February 17, 2017

Lawmaker wants mental health screenings for conceal-carry applicants


Individuals who want a state-issued permit to carry a concealed gun in Florida would first have to pass a mental health evaluation under a new proposal from a Miami-Dade County senator.

The measure (SB 956) comes six weeks after a gunman who had shown signs of mental illness shot and killed five people and injured six others in a baggage claim area of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

State Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami Shores, said the impetus for her proposal came not only from the airport shooting but the ongoing gun violence in Miami-Dade — such as in her district, which includes Liberty City.

“Everybody’s talking about gun violence, but what do we do about it?” Campbell said. “We have to do something. ... It’s crucial. People’s lives are in jeopardy. How are we going to protect our people? That’s why I add this piece to make it harder and stricter on people who want to get a gun permit.”

About 20 gun-related proposals have been filed for the upcoming 2017 legislative session, but Campbell’s is the first related to mental health — particularly in the wake of the Fort Lauderdale shooting.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Miami Shores Democratic state Sen. Daphne Campbell, shown here in the Florida House in 2015, has proposed a bill that would require people applying for a concealed weapons permit in Florida to undergo and clear a mental health evaluation. Florida House.

Florida teachers union leaders: We want better pay for all, not a new legislative 'gimmick'

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Leaders of local and state teachers unions tell the Herald/Times that they are eager for more details on the Florida Legislature's planned expansion of teacher incentives. But -- with lingering criticism of the two-year-old "Best & Brightest" bonuses -- they aren't very optimistic that lawmakers will come up with a true solution to poor teacher compensation.

"These guys don’t get it. Hiring teachers is not the problem. Retaining them is," Mike Gandolfo, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said in a text message.

Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade, called the proposed expanded incentives "a gimmick" by lawmakers "to avoid paying our teachers adequately."

MORE: "$200 million for teacher incentives? Florida lawmakers crafting plan to do it"

"Teachers don’t want bonus pay; they want real pay," she said, adding that permanent increases to the base student allocation — which could help districts afford to pay teachers more — "is really the only thing that’s going to help with our teacher shortage."

Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said in a statement: "The devil is in the details. We can’t give any indication of what we think of this proposal until we know about who qualifies and how teachers could access this money."

McCall said Florida’s teachers salaries are $10,000 below the national average and need to be made more competitive with other states.

"If this proposal works to alleviate this discrepancy, we could support it," McCall said.

"If it's another scheme like 'Best & Brightest' that doesn’t address the core problems of paying teachers and education staff professionals adequate and competitive salaries, we’d have problems with it," McCall said. "We didn’t create the system but we do what is asked, and if a teacher meets the requirements of the complicated evaluation system they should be paid for it — not some — all."

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Colleen Wright contributed to this report.

Photo credit: EL NUEVO HERALD

February 16, 2017

Senate will seek to 'take some of the edges off' controversial teacher bonuses


David Simmons, the Senate's pre-K-12 education budget chairman, elaborated slightly on Thursday about the Legislature's intent to expand the controversial "Best & Brightest" teachers bonuses into a potentially quarter-of-a-billion-dollar program next year aimed at incentivizing more teachers to join and stay in the profession.

MORE: "$200 million for teacher incentives? Florida lawmakers crafting plan to do it"

During another meeting of his committee, Simmons indicated that the crux of "Best & Brightest" might still remain but that the Senate will seek to "take some of the sharp edges off."

He said qualifying criteria for the expanded teachers incentives could perhaps include "other avenues, such as a grade point average" and "something that would deal with the principal's own assessment, as to those who deserve to be rewarded for hard work and improvement of their students."

Members of the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee will get a draft plan of the proposal in "the next several days," Simmons said.

Asked by the Herald/Times, Simmons wouldn't say where the money might come from to pay for the expansion or if another education program might have to sacrifice in the process.

"I think we pay for it because we need to pay for it," Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said, referencing a looming nationwide teachers shortage. "I think there’s $250 million in the budget to pay for this."

"I’m not concerned that we’re talking about $200-250 million," he added. "It’s an investment, it’s not an expenditure, and I think we can find it in an $83 billion budget."

A quarter of a billion dollars is about three-tenths of 1 percent of the total state budget and, more specifically, about 1 percent of the state’s $23.4 billion pre-K-12 budget.

In case you missed it, more details here.

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

*This post has been updated.

Senator says Florida Legislature crafting plan for $200M+ in teacher incentives

Simmons david 021517@ByKristenMClark

The amount of money Florida spends to recruit and keep good teachers for its K-12 public schools could potentially quadruple next year, under tentative plans being crafted in private by Republican House and Senate leaders ahead of the 2017 session.

Gov. Rick Scott last month recommended $58 million be spent in 2017-18 to fund a variety of teacher incentives, which would replace the controversial “Best & Brightest” teacher bonuses that reward top teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores in high school.

But one key senator revealed Wednesday that lawmakers are exploring a vastly larger amount than Scott proposes — in order to keep the best of “Best & Brightest” and expand the incentives to benefit more teachers.

Their ballpark amount? More like $200 million or more in potential funding, said Sen. David Simmons, the Senate’s pre-K-12 education budget chairman.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Florida Channel

February 15, 2017

VIDEO: 'We have heard loud & clear,' say lawmakers who want to reform testing schedule


Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores says lawmakers "have heard loud and clear from parents, from teachers, from students” about Florida schools' "over-testing and the over-emphasis of testing" -- which is why she and Republican Reps. Manny Diaz Jr., of Hialeah, and Chris Sprowls, of Palm Harbor, want to shift all student assessment tests to the final three weeks of the school year, starting in 2017-18.

They unveiled their proposal this morning at the Capitol. Full details here.

Gov. Scott's teacher incentive proposal gets pushback in Florida Senate

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Florida senators in charge of crafting the K-12 education budget for next year aren’t sold on Gov. Rick Scott’s ideas to incentivize future teachers so they enter and stay in the profession.

Scott proposes the state spend $58 million on a variety of new initiatives — including $10 million for a “one-time hiring bonus” for new teachers who score in the top 10 percent in their subject-area exam for the subject they’ll teach.

MORE: "Teachers get a top focus in Florida governor’s budget"

That idea, in particular, drew some resistance Wednesday from some senators on the pre-K-12 education budget committee, mainly due to its similarity to the current “Best & Brightest” teacher bonus program, which controversially rewards top teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores in high school.

“Best & Brightest” has been a House priority the past couple years, driven by now-Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes. Senators were reluctant to renew it last year through the annual budget but ultimately agreed to do so as a compromise with the House.

This year — even with half of the senators new — the reservations about the program’s rationale remain. And they’re seeping into discussions about Scott’s proposal (which notably does not include renewing “Best & Brightest”).

“It concerns me that we continue to look for the best performers in college — and not the best teachers,” Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said.

Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, agreed.

“It seems to me that rather than just giving a check to a teacher upon graduation from college with no strings attached, we could perhaps offer some financial assistance with a contractual commitment while they’re in schools of education,” Young said. “If we’re looking at recruiting and retaining, that seems a more targeted and efficient use of our taxpayer dollars.”

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart defended Scott’s proposal, saying research shows “when an individual has strong content knowledge, that does translate into better [student] performance in the classroom.”

Photo credit: Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart answers questions from the Senate pre-K-12 education budget committee on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Florida Channel

Florida lawmakers to unveil school testing reforms

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Instead of scattering K-12 assessment tests throughout the spring months and disrupting teaching time, a reform proposal being unveiled Wednesday morning in the Florida Legislature would require all such exams to take place only in the final three weeks of the school year, starting next year.

Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., and Palm Harbor Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls call their plan the “Fewer, Better Tests” bill — with the goal of reducing the stress and anxiety that teachers, parents and students grapple with during testing time.

The lawmakers are formally announcing their proposal at an 11 a.m. press conference at the Capitol. Their legislation (SB 926/HB 773) was filed within the past week.

“Seeing firsthand the angst and all the scrambling, the biggest impact that can be had is pushing back the calendar,” Diaz told the Herald/Times.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, addresses a luncheon audience at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2017 with Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, left. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

Should teachers punish students with no recess? Lawmakers aren't weighing in this year.

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An elementary student acts up in class. No recess for him.

Another student didn’t turn in her homework. Five fewer minutes of recess for her.

