June 02, 2017

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

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@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.

Gov. Scott kills $100K study to help teachers afford Florida's cost of living

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@ByKristenMClark

Miami-Dade's cost of living is so high that public school teachers struggle to afford to live here.

That’s why the county school district — with help from the Miami-Dade legislative delegation — fought hard this spring to secure in the annual budget a $100,000 study by the Florida Department of Education that would have explored cost-of-living disparities across the state’s 67 counties. The plan was for those differences to then be more fairly factored in to a funding formula that determines how much districts get from the state to pay for teachers’ salaries and school operations.

Although lawmakers approved the cost-of-living study as part of the 2017-18 budget, it’s not going to happen. That line-item was among a plethora of vetoes Gov. Rick Scott handed down Friday evening.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Herald file photo

Budget deal includes $200M more for schools, $165M for economic development

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@stevebousquet @maryellenklas @michaelauslen @ByKristenMClark

Gov. Rick Scott has agreed to sign the budget and a controversial House public education plan and come back in special session next week to inject more than $165 million into the governor’s top economic development priorities, as well as put about $200 million in additional funding for public schools.

The agreement, which will be announced at a 10 a.m. news conference at Miami International Airport, was finalized late Thursday night after several days of backstage negotiations mostly involving House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Scott and their top staff members.

Lawmakers have agreed to boost public school spending by $210 million, bringing the total increase in this year’s state budget to $100 per student, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, told the Herald/Times. That’s still less than half as much as Scott and the Senate originally sought earlier this year to boost school funding but it’s a significant increase from the extra $24.49 per student that the Legislature had in its approved budget — which critics had described as “starvation-level.”

They also will fund Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing program that was gutted in the Legislature’s original budget, at its current level of $76 million. And they will put $85 million into a new job-creation fund at the Department of Economic Opportunity, which would be used for infrastructure and other economic development costs, rather than to pay companies for bringing workers to Florida, which Corcoran has decried as “corporate welfare.”

All of that would be funded by more than $300 million in vetoes of member projects tucked into the state budget passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate in early May.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

May 30, 2017

First Amendment Foundation seeks veto of education bill 'decided in secret'

IMG_barbara_petersen_2_1_MVAT1IS1_L300902424@ByKristenMClark

Not only is the First Amendment Foundation asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto next year's $82.4 billion budget -- the group is also now requesting a veto specifically for House Bill 7069, the controversial $419 million education bill that's tied to overall spending approved for 2017-18.

As with the main budget act, the foundation says its concern with HB 7069 lies with how the legislation was crafted, not with the policies or appropriations within it.

"According to all reports, major education policy decisions included in HB 7069 were largely decided in secret by a small number of legislators," wrote Barbara Petersen, president of the foundation -- which counts the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times among its members.

RELATED: "Potential new laws further curb Floridians’ right to government in the Sunshine"

"The secretive process precluded any opportunity for public oversight or input on major changes to Florida’s education policy," Petersen wrote. "Alarmingly, local school officials were also shut out of the process, as were many legislators who were ultimately asked to approve this voluminous and complicated legislation decided in a manner closed even to them."

Read the foundation's full letter here. (And in case you missed it, here's the foundation's veto request for the main budget act, SB 2500.)

Numerous advocates of traditional public education are calling for Scott to veto HB 7069, both because of its contents and because of lawmakers' secrecy in crafting it during the final days of session. Those critics include school superintendents statewide, almost all elected school boards, and parent groups and teachers unions.

Those supporting the bill are predominantly interest groups that would stand to personally benefit from it becoming law, such as charter school operators and school choice organizations.

Both sides are inundating Scott's office with feedback on whether he should sign HB 7069 into law.

Photo credit: Barbara Petersen is president of the First Amendment Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for open government and access to public records. Miami Herald file photo

May 26, 2017

Parents rally for HB 7069 in front of Miami-Dade School Board building

HB7069 rally

@KyraGurney

Parents rallied outside the Miami-Dade School Board building in downtown Miami on Friday afternoon in support of the controversial education bill HB 7069. Inside, the school district hosted a town hall meeting urging parents and teachers to oppose the bill.

