April 27, 2017

Senate's vetting of 'schools of hope' has been vastly limited compared to House

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@ByKristenMClark

Nine minutes.

That’s how long senators on the Appropriations Committee spent this week to hurriedly describe, amend and approve their version of one of the most high-profile, substantial and costly education policy changes the Legislature will enact this year affecting K-12 public schools.

Senators did not even debate their pair of bills Tuesday that counter a House Republican-approved $200 million “schools of hope” incentive for specialized charter schools. The one person from the public who wanted to weigh in was cut off after 56 seconds.

That’s not the picture of open, thorough and public debate Republican Senate leaders painted a couple of weeks ago when they agreed to send the House bill directly into budget negotiations and vowed transparency in those talks with the House.

Senate leaders had pledged they would have enough time — and would take the time — to properly vet the House “schools of hope” legislation and develop their own ideas on how to improve educational opportunities and services for students, mostly poor and minorities, who attend perpetually failing neighborhood schools.

“These issues have been discussed around here, and we’re just putting them in the conference posture,” Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told reporters Tuesday, referencing the pending budget negotiations process and dismissing the lack of time spent on the Senate’s “schools of hope” bills.

The Senate had general, conceptual conversations earlier in session on how to help kids in failing schools, as did the House. But substantive consideration of an actual policy proposal by the Senate has been extremely limited, compared to the airing the House gave its priority bill.

Senators, so far, have spent barely 90 minutes vetting their legislative proposals (SB 1552 and SB 796) across three committee hearings since senators unveiled their specific policy language early last week.

In contrast, House members spent nine hours considering their bill (HB 5105) during two committee hearings and across two days of discussion, debate and voting on the House floor — about six times as long as the Senate has to date, a Herald/Times analysis found. (Through its two committee hearings alone, the House spent three-and-a-half hours on “schools of hope.”)

Full story here.

Photo credit: Stuart Republican and Senate President Joe Negron, left, and Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, talk with reporters during a press conference in early April. Phil Sears / AP

April 26, 2017

House says applicants for college, university presidencies should be a secret

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@ByKristenMClark

Floridians would have no way to know everyone who applies to be the next president or other top administrator of a public college or university, under a proposed exemption in the state’s public records law that passed the House on Wednesday.

Lawmakers voted 103-11 to approve the carve-out, which was sought after a former Republican lawmaker unsuccessfully applied to be Florida Gulf Coast University’s next president this year.

It’s unlikely the bill (HB 351) will become law this spring, because the Senate version was never taken up in committee for senators to consider. Nevertheless, the measure has raised concerns.

The exemption would greatly diminish the transparency of how colleges and universities fill influential positions — which lawmakers themselves frequently apply for after, or even before, they leave the Legislature.

More here.

Photo credit: Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples. Florida Channel

April 24, 2017

Parents want Pinellas principal to resign after she advised 'white students should be in the same class'

via @Colleen_Wright

Christine Hoffman, the embattled principal of Campbell Park Elementary in Pinellas County, will leave campus while an "administrative review" is conducted, district officials said Monday.

Hoffman created an uproar last week when she sent an email to her school staff about classroom rosters for the coming year and said "white students should be in the same class" with no explanation or context. She later sent out a second email to staff apologizing for "poor judgment," and a letter went home to parents Friday with an invitation to meet with parents Monday morning and afternoon.

Hoffman requested the transfer off campus, said Lisa Wolf, a district spokeswoman. In her absence, an assistant principal will take over, assisted by a member of the school district's Transformation Zone team. It's not clear yet when, or if, Hoffman will return.

Parents and community activists have been calling for Hoffman to resign. Pressed by parents to do so Monday, two eyewitnesses said that Hoffman refused and said, "I am the best thing that has happened to Campbell Park."

More here from the Tampa Bay Times' Gradebook.

House's testing bill set to expand, setting up negotiations with Senate

SP_409499_KEEL_2_FLGOV@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers in the Florida House plan to take a priority proposal aimed at reforming the standardized testing schedule in K-12 public schools and transform it into a broader education policy bill — a move intended to set up negotiations with the Senate with less than two weeks left in the 2017 session.

Members of the House Education Committee will vote Monday afternoon to expand HB 773 through a 76-page amendment — filed late Sunday by bill sponsor Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. The amendment would replace the bill so it incorporates language not only from Diaz’s original measure but also from at least five other education bills lawmakers have considered to varying degrees.

Such a strategic move is typical at this point in session but often draws criticism over a lack of transparency. Individual policy bills that stalled in committee can find new life through omnibus bills lawmakers create by attaching those smaller proposals on to a single, expanded bill that’s still on track to reach the floor.

Senators last week similarly expanded their testing proposal (SB 926), although the tangential education policies being added to each chamber’s testing bill don’t yet align.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 20, 2017

Speaker Corcoran's message to parents wanting school recess: Be patient

Corcoran_Richard Swearing In (1)

@ByKristenMClark

Speaker Richard Corcoran told reporters Thursday that there’s plenty of time in the final two weeks of the 2017 session for the Florida House to vote on a bill that would require more time for recess in public elementary schools, but he would not commit to holding a floor vote as parents demand.

When asked if the House would take up a parent-supported bill (SB 78), which passed the Senate unanimously two weeks ago, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said during a press conference: “What I’d say on that is: We have two weeks left. There’s a lot of activity on the recess bill that’s still happening, and anything is possible.”

