January 27, 2016

Allowing alternatives to statewide standardized test gets praise from Florida Senate committee but faces obstacles in House



A plan to let Florida school districts and parents choose alternative tests in lieu of the controversial statewide assessments cleared its first Senate committee on Wednesday with strong bipartisan support.

But the state's top education official has voiced resistance to the idea, its chances appear bleak at getting heard in the Florida House and critics who oppose Common Core standards and high-stakes testing said the proposal doesn't go far enough to fix Florida's flawed education accountability system.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said his bill (SB 1360) is about offering choice and eliminating duplicative testing -- not replacing the Florida Standards Assessments, which debuted last year with myriad technical and administration problems.

"If you want to repeal the FSA, this is not your bill," Gaetz said. "If you don’t like tests that have consequences and measurements that have results, this is not your bill."

Acknowledging the FSA's "rocky start," Gaetz said his proposal "saves the infrastructure of accountability" Florida has for K-12 public education and it would save hours of teaching time spent on redundant assessments.

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January 26, 2016

Florida Senate panel proposes $650M increase to K-12 education funding in 2016-17


The education budget committee of the Florida Senate wants to raise funding for K-12 public schools by $650 million next year, about $150 million more than what Republican Gov. Rick Scott proposed.

The Senate Education Appropriations Committee rolled out its 2016-17 budget proposal on Tuesday, with plans to discuss it further on Thursday and send it to the full Appropriations Committee by week's end. The House budget committee plans to unveil its budget plan on Thursday.

Substantial changes in the Senate education budget committee's recommendation are unlikely, chairman Sen. Don Gaetz cautioned before he made his presentation.

"The concrete has been poured and it's hardening," said Gaetz, R-Niceville.

A big unknown, however, is how the $650 million increase would be funded, Gaetz said.

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January 07, 2016

Legislature to consider allowing alternatives to controversial FSA

Florida Legislature(2)


Although Florida lawmakers don't plan to revamp the beleaguered Florida Standards Assessments this session, they're likely to consider a related proposal to let students take other standardized tests -- like the ACT or SAT -- instead.

State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, filed this week a highly anticipated plan to let students make use of "rigorous alternative assessment options" in lieu of taking the controversial FSA, which had a rocky debut last year that fueled a mounting resistance to standardized tests and high-stakes exams.

"The FSA has been, at best, a mixed bag," Gaetz told the Herald/Times last month, as he was drafting his proposal. "The implementation problems associated with FSA have eroded the public’s confidence in the result. The fact that the FSA was developed by an entity that is not well known and is therefore not well-respected by the public has had a negative consequence."

Gaetz's plan would allow parents and students to choose from a variety of national name-brand assessments that measure students' knowledge on given subjects. The options he puts on the table include various ACT exams for students in third grade through high school, and also for high-schoolers: the pre-SAT, SAT, Advanced Placement tests and industry certification exams, among others.

It’s unclear yet how well Gaetz’s bill will be received. At least one Democrat is on board, and other lawmakers from both parties have said they’re interested in the concept.

“It is certainly worthwhile, and it is an appropriate step especially in terms of the recent history of the FSA and the difficulties we’ve had,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who also works as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “Florida has embraced the idea of choice, so why not give parents and students a choice?”

Gaetz said Thursday he is talking with “influential members of the House” to also get it considered there, possibly through a committee bill.

The bill (SB 1360) calls for implementing the use of alternative assessments as early as next school year. School boards throughout the state would have the power to choose which options to make available in each district, but the FSA would continue to be the uniform option statewide, Gaetz said.

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October 28, 2015

Conflicts erupt as Florida Senate passes map 22-18

via @MaryEllenKlas

The personal and political conflicts that have divided Florida Senate Republicans for months reached the boiling point on Wednesday as the Senate narrowly approved a redrawn redistricting map 22-18 and two powerful senators pointedly used the opportunity to finger each other for the chamber’s mistakes.