Many of the roughly 20 parents and children holding signs and chanting outside the town hall meeting said they were most concerned about preserving the provision in HB 7069 that would expand a scholarship program for children with disabilities. If Gov. Rick Scott signs HB 7069 into law, the bill will allocate $30 million to expand the Gardiner Scholarship, a voucher program that helps students with disabilities pay for alternative education options. 

"It's going to help my daughter do well in society," said Hans Haffner, whose 17-year-old daughter is autistic. Haffner relies on funding from Step Up for Students, the main organization that distributes the scholarships, to pay for his daughter's tuition at a private school that serves autistic children. "Step Up has really worked for her. We don't want that to go away," he said. 

Eneidi Flores was also rallying in support of increased funding for the program. She uses the scholarship funds to pay for speech and behavior therapy for her three-year-old son, who is autistic. "If I take my child to a public school, they aren't going to be able to do all of that work," she said in Spanish. "A lot of mothers don't have a way to pay for therapies."

Meanwhile, the Miami-Dade school district was hosting the last of six meetings held this week to urge parents and teachers to contact Gov. Scott and ask him to veto HB 7069. The school district is concerned about several provisions in the bill, including one that would compel districts to share millions of dollars in local tax revenue earmarked for capital projects with charter schools. 

May 25, 2017

What is Gov. Scott hearing now on #HB7069? It's a toss-up.

Florida Budget (3)@ByKristenMClark

Floridians continue to inundate Republican Gov. Rick Scott with input on whether he should sign or veto a controversial K-12 schools bill known as House Bill 7069.

And the overall message is no longer decisive as it was less than a week ago — now that school choice groups have stepped up to more aggressively defend and lobby for the legislation, which heavily benefits charter schools through additional funding and less regulation.

As of Wednesday evening, the amount of emails, letters, phone calls and petition signatures Scott’s office had received were roughly even, currently skewing slightly in favor of him signing the bill into law.

Altogether, Scott has gotten 11,800 messages in support, compared to 10,900 messages against — barely a 1.1-to-1 margin at this point, according to the information requested by the Herald/Times from the governor’s office.

Full details here on those numbers and how — and why — they've changed significantly since last week.

Photo credit: AP

May 24, 2017

At town hall meeting, Miami-Dade Schools urge parents to oppose HB 7069

Town hall photo web

@KyraGurney

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho had a dire message for parents and teachers at a town hall meeting Tuesday night: If Gov. Rick Scott approves the state budget and a controversial education bill, the school district faces serious financial trouble.

"This is a man-made crisis," Carvalho said, speaking to a packed auditorium at John A. Ferguson Senior High in West Kendall. "If something doesn't change, a crisis it will be."

The town hall at Ferguson High was the third of six meetings organized by the school district this week to urge teachers and parents to contact the governor and ask him to veto a mammoth education bill (HB 7069) and the line-item in the budget for per-pupil education spending.

The $82.4 billion budget passed by the Florida Legislature earlier this month increases school funding by 0.34 percent or $24.49 per student, which Carvalho and other Florida superintendents say is not enough to meet public education needs. At the town hall meeting, Carvalho told residents that after the district's mandatory contribution to the Florida retirement system, the increase amounts to just 50 cents for each of the district's nearly 350,000 students. 

"What can you get for 50 cents these days? Can anybody tell me, please?" Carvalho asked the audience at Ferguson High.

The Miami-Dade school district is also concerned that a provision in HB 7069 — which would compel districts to share millions of dollars in local tax revenue earmarked for capital projects with charter schools — would force Miami-Dade to put maintenance projects on hold and impact the district's credit rating, Carvalho said.

Many in the audience said they shared the school district's concerns and planned to contact the governor. Maria Prospero, the mother of a student at Olympia Heights Elementary School, said she had decided to attend the town hall meeting "for my daughter's rights." Prospero said she was concerned that her daughter's school could lose after-school activities and language programs if the district doesn't get enough state funding. She said she planned to share information about the budget with her friends on Facebook and send an e-mail to Scott. 

Meanwhile, supporters of the education bill are organizing their own events to urge the governor to sign HB 7069 into law. They have planned three rallies this week at the same locations as the school district's town hall meetings. A pro-HB 7069 rally will be held at Miami Senior High School on Thursday at 5 p.m. before the school district's 6 p.m. town hall meeting. Supporters of the bill are also holding a rally on Friday at 3 p.m. outside the School Board Administration Building downtown. A school district sponsored town hall will be held at that location at 4 p.m.  

