December 02, 2016

Latvala bristles at freshman senator's attempt to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

via @JeffSolochek

Without mentioning any names, or even the issue at hand, Florida Sen. Jack Latvala took a clear swipe Thursday at a newly minted Senate colleague who filed legislation to undo a university tuition measure that Latvala worked hard to broker two years ago.

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, proposed a bill Wednesday to void a law granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students who graduate from Florida high schools. Latvala initially had little to say about the proposal, which he hadn't yet read.

MORE: "In-state college tuition rates for Florida's undocumented students could be in danger"

A day later, in a room filled with school board members from across the state, Latvala let loose. He made his comments in response to the question of what might be his biggest non-financial challenge in the 2017 session.

That challenge, Latvala said, will be coming to grips with the largest freshman group of senators in memory — 20 in all, 17 of whom came from the Florida House with their own set of protocols and behaviors that differ from the more collegial Senate.

He paused, then continued to speak about "one of" the House transplants who, just a few days into the term decided to file a bill that would repeal all the hard work a longstanding senator — the Appropriations Committee chairman, no less — spent significant effort moving through the Legislature.

Latvala is the Appropriations chair.

"It gets your back up," he said. "The final chapter hasn't been played on that."

FSBA executive director Andrea Messina, who moderated the panel, playfully asked, "It wasn't Sen. (Dana) Young, was it?"

A grinning Young sat three seats away from Latvala, who responded quickly, "She wouldn't dare."

Sen. David Simmons, another Senate long-timer at the table, said he spent eight years in the House before coming to the upper chamber. The operating models of each differs greatly, he said, and it will take time for all to acclimate to one another.

But one thing is certain, Simmons said: Newcomers quickly learn that "the toe or foot you step on is attached to another part of the anatomy you might need to kiss" later on to get what you want.

The room burst into laughter. Steube was not present.

November 30, 2016

In-state college tuition rates for Florida's undocumented students could be in danger

Steube 2014  - keeler

via @clairemcneill

Heralded as a bipartisan victory when it passed, a Florida law granting in-state college tuition rates to undocumented students could now be in danger.

A bill filed Wednesday by conservative Florida Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, seeks to erase that 2014 provision. Colleges no longer would have to waive out-of-state fees for undocumented students who attend Florida high schools.

"It is certainly a big issue in my district among my constituents, who were frustrated and upset that the state would allow undocumented illegal immigrants to receive taxpayer-supported in-state tuition," he said. "So I think it's important to file the bill and have a discussion on it."

Steube said he knocked on thousands of doors in his primary campaign. Unfailingly, voters asked about two things: the Second Amendment, and illegal immigration. He remembers one working-class man in particular, disappointed that after working so hard to put his family through college, the state would give undocumented immigrants a tuition break.

"I just don't think it's good public policy for the state," Steube said. "And with the change in leadership and the change in both of the chambers, I think it's a policy that is worth revisiting."

More than a decade of contention preceded the 2014 tuition bill. When it finally passed in a high-profile 26-13 vote in the Senate, Republican Gov. Rick Scott deemed it "a historic day."

"Just think," Scott said then. "Children that grew up in our state will now get the same tuition as their peers."

The vote felt like victory for Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who sponsored the bill.

"The eyes of America are on us," he said. "I think we're setting an example. I think we're doing the right thing."

On Wednesday, Latvala had little to say about the new Senate Bill 82.

"First I've heard about it," he said. "I'm out of state, so I really don't want to talk about it until I've had a chance to take a look."

Before passing in spring 2014 with significant Republican support, the tuition proposal faced strong opposition within the party.

Then-Senate President Don Gaetz rebuked the bill in an email to his constituents, incensed that it would aid even those from countries rife with "anti-American violence." And incoming Senate president Joe Negron, R-Stuart, then chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said his committee wouldn't hear the bill, deflating its potential of becoming law.

Latvala crafted a strategy in response, adding the language to several other bills going before the panel to keep the effort alive. Student activists also kept the heat on Senate leaders, staging news conferences and pressing for meetings. Scott told reporters he considered the bill a priority.

On Wednesday, his office said it was taking a look at the new proposal.

Steube, who was elected to the Senate in 2016 after six years in the House, said he hasn't talked to Negron or Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran about the legislation yet. But knowing of their previous opposition gave him hope.

Negron and Corcoran have not returned calls for comment.

The benefits of the bill are already being felt by young adults who were brought to the U.S. through no fault of their own, said Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, who sponsored the 2014 bill in the House. 

“This really isn’t an immigration bill, this is access to higher education,” she said. “I for one am focused on empowering families and being able to provide opportunities for students.”

Despite the Senate president’s likely support, she said she’s not too concerned about Steube’s bill just yet. She vowed to fight it tooth and nail.

“Clearly, in my mind, he’s still in campaign mode,” she said. “There’s a lot of football to be played, and we’re in the preseason at this point. Hopefully at the end of the day we’ll prevail.”