Democrats voted together in opposition to the map, which they said would be struck down by the court as unconstitutional violation of the anti-gerrymandering rules of the Florida Constitution. They were joined by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and three other Republicans.

Following the debate, however, angry emotions spilled into view as Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who was redistricting chairman when the invalidated 2012 maps were approved, rose for a rare “point of personal privilege," a rule that supercedes all others, and used it to criticize Latvala for blaming Gaetz for the Legislature having to redo the Senate map.

“Sen. Latvala says Don Gaetz is the cause for the special session. You decide. I am am sorry for my mistakes. Sen. Latvala should be sorry for his,’’ he said, reading from prepared remarks. “I take no satisfaction from this exchange. I did not seek it. But when a bully throws a sucker punch, you hit back and never give in.”

Over the last two months, Latvala has been harshly critical of Senate leadership because of the court’s rejection of the map drawn during the 2012 term, pointing out a Herald/Times report that the taxpayer cost of the redistricting litigation has risen to $11 million and suggesting the blame should be placed on Gaetz.

In arguing against the map on Wednesday, he did not mention Gaetz by name but said, “there’s a lot of doubt whether we here in this Senate have handled this issue in a way that we can be proud of.”

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October 22, 2015

Florida police, sheriffs groups oppose open-carry gun proposals

Javier ortiz


Groups representing Florida sheriffs and police officers came out this week in opposition to a controversial legislative proposal that would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to openly carry their guns statewide.

Law enforcement representatives say Senate Bill 300 / House Bill 163 would restrict the ability of officers to ensure public safety and the bills fail to include enhanced training and requirements for the holstering and handling of openly carried weapons, among other concerns.

Supporters of the legislation -- sponsored by Republican father-son duo Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach -- argue it strengthens Second Amendment rights for Americans to defend themselves.

The Florida Fraternal Order of Police unanimously opposes the legislation, specifically because of a provision that would prohibit an officer from asking for someone's concealed-carry permit unless the officer had "probable cause" -- a more stringent legal standard than what is currently in law. If the officer made the request without probable cause, the officer could face a $5,000 fine and the agency they work for could be fined $100,000, under the proposed law.

"If something happens and an officer is not allowed to, at least, ask someone and inquire during the situation of a protest if they should be openly carrying, you’re tying their hands," Lisa Henning, the group's legislative liaison, told senators this week.

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January 07, 2015

Florida lawmakers make testing troubles an early priority

After a year that saw parents rise up against standardized testing, Florida lawmakers on Wednesday said they are prepared to improve the state’s assessment program.

"We have a chance to do a rewrite so we can ensure that we are not over-testing our children, and ensure that we provide a road map to the districts about how to do this,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

Lawmakers floated a number of ideas. Among them:

•Reducing the overall number of state-mandated exams.

•Eliminating repetitive tests.

•Allowing some national tests, such as the Advanced Placement exams, to stand in the place of state-mandated tests.

•Providing districts with more flexibility on how to assess students.

Lawmakers also discussed districts' readiness for the new Florida Standards Assessment, which launch this year. Several school districts have said they lack the technology needed to give the computer-based tests — and have turned to the legislature for help.

While it is unlikely lawmakers that can make any changes before the testing cycle begins in the spring, they intend to act quickly, Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Don Gaetz said.

"We don’t have a year or two to study this," said Gaetz, R-Niceville. "Any kind of clean up that we need, or simplification we need in testing and assessment, should have been addressed by now. We’re in the fourth quarter."

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October 06, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Update on the Status of Women: Melissa Hagan has been appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

Hagan and her husband, Aaron, own Emerald Coast Interview Consulting, and she recently served as chief development Ooficer for Gulf Coast State College. Hagan, of Lynn Haven, is a former teacher, curriculum designer and caseworker for at-risk youth.

The Commission, established in 1991, makes recommendations to the legislature, governor and cabinet on issues affecting women.

Her term starts immediately and expires Oct. 1, 2017.

