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.

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

May 15, 2017

In Miami, Scott maintains he might veto budget

Scott presser

@martindvassolo

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday renewed his threat to veto the state Legislature’s budget, disappointed in lawmakers for rejecting his funding wishes.

“I’ve got a lot of options,” Scott said during an appearance at Miami’s Jungle Island. “I can veto the whole budget. I can veto a portion of the budget, a line of the budget. And I can do a special session. So I’m looking at all those options.”

Although Scott himself remained noncommittal about his plans, the joint appearance with Florida Sen. Jack Latvala — who called for a special session to meet Scott’s demands — may provide an indication as to Scott’s mindset.

Latvala, the Senate budget chief, backed Scott’s proposed funding for Visit Florida and slammed lawmakers who did not seek to include the funding in the budget.

“Wasn’t my call or we’d still be sitting in Tallahassee today,” said Latvala, a Clearwater Republican.

Latvala — whom Scott called “a strong supporter” of tourism and economic development — said he looked forward to returning to Tallahassee for a special session if Scott vetoed the budget. When asked if he would call a special session, Scott maintained he is considering all of his options.

“I’m hopeful that the governor will exercise his prerogative, will call us back to Tallahassee, will make us do the right thing for economic development in Florida and for education in Florida,” Latvala said.

Scott hosted the press conference to announce that Florida saw 31.1 million visitors in the first quarter of 2017, a new quarterly record for the state, while also criticizing the Legislature for slashing Visit Florida’s ad budget by two-thirds to $25 million.

“One out of every six jobs in our state is tied to tourism, and unfortunately this year our Florida Legislature has been very short-sighted,” he said.

Latvala praised Scott for his commitment to tourism and the state’s economic development, while House members for calling for funding cuts to Visit Florida.

“I’ve spent my life in the business world and owning my own business, and I know when you stop advertising, when you stop marketing, you start dying,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we won’t have to experience that with our tourism industry in Florida. I’m hopeful that the governor will call us back to Tallahassee and make us finish the job.”

Following the press conference, Scott responded to a report in the Naples Daily News that uncovered Visit Florida’s hiring of a German company in March to market Florida to travelers from Syria, calling it a “clerical error.”

“No dollars were spent marketing in that country,” he said. “No public or private dollars were spent. It was a clerical error.”

He also fielded a question about whether he supports a permanent ban on drilling for oil near Florida’s coast, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposal for Florida to share in the revenue of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico while extending a ban on drilling within at least 125 miles off the coast until 2027.

The current ban is set to expire in 2022.

“I have not seen that proposal,” Scott said of Rubio’s plan. “What’s important to me is that we keep this environment pristine.”
Pressed on whether he would support a permanent ban, he added, “if somebody has an idea...I’d like to see how you’re gonna do it and keep everything pristine.”

Photo credit: Chabeli Herrera/The Miami Herald

May 01, 2017

Education policy still under negotiation, with promised public meetings perhaps in doubt

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@ByKristenMClark

Heading into the final week of session, House and Senate leaders by Monday morning were still negotiating in secret several pieces of substantial education policy that are tied to the budget -- such as a $200 million idea to create "schools of hope" that would help students in failing schools and a $214 million expansion to teacher bonuses.

Lawmakers had vowed repeatedly, especially in the past several days, that the compromise proposals would be released in time for Floridians to provide meaningful comment before a vote on the annual budget, but no language has been released yet -- although House and Senate leaders had said it would come over the weekend.

MORE: "As clock ticks, lawmakers’ compromises on education policy remain a mystery"

Just Saturday, Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, promised public meetings to consider the policy bills "one by one," and House pre-K-12 budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said, "I do believe you will see that go on in public," in reference to open, public debate among lawmakers prior to any vote or final compromise on language.

But on Sunday night, House Appropriations chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, deflected from the two chambers' previous promises of transparency, telling reporters that he personally never guaranteed public hearings on any policy bills linked to the 2017-18 budget.

"I’m not sure if we’ll have an opportunity for public comment, because we're still working on the bills," Trujillo initially told reporters, noting there was really only about 48 hours or so to shore them up.

After House budget director JoAnne Leznoff interjected and he conferred with her, Trujillo then said at least one more public hearing would be held to address only the budget-related legislation, which also includes environmental policy and other topics. (An email a short while later from Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said there would be an additional meeting on remaining budget items, too.)

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, set the tone and expectation of transparency for this session by promising "unprecedent openness" and a genuine change from how legislative business had been done in previous years. That hasn't turned out to be the case.

MORE: “ ‘Unprecedented openness’ slams shut as Corcoran, Negron forge secret budget deal

Diaz and Senate pre-K-12 budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, each told the Herald/Times on Sunday there were still disagreements on language that legislative staff was working out. Simmons added that the Senate was waiting on a House offer, but he remained optimistic that the chambers would reach middle ground on a final product that would have broad support.