Union-backed coalition launches ad urging veto of HB 7069, taking Republicans out of context

 Anti7069 ad

@ByKristenMClark

The fight over whether Republican Gov. Rick Scott should sign or veto a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill is escalating to new levels: Ad wars.

A labor union-backed political advocacy group debuted an online video ad Tuesday (below), asking Scott to veto HB 7069 because it heavily favors privately managed charter schools over traditional public education.

But the liberal-leaning Fight for Florida Inc. takes quotes from Scott and a Republican senator out of context in trying to make its case that the legislation is bad policy.

Full details here.

Image credit: Fight for Florida, Florida Education Association / YouTube

May 22, 2017

Report: Charter school offered students 'extra credit' to voice support for bill

Wsvn

While some Miami-Dade charter schools were offering incentives to parents last week if they declared support for a controversial education bill, one charter school in Hialeah Gardens reportedly directed its teachers to offer students "extra credit" if they signed online petitions in favor of HB 7069.

Reporters Brian Entin and Daniel Cohen of WSVN Channel 7 obtained a copy of a directive the station says was given to teachers at Mater Academy. The school's principal, Judith Marty, denied that she sent the directive that said "teachers will guide the student" to write emails to Gov. Rick Scott's office -- and "ensure that students include in their emails ... support for HB 7069."

Marty told WSVN that she had been out of town and was surprised to see the written directive, which she told the station "went a little too far."

Read (and watch) WSVN's full report here.

The news, reported Friday, came as the Herald/Times reported earlier that day that at least two other charter schools in the Hialeah area -- including a sister Mater Academy school -- had offered to give parents five hours' credit toward their volunteer hours if they wrote letters or otherwise lobbied Scott to sign the bill.

Conservative group thanks senators, urges Scott approval of schools bill

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@ByKristenMClark

A national Hispanic conservative group is showing its gratitude to 18 Republican state lawmakers who were crucial to passing a controversial and charter-friendly K-12 public schools bill, in the hopes of building more support for Gov. Rick Scott to sign the legislation into law.

The LIBRE Initiative -- which is supported by the Koch Brothers -- is mailing out bilingual fliers this week to voters represented by the three House members and 15 senators. The group is letting residents know their senator supported HB 7069 and is urging the resident to ask Scott to approve it.

The Initiative and another Koch-affiliated group, Americans for Prosperity, are among the school choice proponents of HB 7069 that want to see it enacted -- in contrast to county school superintendents, almost all elected school boards, and parent groups and teachers unions that want the legislation vetoed.

"Right now, too many Florida students are trapped in failing schools that are not meeting their educational needs. This is why it is essential for Governor Scott to sign H.B. 7069 into law and empower students and parents with more options to choose schools that better serve their educational needs," Cesar Grajales, the LIBRE Initiative’s coalitions director, said in a statement. "We urge Gov. Scott to quickly sign this bill and remove unnecessary barriers so our students don’t have to remain stuck in schools that are failing to provide a quality education."

Those targeted by the mailers are: House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, and Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah and Michael Bileca of Miami; and Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart and Sens. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, Rob Bradley of Fleming Island, Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Anitere Flores of Miami (shown above), Bill Galvano of Bradenton, Tom Lee of Thonotosassa, Debbie Mayfield of Vero Beach, Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, Keith Perry of Gainesville, Wilton Simpson of Trilby, Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, Greg Steube of Sarasota and Dana Young of Tampa.

Corcoran, Diaz and Bileca shepherded HB 7069 through the House, one of the chamber's top priorities of session. The 15 senators listed represent most of the 20 Republican senators whose votes were vital in ensuring HB 7069 passed.

It was approved on a 20-18 vote in the Senate, so one more opposing vote would have killed it. (Flores was the only Miami-Dade County senator to support it.)

The LIBRE Initiative's latest direct-mail campaign comes two weeks ago after the group sent out mailers hailing five select Republicans -- Negron, Corcoran, Diaz, Bileca and Clearwater Rep. Chris Latvala -- who were key to pushing through the school choice measure in the final days of session.