Connie Mack IV joins public relations firm:  The former Florida congressman and state representative has joined Levick, a Washington D.C.-based public relations & communications firm, as an executive vice president.

Mack will also lead Levick's expansion into Florida and will open the firm's Miami office.

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August 04, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Sen. Grimsley named to new human trafficking council

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, has been appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz to the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking, which was established by the legislature this session.

The first meeting of the 15-member council will be held at 2 p.m. Aug. 18th in Room 214 of the Knott Building at the Capitol.

Grimsley, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, is the newest addition to the council. Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, was appointed by House Speaker Will Weatherford. The two remaining members will be appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, the council's chairman, appointed Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle; Martin County Sheriff William SnyderTerry Coonan, executive director of the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights; and Dotti Groover-Skipper, chairwoman of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking to the council.

The other members are Mike Carroll, interim secretary of the state Department of Children and Families, who will serve as vice chairman; State Surgeon General Dr. John ArmstrongElizabethDudek, Secretary of the state Agency for Health Care Administration; Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey; Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Interim SecretaryChristina Daly; and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Florida ethics commission elects a new chairman

Linda McKee Robison, the former vice chairman of the Florida Commission on Ethics, was elected its chairman at the panel's July 25th meeting.

Robison, who is a partner in the Corporate Transactions Group of Shutts & Bowen, LLP, has served on the commission since 2011.

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August 03, 2014

Slapped for making a 'mockery' of transparency, House and Senate now order redistricting docs retained

After being pummeled by a harshly-worded court ruling that concluded Florida's legislative leaders destroyed documents and allowed political consultants to "make a mockery" of their self-described transparency in the redistricting process, legislative leaders are now taking precautions. 

In an email late Friday to Senate members and staff, Senate President Don Gaetz asked everyone to "keep and do not delete" all redistricting records in light of the pending litigation over congressional districts. In a similar email at the same time, House deputy general counsel Steve Godwin gave the same directions to House members and staff and highlighted the same words. 

The emails came hours after Lewis ordered lawmakers to revise their congressional redistricting map to fix two districts he had previously ordered unconstitutional. He said he was considering calling a special election after Nov. 4 for the affected districts and he called for an Aug. 20 hearing to decide how to go forward.  Download Romo.remedy-order.august-1-2014-1

Gaetz along with House Speaker Will Weatherford must decide whether to appeal the order, defy the court, or call lawmakers into session to revise the maps. He said legislators "have not made a decision how to proceed "but sent out the records retention notice just in case. Lewis in his July 10 ruling found that the "winning is everything" approach to political debate today contributed to the climate that allowed GOP political consultants to conspire "to infuence and manipulate the Legislature into violation of its constitutional duty" under the Fair District amendments.

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May 21, 2014

Gaetz is grilled about Senate maps, secret meetings -- and what the Senate didn't do

Gaetz redistricting trial

Florida’s precedent-setting redistricting trial is on its third day with Senate President Don Gaetz under oath, being grilled in detail about the deal he reached in secret with the House and Senate on the congressional map.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, who was in charge of the Senate redistricting effort in 2011-12, told the court there were two meetings between him and his counterpart in the House, current House Speaker Will Weatherford, in which they agreed to settle on the Senate’s map design for the final joint congressional map. The proposal boosted the number of black voters in the meandering congressional district that stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando and is the subject a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters and a coalition of voters.

The groups contend that the congressional seats violate the "Fair Districts" standards added to the state constitution by voters in 2010 which says that says districts cannot be drawn in a way to favor incumbents or members of a political party. 

Weatherford acknowledged during testimony on Tuesday that the map was the subject of an amendment introduced with no discussion by Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, chairman of the House’s congressional redistricting committee after Gaetz and Weatherford had reached the deal.

Gaetz told the court that there was no requirement for them to notify the public of the meeting but claims "the door was open" and anyone could have walked in. Under cross examination, he said the map received bi-partisan support of the committee 21-5.

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