Trujillo could not say when the policy bills would be released or how much time Floridians would have to analyze them before they're finalized. Unlike the budget -- which requires a 72-hour cooling-off period -- conforming bills need to be done only 24 hours before lawmakers vote on the budget, he said. Session is scheduled to end Friday.

Fort Lauderdale Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston, who sits on the Pre-K-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said he was eager to know what the final language for the education bills, in particular, looks like. "I think it's important that we, as a body as well as a community, know exactly where we're going with them," Thurston said.

"I'm not for the 'schools of hope.' I would like to see the final formation and what are we going to do and what's going to be included in it," he added. "I think the process of kicking everything up (to Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron) is not transparent at all."

Image credit: House Appropriations chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami. Florida Channel

January 31, 2017

Gov. Scott proposes $58M to recruit, retain top teachers

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@ByKristenMClark

To better recruit and retain quality teachers for Florida's K-12 public schools, Gov. Rick Scott wants the state to spend $58 million in the next budget year on a handful of initiatives -- and those don't include a controversial teacher bonus plan that lawmakers, with Scott's support, have advanced in recent years.

"Teachers are key to preparing our future generations for great careers," Scott said Tuesday when rolling out priorities of his 2017-18 budget proposal during a news conference in Tallahassee. "We have to make investments to recruit and retain the best educators in our classrooms."

Specifically, Scott proposes:

-- $15 million to eliminate initial and renewal certification fees for teachers;

-- $10 million for "a one-time hiring bonus for teachers testing in the top 10 percent of the Subject Area Examination in the subject they are teaching in the 2017-2018 school year";

-- $5 million to "increase the diversity of teachers in critical shortage and high-need areas";

-- $5.9 million to "recruit Bright Futures scholars that major in education and commit to 4 years of teaching following graduation in the rural districts from which they graduate high school";

-- $16 million for school districts to "implement targeted recruitment and retention initiatives that meet the district’s need";

-- And, $6 million to "reward great teachers in low-performing schools."

Lawmakers will need to decide whether to include Scott's recommendations when they formally craft and vote on next year's budget in the upcoming legislative session, which begins in March.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott proposes $58M to recruit, retain top teachers" »

September 23, 2016

Florida Board of Education wants end to Best & Brightest teacher bonuses

via @JeffSolochek

The Florida Board of Education on Friday backed a budget plan that would eliminate funding for the state's controversial two-year-old Best and Brightest bonus, which rewards teachers based on their job evaluations and their SAT or ACT scores.

The board's legislative budget proposal would take the bulk of the $49 million expenditure and place it into "teacher recruitment and retention." The recommended $43 million fund would provide bonuses for "new teachers who show great potential for and veteran teachers who have demonstrated the highest student academic growth among their peers."

It would use Florida's top teacher preparation programs and also aim to address shortages in STEM fields, as well as supporting "top teacher candidates and public schools with the highest needs."

Board members asked commissioner Pam Stewart for more details on the use of the money, which represented the largest single change in its proposed budget. She said she was still collecting input from teachers and other stakeholders before writing a specific plan, and asked to discuss it more in depth in October.

The board, which approved the LBR 6-1 with Michael Olenick opposed, expressed satisfaction with the concept.

"I'd like to hear the details. I think it's in the right bucket, though," board member Gary Chartrand said.

Vice chairman John Padgetwho called for an end to the Best and Brightest in August, said he was "totally pleased" with the staff's direction.

"I'm happy to hear it," he said. "I've heard some ideas, and I like many of them."

Teachers continue to apply for the bonuses, which averaged about $8,500 in their first year, with a Nov. 1 deadline. The state has made clear that district decisions on the awards are final.

March 08, 2016

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today

@ByKristenMClark

Following a late-night budget conference on Monday, the final proposed $80 billion state budget is getting printed and expected to arrive on lawmakers' desks sometime this morning -- starting the clock for the constitutionally required 72-hour waiting period until they can vote on it Friday. That means the Legislature is on track to finish session as scheduled this year.

Meanwhile, here's what we're watching today out of Tallahassee:

* The House is expected to vote on a bill that gives families up to $7,500 to bury the remains of children exhumed in unmarked graves at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in North Florida, west of Tallahassee.

* Other significant bills on the House's agenda today deal with civil asset forfeiture and alimony. The House session starts at 10 a.m.

* The Florida Supreme Court will start to hear appeals from several death-row inmates, who argue their death sentences are no longer valid because the law that was in effect when they were sentenced has been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

* The Senate will consider a bill (SB 766/HB 499) that would set limits on local value adjustment boards' consideration of property value petitions. This is a priority for Miami-Dade County officials, who say the current process "short-changes" the school district by delaying tax revenue the district relies on.

* Gov. Rick Scott plans to make a "major economic announcement" for 2017 at 11 a.m. at Orlando's Citrus Bowl Varsity Club.

March 06, 2016

Lawmakers agree on $75 million each in capital aid for traditional schools, charter schools

@ByKristenMClark

Florida's 650 charter schools and 3,600 traditional public schools would each get a pot of $75 million in state funds next year to spend on construction and maintenance projects, under a budget agreement the House and Senate appropriations chairmen announced Sunday afternoon.

The figure -- about the same as what Republican Gov. Rick Scott had asked for -- is $25 million more for each set of schools than lawmakers allocated this year.

It's also a compromise between Republican leaders in the House and Senate from what each chamber originally sought. In their budgets, both the House and Senate wanted to keep capital funding for traditional public schools level at $50 million. For charters, the House wanted $90 million, while the Senate budgeted nothing.

"From our perspective, it was kind of a guiding principle that we ought to be doing for the public system what we're doing for the charter school system, and we ultimately agreed on a level for funding both," Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said.

"The reality is we're up from last year," added House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

The equal funding level is a victory for charter school advocates, who lobbied to get at least as much in capital dollars as traditional schools. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed. Unlike district-run schools, charter schools often lease their facilities, rather than build them.

In a statement this evening, the Florida Charter School Alliance, which represents more than 200,000 students, "thanks the Legislature for the increase of $25 million in dollars to fund the cost of school facilities."

Supporters of conventional public schools are likely to be somewhat disappointed, although they're set to get more money this year than last. They had urged lawmakers to make up for years of reduced funding, when state capital money to charter schools far outweighed what conventional schools received.

Continue reading "Lawmakers agree on $75 million each in capital aid for traditional schools, charter schools" »

February 29, 2016

'Best & Brightest' teacher bonuses might be continued through budget language

@ByKristenMClark

As legislation to make permanent the "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program remains in limbo this session, Florida House and Senate leaders are floating the possibility of a one-year extension by including the program -- once again -- in proviso language for the annual budget.

The controversial program predictably surfaced as a point of leverage between House and Senate education leaders this weekend as they started hashing out the 2016-17 budget.

The bonuses are a priority for House Republicans, but senators in both parties are especially reluctant to buy in to the idea.

By Sunday evening, lead education budget negotiators Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. Don Gaetz had agreed on the largest budget issue: how to fund increases to K-12 schools and by how much.

But the rest of the education budget remains unresolved.

The House rejected the first and only offer from the Senate, which included -- among a host of issues -- a proposed compromise on funding for the "Best and Brightest" program. The bonuses award "highly effective" teachers who scored in the top 20 percent on their high school SAT/ACT exams.

The offer from Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, was a broad this-for-that exchange of several priority areas, which was presented as "all or nothing" to the House.

Under Gaetz's offer, the Senate would have supported the House's desire to include the teacher bonus plan in the budget implementing bill -- allowing it to continue for a second year. The Senate would have also supported $22.5 million in funding, half the amount the House wants.

Continue reading "'Best & Brightest' teacher bonuses might be continued through budget language" »

February 27, 2016

House, Senate close to deal on K-12 funding that avoids hike on local tax dollars

Gaetz and fresen

@ByKristenMClark

Legislative leaders were close to hashing out a deal Saturday evening to provide record-level K-12 education funding next school year -- without forcing businesses and homeowners to shoulder hundreds of millions of dollars in extra funding through local property taxes.

The proposal is a gesture of significant compromise by the Florida House.

But by using a greater share of state dollars instead, the $458 million proposed increase for 2016-17 is far less than what Republican Gov. Rick Scott or House or Senate leaders had originally sought.

Scott's recommendation to the Legislature was for a $507 million increase, almost 90 percent of which would have come from property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay.

By comparison, the House had originally proposed a $601 million increase, while the Senate wanted $650 million extra.

Both initial legislative budget plans mirrored Scott's funding formula, but Senate leaders have, for weeks, argued that increasing K-12 funding through the "required local effort" -- as Scott proposed -- would constitute a "tax increase."

Scott and some House members disagreed with that assertion, arguing that the tax rate wouldn't have changed. Even so, property tax bills would've gone up because property values have rebounded statewide.

On Saturday, House members -- led by education budget conference committee Chairman Rep. Erik Fresen -- shifted their tone.

"There was obviously a lot of concern by members of both parties as to how those funds were distributed," the Miami Republican said.

After re-analyzing their budget allocations, Fresen said he and committee Vice-Chairman Sen. Don Gaetz "made the policy decision overall to apply more general revenue ... (and) apply less of what could be considered -- whether construed properly or not -- as a property tax increase."

Continue reading "House, Senate close to deal on K-12 funding that avoids hike on local tax dollars" »