Photo credit: State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, in 2014 when he was in the Florida House. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

New House education chairman who opposed school recess plan 'will take a look' at it in 2017

Bileca_flhouse@ByKristenMClark

After being one of only two Florida House members to oppose it last session, Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca said he's open to considering a renewed effort to mandate recess time at Florida's public elementary schools.

But he indicated the proposal could still face some potentially tough scrutiny in 2017.

"I will take a look at it," Bileca told the Herald/Times. "The areas I had difficulty with were not changed (last session), so we'll need to see what's changed."

Although he's only one vote in the 120-member House, Bileca's opinion matters greatly because, as chairman of the Education Committee for the upcoming term, he has the power to influence the outcome of a wide range of education policy matters -- including this popular, parent-driven proposal.

Among Bileca's powers as chairman is deciding which bills are taken up by his committee. Failing to get a hearing is a frequent way bills die in session -- and it's how the recess measure stalled last spring in the Senate.

MORE: "Florida will again consider mandatory recess"

In filing a bill on Tuesday, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, got the ball rolling to revive the Legislature's recess debate for next session. Rep. Rene Plasencia, the Orlando Republican who advocated for the issue last spring, is drafting the House companion.

"I know one of the things for me last year that I didn't like was it was tied to discipline," Bileca said, referencing a provision in last session's bill that read: "Free-play recess may not be withheld for academic or punititive reasons."

Bileca said he "expected modifications" in the proposal before it was brought to the House floor for a final vote but the bill was never altered.

Bileca and now-House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, were the only "no" votes when the measure passed the House, 112-2, in February. Corcoran's office did not respond to emails seeking comment this week about whether he would support a school recess proposal in the upcoming session.

While Plasencia's bill is still being drafted, the version Flores filed omits the line that concerned Bileca. It also doesn't include language affording recess time to sixth-graders who are enrolled at schools with at least one other elementary school grade, as last session's bill did.

In speaking with the Herald/Times, Bileca indicated the recess proposal could face a high bar as far as his support is concerned.

He noted that Florida already mandates physical education time, "a requirement that a lot of other states don't have." And he said: "My big focus for next session is going to be: Where are there areas we've over-regulated from the state level?"

One of the reasons the recess measure died last session in the Senate was because that chamber's education policy chairman at the time firmly believed it was a local issue that didn't "merit a Tallahassee solution."

Photo credit: State Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, during the 2015 session. myfloridahouse.gov

November 29, 2016

Mandatory school recess proposal coming back for 2017 session

RecessTwo0320 Run MSH

@ByKristenMClark

A popular, parent-backed proposal to require daily recess at all of Florida’s public elementary schools will be back before the Florida Legislature next spring.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, filed a bill on Tuesday that mirrors one that died in the spring — despite fervent support — when one key senator from Pasco County refused to hear it in committee.

The measure, SB 78 for the 2017 session, mandates local school boards offer 20 minutes per day of “supervised, safe and unstructured free-play recess” for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, who led the effort last year, will again champion it in the House. He said he’s in the process of drafting his bill for 2017 and plans to file it soon.

Last session’s proposal was initiated by passionate parents from all across Florida — primarily self-described “recess moms” in Tampa and Orlando, as well as Miami-Dade — who pleaded and lobbied for their lawmakers’ support in the 2016 session.

Read more here.

Photo credit: Marsha Halper / Miami Herald

*This post has been updated.

November 22, 2016

New Florida House speaker calls teacher's union 'evil' for challenging scholarship program

Cocoran_Swearing_In

@ByKristenMClark

In some of his first remarks as the new Florida House speaker, Rep. Richard Corcoran lashed out at the state's largest teachers union on Tuesday, calling the organization "downright evil" for continuing to challenge a Legislature-approved tax credit scholarship program in court.

Corcoran, a Land O'Lakes Republican and a staunch supporter of school choice, declared that the Florida Education Association is "fixated on halting innovation and competition" -- citing the ongoing fight over the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program as an example.

The program helps low-income, mostly minority children afford to attend private schools, and the union has been fighting it in Florida's courts for almost a couple years, arguing it's a "voucher" program that diverts would-be tax money from traditional public education.

"They [the union] are attempting to destroy the lives of almost 100,000 children, mostly minority, and all of them poor. This flies in the face of research. It defies common sense.  It is downright evil," Corcoran said in a speech after accepting the speakership.

He urged House Democrats to challenge their "status quo" of the teachers union. "Tell the teachers union they're wrong. Tell them to stop the suit," Corcoran said.

In later remarks to reporters, Corcoran doubled-down, elaborating that the union's actions were not only "evil" but also "disgusting" and "repugnant."

He also referred to the teachers union as "crazy people" and said they have a false, "crazy a-- notion" about what is and isn't a fair law.