While some school districts, like Miami-Dade, Hillsborough or Pinellas, ban such practices, no state law prohibits public school teachers from dangling recess time before their students — a carrot to keep them in check and, if necessary, revoke as a tool to discipline them.

Florida lawmakers in 2016 considered prohibiting teachers from using the threat of limited or no recess as a punishment, but that detail isn’t in the conversation at all this year as the Legislature again contemplates making daily recess mandatory in public elementary schools.

The provision was stripped from this year’s legislation (SB 78/HB 67) — at the request of two, now powerful Republican House members who were the only ones who voted to oppose the recess bill last year.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Kindergarteners Trenevia Desiree and Jenny Farias, right, get some push-ups in during the 20-minute daily recess at Miami Gardens Elementary School on Feb. 3. The school is part of a pilot program in Miami-Dade County that allows students recess time five days a week. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools. Emily Michot / Miami Herald

February 12, 2017

'We started this because of our kids,' Florida 'recess moms' say

Recess moms1 0207@ByKristenMClark

Last Tuesday, five mothers from Pinellas, Orange and Polk counties were on the road before dawn for their second, round-trip trek to Tallahassee this year, so they could persuade Florida lawmakers to support 20 minutes of recess a day in Florida's public elementary schools.

They're a passionate and dedicated group of "recess moms" -- a few of just many in Florida -- who have been fighting for several years to get mandatory daily recess, not only for their own young children but for all Florida elementary students.

IN-DEPTH: "Quest for daily recess: Moms renew fight for more free play in Florida Legislature"

Two of the moms -- Angela Browning and Amy Narvaez, both of Orlando -- have already seen victory in their local school district. Orange County adopted a 20-minutes-a-day policy in December with language that mirrors what lawmakers in Tallahassee are considering again in the upcoming 2017 session (SB 78/HB 67).

And while some school districts, like Miami-Dade, have made strides toward daily recess, there's still great disparities in Florida schools in which schoolchildren actually get traditional recess and how often. District administrators say there are logistical obstacles -- such as time in the day or space at the school -- that might make it difficult to implement recess in the daily routine.

Many moms -- like Christie Bruner and Stephanie Cox of St. Petersburg, and Mandy Lipham, of Lakeland -- are still fighting to get guaranteed daily recess for their children. And Browning and Narvaez continue to fight with them.

"Of course, we started this because of our kids, but is it fair for those moms who have worked alongside us all these years, and their kids still don’t have recess?" said Browning, a founder of the group Recess for All Florida Students.

Here's what Bruner had to say about why recess is so important for her three daughters, and click here to read our in-depth report on the political complexities of passing a statewide mandate for daily recess.

Herald writer Kyra Gurney contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, right, meets with a group of “recess moms” on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 in the Florida Capitol. The mothers -- from left: Amy Narvaez of Orlando, Stephanie Cox of St. Petersburg (not pictured), Angela Browning of Orlando, Christie Bruner of St. Petersburg, and Mandy Lipham of Lakeland -- were joined by Florida PTA legislation chair Angie Gallo (not pictured) in petitioning lawmakers to pass a state law for mandatory, daily recess in public elementary schools. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau.

February 10, 2017

VIDEO: Miami Gardens kindergarteners explain why they love recess

@ByKristenMClark @KyraGurney

As Florida parents and school administrators debate over whether lawmakers should require daily recess in public schools, here's what some kindergartners at Miami Gardens Elementary have to say about why they love recess.

The school is one of 11 in Miami-Dade County that are testing out daily recess. The rest of the district's elementary schools have recess at least two or three days a week, with the option of having it four days.

Speaking with Miami Herald photographer Emily Michot, the children offered a variety of explanations on why they enjoy the daily playtime outdoors -- because they "like to run" or play hide-and-seek or tag, and because they "all have fun together and play together as friends."

Kindergartner Mariam Mompremier even offered this adorably emphatic explanation: "We would not have air... We're gonna die!"

"And if you don't breathe, you die!" chimed in her classmate, Jenny Farias.

Watch the cuteness overload below, and read our full in-depth report here on the politics of playtime.

Video credit: Emily Michot / Miami Herald