The House version of the recess bill — which was significantly watered-down and is no longer supported by parents, health and physical education experts, or the lawmaker sponsoring it — is stalled in a committee that’s not scheduled to meet again. There is no visible action by House members that indicates that status would change.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 19, 2017

WATCH: Senate President Joe Negron addresses Frank Artiles' remarks

@ByKristenMClark

After this morning's Senate session when Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles formally apologized, President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sat down with reporters to discuss Artiles' offensive remarks toward his Senate colleagues on Monday night.

MORE: "Legislative complaint seeks to expel Miami lawmaker from Senate over ‘racist rant’ "

Negron first laid out in detail -- almost as if presenting a case in a courtroom -- how he was informed of Artiles' comments and how and why he decided to respond. He then answered questions, including whether he thought Artiles should resign and what the next steps for possible discipline might be for the freshman senator.

Watch Negron's explanation and answers below.

Senate will try another route to get daily recess in state law

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@ByKristenMClark

With House Republican leaders holding up a Senate-approved bill to mandate daily recess in public elementary schools, Florida senators will attempt another route to get the proposal enacted this year.

Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, the sponsor of the Senate recess bill (SB 78), filed a sweeping amendment Wednesday morning to her measure aimed at reducing statewide standardized tests, which would drastically broaden the bill to include several other policies — including mandatory daily recess.

The 17-page amendment will be considered this afternoon when the testing bill (SB 926) is up for its final committee hearing in Senate Rules before it would go to the floor.

By attaching the recess policy to the broader bill, it gives the Senate more leverage and could force the House into considering it through negotiations. The House also views testing reforms as a top priority this session. 

Full story here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Florida parents want a House vote on recess. Will they get it?

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@ByKristenMClark

All that Florida parents want is guaranteed daily recess for their elementary school children. Just 20 minutes a day to allow for a brain break and some playtime.

But for the second consecutive year, that relatively simple request seems increasingly in jeopardy — despite overwhelming public and legislative support — thanks to obstruction by a few influential lawmakers in the Florida House.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, won’t have a conversation about school recess, and his top lieutenants offer only deflection when asked what the House will do.

Parents want a vote. In the two weeks since the state Senate unanimously passed its bill to require daily recess in public elementary schools, parents have mobilized, calling for SB 78 to be brought to the House floor.

“The PEOPLE have spoken and they want this bill!” Orlando “recess mom” Amy Narvaez wrote in an email to House leadership earlier this month that was obtained through a public records request.

But despite the public outcry, House leaders have shown no inclination to act.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Omari Accius 6, enjoys recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools. Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Florida Senate unveils its version of 'schools of hope,' diverging from House

Simmons David@ByKristenMClark

A top Florida senator on Tuesday rolled out his version of a comprehensive plan to help students who attend perpetually failing public schools in Florida — proposing to offer additional resources to those traditional schools, rather than emphasizing incentives for new charter schools to come in and compete with them as the House wants to do.

Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, unveiled his alternative to the House’s “schools of hope” legislation by piggy-backing his proposal on to an unrelated education bill (SB 1552) that originally dealt only with expanding bonuses for top teachers and principals.

Simmons’ revised bill gives “schools of hope” a companion measure in the Senate two and a half weeks before session is scheduled to end. Doing that provides senators a way to formally discuss the proposal and vet their ideas for it ahead of budget negotiations. House and Senate leaders last week agreed to send “schools of hope” to conference committee, all-but ensuring some form of it will become law in 2017-18.

The House’s measure expedites turnaround strategies for failing schools but focuses mostly on creating a $200 million incentive plan to attract high-performing, specialized charter schools that would essentially compete with struggling neighborhood schools by offering students in those schools an alternative. The Senate doesn’t want to go that route right away.

Simmons’ legislation includes some of the “schools of hope” language but proposes first giving failing schools some extra help — something House Republicans have largely discounted, saying those schools have already had such opportunities and it hasn’t worked.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

April 17, 2017

Some school districts, including Miami-Dade, are actively lobbying against 'schools of hope'

Capitol

@ByKristenMClark

Administrators at some of Florida’s largest school districts — including Miami-Dade County — are speaking out in opposition to House Republicans’ $200 million “schools of hope” plan that would pit new, specialized charter schools against the districts’ perpetually failing traditional public schools.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is “actively lobbying against” HB 5105, a spokeswoman said, and Duval County schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti sent a lengthy letter to the Florida Senate Monday morning urging lawmakers to “please use logic and reject” the House’s bill.

The Senate has yet to formally discuss the “schools of hope” legislation that the Republican-led House passed last week along party-lines. The legislation seeks to attract specialized, out-of-state charter schools to come to Florida and compete with struggling traditional schools so that students currently attending such schools have another option.

Because both chambers agreed to send the House-approved bill to upcoming budget conference negotiations, it all-but ensures some form of the policy will become law in 2017-18. (The bill is a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.)

However, school district administrators — echoing some of the opposition expressed by House Democrats — say they have concerns about the proposal.

In his five-page letter, Vitti said the bill “seemingly attempts to address the authentic need” of improving schools that serve students who largely face the challenge of generational poverty “but does so without a research-based, data-driven, realistic or sustainable solution.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau