June 23, 2017

Credit rating agency: HB 7069 could affect Florida school districts' financial standing

Florida Legislature (38)

From the News Service of Florida:

Part of a controversial and wide-ranging education bill (HB 7069) signed by Gov. Rick Scott could affect the credit ratings of some of the state's school districts, according to a report released Thursday by Moody's Investors Service.

The report said a requirement that school districts share construction funds generated by local property taxes with charter schools "is credit negative for school districts with significant charter enrollment."

The finding isn't a change to the districts' ratings, but could affect them in the future.

"As capital revenues follow students to charters, traditional schools' ability to cut capital expenditures will be tempered by aging infrastructure and the need to attract and retain students," the analysis said.

The bill, championed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, touched off weeks of debate, with major education groups urging Scott to veto it. But Scott signed the measure last week.

Read the Moody's report here.

Photo credit: Gov. Rick Scott speaks to legislators at the end of a special session, Friday, June 9, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. AP

June 21, 2017

Miami-Dade schools hires lobbyist — at $108,000 a year — to take concerns to Congress, Trump

White house

@KyraGurney

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Miami-Dade school district is hiring a lobbying firm to represent its interests in Washington, D.C.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the School Board approved a three-year contract — at $108,000 a year — with Ballard Partners, a Florida lobbying firm, to advocate for the district’s interests before Congress and several federal agencies.

“We’ve always had a very active presence at the federal level, but in light of the new players in the administration we felt it was prudent to seek assistance in being able to have additional access,” said Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, who oversees the school district’s office of intergovernmental affairs. The district hopes to “nurture good working relationships with the federal administration to continue to be able to provide a quality education to the students in Miami-Dade.”

The School Board’s decision comes amid growing concern nationwide about proposed cuts to federal education funding.

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 calls for $9.2 billion in cuts to the Department of Education, including slashing funds for teacher training and after-school programs.

The proposed budget cuts would “severely reduce” the amount of federal education funding Miami-Dade receives and are among the district’s top concerns, said Mendez-Cartaya.

Read more here

June 19, 2017

Hack attacks highlight vulnerability of Florida schools to cyber crooks

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@KyraGurney

Two months before the U.S. presidential election, international hackers slipped into the computer systems of at least four Florida school district networks in the hopes of stealing the personal data of hundreds of thousands of students.

They infected the systems with malware — malicious software — that turned off the logs recording who accessed the systems, according to United Data Technologies, the Doral-based cybersecurity company that investigated the incidents. For three months, the hackers probed the systems, mapping them out and testing their defenses. At one point, they even posted photos of someone dressed as an ISIS fighter on two school district websites.

They weren’t just looking for the names of kids and valuable Social Security numbers, UDT found. The hackers were also searching for some way to slip into other sensitive government systems, including state voting systems.

Luckily, the hackers from Morocco, not Moscow — never found one or managed to get their hands on personal data. But the attempted hacking exposed the vulnerabilities of Florida’s school district networks: vast computer systems that store sensitive information on thousands of students, and their parents, and could potentially provide a backdoor into other government systems. Amid the national obsession with the alleged Russian hacking during the U.S. election and the constant stream of headlines on corporate data breaches, like the ones at Target and Chipotle, experts say the dangers of cyber attacks targeting school districts are being overlooked.

To read the rest, click here

June 09, 2017

Dems on K-12 funding: 'The increase is helpful but more is needed'

Florida Legislature (14)

@ByKristenMClark

Some House Democrats on Friday criticized a new K-12 schools budget for 2017-18 that would boost spending by $100 per student over this school year — calling the additional dollars a “hollow victory” and “not enough” to truly address public education.

“I believe the increase is helpful but more is needed,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami. “Florida is the third largest state in the nation, yet our per-pupil funding is still $3,000 below the national average.”

“We’re underfunding public education,” agreed Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura. “That’s a mistake. That sells short the future of our state.”

“Public education has been the great leveler in this country; it’s been the main means of advancement for people of modest means,” Geller added, before making reference to a $419 million, charter school-friendly bill (HB 7069) lawmakers passed last month: “We’re putting way too much money into non-public education at the expense of public education.”

RELATED FROM POLITIFACT: “Florida House speaker touts record education spending, but there’s more to grade”

The increased funding — addressed in a contentious three-day special session this week — was a compromise between Gov. Rick Scott and House and Senate leaders after Scott a week ago vetoed the Legislature’s initial K-12 budget, deeming it insufficient.

In calling lawmakers back to Tallahassee, Scott asked for $215 million more in state money for K-12 in order to raise the per-pupil level by $100, an increase of 1.4 percent.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

Senator floats idea: Another special session to fix HB 7069

Florida Legislature (40)

@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers are supposed to wrap up on Friday a contentious special session that brought them back to Tallahassee for three days to resolve budget disputes over K-12 funding and jobs and tourism spending.

But regardless if that’s successful, one key Republican senator says the Legislature’s work shouldn’t be over and that one more return trip to the Capitol this month would be in order.

Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons told the Herald/Times he wants Gov. Rick Scott to veto a controversial K-12 schools bill (HB 7069) — which Simmons has deemed “fundamentally and fatally flawed” — and call lawmakers back for a second special session to redo it.

“That’s the solution that I and, I think, others would love to have,” said Simmons, of Altamonte Springs. “He doesn’t have to just say, ‘I veto,’ and therefore nothing will be accomplished. He can do what he did here.”

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

Funding for HB 7069 left alone after Senate backs off

Florida Legislature (22)

@ByKristenMClark

Florida senators wanting a second crack at stopping a contentious $419 million education reform bill that narrowly passed the Legislature last month were unsuccessful on Thursday in defunding it to redirect the dollars to general K-12 public school spending.

Broward County Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer led the charge to undo HB 7069, after Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons — earlier passionately defiant — backed off his plans to force lawmakers to revisit the legislation during a three-day special session, even though it’s not on the Legislature’s restricted agenda.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, of Land O’Lakes, and his Republican caucus have dismissed the Senate’s effort as a waste of time and said even if the Senate approved changes to the HB 7069 funding, they wouldn’t support them. The bill is a top priority of Corcoran’s.

But Senate Democrats cast Thursday as the day for the Senate to stand up for itself and “redo” the May 8 result when the legislation passed by one vote.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

June 08, 2017

Senate caves on strategy in effort to reach compromise on K-12 spending

Florida Legislature (8)

@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers on Thursday morning inched closer to agreeing on how to boost state funding to K-12 public schools starting on July 1, even as a few senators still have plans to revive a debate over a controversial education reform bill, which could wrinkle any compromise.

In amending legislation to add money to the K-12 budget in 2017-18, the Senate Appropriations Committee agreed to forgo the chamber’s plan of using local property tax money to pay for the new spending — a plan House Speaker Richard Corcoran had rejected outright as a “massive tax increase.”

The Senate now agrees with the House’s method of paying for the extra $215 million using general revenue — money freed up from Gov. Rick Scott’s vetoes handed down last week. About $150 million of that would be one-time spending that lawmakers would have to make up for the next budget year in order to keep spending level, or else schools would lose funding in 2018-19.

The Senate also withdrew its intent to demand the Legislature respect the Constitution’s required 72-hour “cooling off” period for general budget bills, which would have kept lawmakers in Tallahassee for longer than the three-day special session that’s supposed to end Friday evening.

By approaching the extra school money as “supplemental” spending to the K-12 budget lawmakers passed in May — instead of starting from scratch with a whole new budget — the 72-hour period wouldn’t be necessary, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said in explaining his changes to the Senate’s K-12 spending bill (SB 2500A).

Full details here.

Photo credit: Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, speaks to the Senate about overriding Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of the public schools budget during a special session of the Florida Legislature Wednesday June 7, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. AP

June 06, 2017

Miami-Dade Republican: I'm 'not comfortable' with more K-12 funding without changing HB 7069

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@ByKristenMClark

Hialeah Republican Sen. René García told Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in a letter today that he's "not comfortable supporting any compromise" on increasing K-12 funding for 2017-18 that does not also address a controversial education policy bill that awaits Gov. Rick Scott's approval.

García was one of three Senate Republicans to vote against HB 7069 when it narrowly passed the Senate on the final day of the 2017 regular session.

Lawmakers are returning to Tallahassee for a three-day special session starting Wednesday, one of the topics of which includes increasing money for K-12 public schools after Scott vetoed the Legislature's approved spending level as insufficient.

But HB 7069 -- although tied to the budget -- will not formally be up for discussion during the special session, which has drawn some unrest among senators who had expected Scott to veto it and now fear he won't. Scott has not committed to an opinion on the bill, but many lawmakers expect he'll sign it in trade for the Legislature approving his ask for additional economic development money.

García said in his letter he was grateful for the special session to "revisit several critical issues."

"While my career has reflected a passionate commitment to school choice and local autonomy, I find it difficult to support adjusting the Florida Education Finance Program while failing to address the erosion of Florida's commitment to public education that is contained in HB 7069," García said.

"Dramatic policy shifts such as broadening the scope of eligibility of Title I funds, as well as allowing charter schools to use local tax revenue for capital outlay projects should be discussed in conjunction with any proposed increases in per student funding," he added. "The public policy held within the FEFP and the set of policies passed within HB 7069 are inherently intertwined."

Negron's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Read García's full letter here.

Altamonte Republican Sen. David Simmons, the chairman of the K-12 education appropriations committee who also opposed HB 7069, has said he wants to "fix" the bill as early as this special session -- particularly to address challenges in implementing it that he says are too constraining on traditional public schools. However, HB 7069 is not formally part of the call for a special session and it would take a two-thirds vote of both chambers to add it to the agenda, which is incredibly unlikely.

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

June 03, 2017

Second backroom budget deal is sowing seeds of distrust

Scott at MIA 60217@MaryEllenKlas and @Steve Bousquet

Another backroom deal, this time involving the governor who has blasted the Legislature for secrecy, is leaving a trail of frustration and distrust in the state capital as elected lawmakers are being called back for a special session this week to rubber stamp a budget they were excluded from negotiating.

After stoking rumors that he might veto the Legislature’s budget and an accompanying controversial public school reform bill because they were negotiated behind closed doors, Gov. Rick Scott emerged this week with House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron in Miami with an announcement. He would sign the budget, veto $409 million in local projects, and order lawmakers back June 7-9 to add $215 million to the public education budget.

The announcement caught most legislators off guard, even ranking Republicans who were left out of the deal-making.

“Other than a seeing a press release, I haven’t talked to anyone about any of it,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate budget panel on tourism and economic development.

“Is this how the process is supposed to work?” he asked. “There has to be a better way.” Story here. 

June 02, 2017

Yes to bigger budget but still no on HB 7069, public school advocates say

02BALLET BUS_CPJ (1)

@ByKristenMClark

Advocates of traditional public education welcomed Gov. Rick Scott’s demand on Friday that lawmakers redo the K-12 education budget for next year and boost it with $215 million in additional spending.

But school superintendents, teachers union leaders and others cautioned that those added dollars won’t be good enough if Scott intends to also sign House Republicans’ controversial education bill (HB 7069) — which could cost traditional schools money while making it easier for privately managed charter schools to expand in Florida through financial incentives and additional taxpayer funding.

“It may be a step forward, if we get the funding — but then a bigger step backward” if HB 7069 is signed into law, Hillsborough County schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins said.

More here.