Continue reading "New Florida House speaker calls teacher's union 'evil' for challenging scholarship program" »

Eduardo Padron gets high honor from Obama

NP-Padron-MedalOfFreedom-112216-108FilmFest05 NEW PPP

@jamesmartinrose

President Barack Obama on Tuesday awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron and other luminaries from education, sports, entertainment, architecture and culture.

Obama hung the medals around each recipients neck in the ornate East Room of the White House with long gold-embroidered curtains, a giant chandelier and oil portraits of former first ladies.

Recounting Padron's childhood journey from Cuba, Obama said his career as an educator has helped countless young people follow in his footsteps of arriving an immigrant and realizing the American Dream.

"Eduardo made his choice to create more stories just like his," Obama said. "Dr. Padron has built a dream factory for one of nation's most diverse student bodies."

Among other recipients were singer Diana Ross, basketball legends Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, actors Robert Redford, Tom Hanks and Robert De Niro, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Jordan received the loudest applause, while Los Angeles Dodgers radio announcer Vin Scully got the most sustained ovation.

Joining Obama and the recipients for the ceremony were Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and other dignitaries.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, El Nuevo Herald

 

 

October 31, 2016

After election, whither Academica's Tallahassee political power?

State-legislators

via @KyraGurney

One of Florida’s largest for-profit charter school management companies, Academica, has long enjoyed considerable influence in the state Legislature. Until last year, two Academica employees served as state lawmakers — and the brother-in-law of the company’s founder also held the education purse strings in the House.

The November election puts the company’s clout at risk and, at least potentially, could have broader implications for a booming charter school industry that has claimed a significant share of state taxpayer dollars.

Academica runs more than 100 schools in Florida and makes $158 million a year in total revenue from its South Florida schools alone, including $9 million annually in management fees, according to 2011 estimates.

It’s a big industry, one that critics say has profited from well-placed political supporters in Tallahassee. For Academica, the biggest loss is Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who is outgoing chair of the House education budget subcommittee — term-limited after eight years. He is the brother-in-law of Academica founder and executive Fernando Zulueta, and has worked as a consultant for Civica, an architecture firm that specializes in building charter schools.

Two other Miami lawmakers with close ties to the company are also facing challengers who could have a shot.

More here.

October 29, 2016

Doral College, Flores accuse her challenger of 'untrue, malicious statements'

AP_flores

@ByKristenMClark

Miami Republican incumbent state Sen. Anitere Flores and her previous employer, Doral College, allege that Flores' opponent has made "untrue and malicious" statements that are "damaging" the college's reputation.

Doral College sent a letter to the Florida Democratic Party recently demanding that the party stop publishing and correct TV ads and direct-mail pieces that the college says contain "false" statements.

The state party is supporting Democrat and political newcomer Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, of Pinecrest, who's aiming to unseat Flores for Miami-Dade's District 39 Senate seat. The newly redrawn district is heavily Hispanic and leans Democratic.

Doral College in its letter -- which Flores' campaign provided to the Herald/Times -- accused the Democratic Party of repeating two falsehoods: "that Doral College is a for-profit college and the degrees obtained by its students are worthless."

"These claims are objectively false and warrant immediate correction," wrote Ryan Kairalla, the college's general counsel. Here's an example of a direct-mail piece containing the claims Flores and Doral College took issue with.

Kairalla is correct that the Democratic Party erred in referring to Doral College as a "for-profit" college. It is a not-for-profit institution -- although the company that it's associated with is for-profit -- but whether the college's degrees are "worthless" is a matter of continued dispute in the political battle between supporters of charter school programs and those who favor more traditional educational options.

Mucarsel-Powell said Flores' and Doral College's complaints were "yet another desperate attempt by Anitere Flores to distract from her shameful 12-year record in Tallahassee."

Continue reading "Doral College, Flores accuse her challenger of 'untrue, malicious statements'" »

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.

September 22, 2016

More mental health, campus security funding again a priority for Florida universities

Capture

@ByKristenMClark

After the Florida Legislature failed to act on similar budget requests for this year, state university officials are once again asking for money to increase staffing levels and beef up resources for campus police forces and student counseling centers at Florida’s 12 public universities.

The public university system’s Board of Governors wants lawmakers to designate an extra $28.5 million for those efforts, $8 million more than the unfulfilled request they’d made for the current 2016-17 budget year.

But rather than asking for all the money at once, as they did for this year, officials plan to ask the Legislature to spread the dollars over two years — giving the universities time to hire more qualified police officers and counselors.

While meeting in Sarasota this week, the Board of Governors emphasized that additional dollars for mental health services and campus security is among their foremost priorities for the 2017-18 budget, which lawmakers will craft next spring.

Data show Florida’s university police forces and campus counseling centers are understaffed, officials have been saying for more than a year now.

More here.

Image credit: The Florida Channel