-class educational opportunities for our nearly 350,000 students.”

The district wants “PTA members, M-DCPS alumni, community groups, taxpayers, students, employees, and all who care about education” to attend.

The events will be held:

-- at 6 p.m. Monday at Miami Northwestern Senior High School in Miami.

-- On Tuesday, at 6 p.m. at Miami Palmetto Senior High School in Pinecrest, and at 7:30 p.m. at John A. Ferguson Senior High School in Miami.

-- On Thursday, at 6 p.m. at Miami Senior High School in Miami, and at 7:30 p.m. at Miami Beach Senior High School in Miami Beach.

-- at 4 p.m. Friday at the School Board Administration auditorium in Miami and televised on WLRN Channel-17.

The debate over the 2017-18 budget and HB 7069 has staunchly divided traditional public school advocates and supporters of school choice and charter school expansion.

Both sides are escalating their public awareness campaigns to urge Gov. Rick Scott to either accept or reject the Legislature’s funding and policy decisions. 

As of Thursday evening, the nearly 10,000 phone calls, emails, letters and individual petition signatures received by Scott's office were 3-to-1 against HB 7069 and/or the education budget.

Meanwhile, school choice proponents are stepping up their advocacy of the bill, in particular, through organized phone banks, letter-writing campaigns and even, in some schools, offering an incentive to parents if they write letters of support for the legislation.

Neither HB 7069 nor the main budget act have yet reached Scott’s desk. Once they do, he’ll have 15 days to either sign them, veto them or let them become law without his signature.

Asencio says no to running for Florida Senate

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@PatriciaMazzei

State Rep. Robert Asencio said no Friday to running for the Florida Senate seat left vacant by Frank Artiles, noting he's a freshman with only on legislative session under his belt.

"While it is a tremendous opportunity, I must be congizant of the fact that I have only recently been elected to state office by the will of the voters in House District 118, and it is to them who I am beholden," Asencio said in a statement. "Moreover, there are many critical issues in the Florida House that I want and will continue to fight for: stopping the wanton gutting of public education, fair wages for working families, to name a few."

Asencio, a Miami Democrat, had mulled a candidacy, knowing his House district is competitive and Republicans hope to win it back in 2018. He decided against a run on the same day Rep. Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables, dropped out of the contest. Both would have had to announce their House resignations by Saturday, 10 days before the start of the May 30 candidate qualification deadline for the ballot.

Gov. Scott on schools bill: 'If people want to get involved, get involved'

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via @ChabeliH

At a press conference Friday on statewide job numbers at the offices of LATAM Airlines in Miami, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he had no yet heard that two charter schools in Hialeah were offering parents an incentive in exchange for letters supporting a massive K-12 public schools bill.

“I was not informed somebody was doing it that way, but if people want to get involved, get involved,” said Scott, who added that he encourages constituents to engage with elected officials.

MORE: "Charter schools to parents: Write to Gov. Scott, get volunteer hours"

Asked more broadly for his take on HB 7069, Scott said he wants "to make sure every child has the opportunity to get the education they deserve, whether you go to a traditional public school or a charter school."

Scott has not yet given any inkling as to his plans for vetoing parts or all of the budget.

"The budget got to me just at the last minute; it was basically done in secret. So I'm reviewing just like everyone else is," Scott said. "From my standpoint, I'm going line by line through the budget."

Neither HB 7069 nor the main budget act have yet reached Scott's desk. Once they do, he'll have 15 days to either sign them, veto them or let them become law without his signature.

Photo credit: Gov. Rick Scott in Miami on May 15. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hialeah charters: Parents get break from volunteering if they lobby for HB 7069

Cityofhialeahedacademy_text@ByKristenMClark & @KyraGurney

Some school choice advocates in South Florida are going so far as to offer incentives to parents in order to amplify the perception of public support for a controversial K-12 public schools bill that many are clamoring for Gov. Rick Scott to veto.

At least two privately managed charter schools in Hialeah — Mater Academy Lakes High School and City of Hialeah Educational Academy — publicly advertised this week that they would give parents five hours’ credit toward their “encouraged” volunteer hours at the school, so long as they wrote a letter or otherwise urged Gov. Rick Scott to sign HB 7069.

“It is IMPERATIVE that the Governor, and the rest of the State of Florida, see what a POSITIVE DEMAND there is for this education bill,” read an alert on the homepage of Mater Academy Lakes’ website Thursday evening. “This is the strongest legislation supporting the charter school movement since charters were first established in Florida 20 years ago.”

“We need all of our Bear Family to show their support for HB 7069 and encourage your friends, family and children to get involved as well,” the message continued.

A similar alert was blasted across the City of Hialeah Educational Academy’s website, too, offering the same volunteer-hour credit to parents if they attended a pro-HB 7069 event at the school this past Wednesday or Thursday.

The school also sent email and text alerts to its parents asking them to “use all realms of social media to advocate for House Bill 7069!”

Full story here.

Image credit: The City of Hialeah Educational Academy issued calls to actions to their parents through email and text alerts, such as this one, asking them to praise HB 7069 on social media. (Special to Herald)

It's official: Baez out of special Florida Senate race to replace Artiles

Baez@PatriciaMazzei

State Rep. Daisy Baez’s short-lived candidacy for the Florida Senate came to end Friday, doomed politically by a crowded Democratic primary and the likelihood that she’d be attacked as a carpetbagger.

Baez dropped out of the race for Senate District 40 just 19 days after it began, citing her ailing mother’s deteriorating health.

“My life today is a direct reflection of my mother’s decision to immigrate to this country and work multiple jobs to ensure that I could live the American Dream,” Baez, who is Dominican-American, said in a statement. “Just after announcing my intention to run for the Florida Senate, my mother’s health deteriorated and it became clear to me that spending time with her now is of the utmost importance. As her daughter, caring for her is my number one priority. Therefore, I will not pursue a campaign for the Florida Senate.”

On Tuesday, the Miami Herald reported Baez appears to live outside her House district, which would violate a Florida constitutional requirement. Then came a Democratic poll that showed Baez, a freshman lawmaker, trailing far behind her primary rivals, businesswoman Annette Taddeo and former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan.

Democrats pressured Baez to reconsider her candidacy, which would have left vacant a competitive House seat eyed by Republicans. A loss might have also damaged the chances for Baez, a well-liked U.S. Army vet, to run for higher office in the future. 

“I will spend the upcoming weeks with my family and continue to use my voice in the Florida House to speak out clearly and forcefully to fight for better jobs, to protect our environment, to ensure we all have access to affordable health care, and to support our public schools,” Baez’s statement said.​

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

Most of public wants veto of HB 7069, Gov. Scott's office indicates

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@ByKristenMClark

By a margin of at least 3-to-1 so far, Floridians are telling Gov. Rick Scott they want him to veto a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill House Republicans pushed through at the end of session, according to information requested from Scott’s office Thursday evening.

In the 10 days since lawmakers approved HB 7069, the state’s Republican governor has been inundated with roughly 10,000 emails, phone calls, letters and petition signatures urging him to either sign or reject the bill.

Both sides have been vocal, but the cries from the opposition — advocates of traditional public school — have been greater in number so far, based on tallies provided by Scott’s office.

But is that the full picture? Maybe not.

Full story here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero / EL Nuevo Herald

Florida colleges: Funding cuts to us - amid favor to universities - is 'demoralizing'

Galvano 2015@ByKristenMClark

As Senate President Joe Negron aims to make Florida’s 12 public universities “elite” destinations, state lawmakers this spring voted to give an extra $232 million next year to those institutions — while simultaneously cutting $25 million that has helped the state’s 28 state colleges serve students who are most in need.

The stark difference in funding priorities was received as a decisive insult to institutions like Miami Dade College and Broward College — and the tens of thousands of students they serve: That they don’t matter as much as the universities.

“That, I think, is what is the most demoralizing part of the conversation. ... we’re disinvesting in them,” MDC Executive Vice President and Provost Lenore Rodicio said in reference to the 800,000 students served by the Florida College System. “This population of students, in a sense, don’t count as much as students who are more elite, more high performing.”

Bill Galvano, a top Senate Republican who helped craft the 2017-18 higher education budget, said there’s a longer term plan to help the colleges, too, and that any inference by the colleges of a sleight is “short-sighted.”

But with Negron, R-Stuart, laser-focused this year on the universities first and foremost, administrators at state colleges feel those efforts came at their students’ expense — especially when the state banked $1 billion in reserve spending it could have tapped to, at least, keep the college system’s funding level.

“When we had record windfall of money for the state budget, we [the colleges] appear to be about the only place that got cuts,” Broward College President J. David Armstrong said. “It’s bad for Florida’s future. It sends a message to Floridians that perpetuates social and economic inequities.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. AP

May 18, 2017

Corcoran's brother is lobbyist for marijuana grower opposing dispensary caps

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@MichaelAuslen and @NewsbySmiley

State lawmakers’ effort to put voter-passed medical marijuana into effect in Florida fell apart over a disagreement on whether to cap the number of dispensaries each cannabis grower could open. It’s an issue that could be a boon for one of the state’s largest licensed growers.

Surterra, one of Florida’s largest medical marijuana growers, is banking on opening 55 dispensaries in the next five years as part of a plan to bring in more than $138 million in sales by 2021, according to a confidential pitch deck put together by a potential investor and obtained by the Times/Herald.

But state senators in the final weeks of session were pushing to limit the number of storefronts each grower could open, finally settling at 15 apiece on the last day of session. The House, meanwhile, negotiated for no caps at all, or a cap of 100 in its final bill. The existing licensed growers — including Surterra — opposed caps, as well.

To push its agenda in Tallahassee, Surterra hired three lobbying firms this year. One of their lead lobbyists is Michael Corcoran, brother to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

This naturally raises questions. A company represented by Michael Corcoran stood to gain if there were no meaningful cap on dispensaries. And the House position on caps was advocated in part by Richard Corcoran.

Corcoran says he was never once lobbied by his brother on the marijuana bill.

Asked if he ever had a conversation with his brother about the caps, Corcoran was blunt: “No. Nope.”

“Why don’t you write about how Richard killed the gaming bill and his brother has a gaming client? Why don’t you write about how Richard took it to the hospitals and his brother has a hospital client?” Corcoran added. “I don’t care who lobbies me. I’m going to always do the right thing and damn the consequences.”

The people he says he talked to about medical marijuana include Tallahassee lobbyists representing growers other than Surterra, as well as John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer who bankrolled the campaign on Amendment 2.

Michael Corcoran did not respond to calls from the Times/Herald for comment.

He is one of 10 lobbyists from three major firms registered with the state and in a Florida House database to represent Surterra. In addition to his firm, Corcoran and Johnston, Surterra hired Ron Book and The Rubin Group.

It is common for lobbying firms to tell the state that all of their lobbyists are working for all of their clients, which makes it difficult to discern which lobbyists were directly involved with trying to influence which areas of public policy.

For most of the session, Richard Corcoran kept an arms-length distance from the medical marijuana issue, Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said. Rodrigues, who was appointed to the leadership role by Corcoran, had weekly conversations with the speaker on the issue until the final days of session, when it appeared that negotiations with the Senate were going downhill.

What’s more, Rodrigues said, he never talked to Michael Corcoran directly about medical marijuana, either.

"Until the final week of session and even the final days of session, the speaker had a hands off approach on the bill for medical marijuana," Rodrigues said.

Photo: House Speaker Richard Corcoran (Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times)