May 03, 2016

'A fire burning' to keep expanding school choice in Florida, Hialeah lawmaker says

IMG_8111

@ByKristenMClark

The Legislature's approval of a massive education bill and other innovative policies this spring has reinvigorated the "school choice" movement in Florida, a key Miami-Dade lawmaker said Tuesday.

In the past few years, "there was a complacency," state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said. "What I heard from my colleagues was, 'so much has been done, we have to see what works.' I’m saying, 'we don't have time for that.' 

"I was pleasantly surprised this session," he added. "The stars aligned and we were able to push some things through... a lot of revolutionary things."

And Floridians can expect that wave of policies to continue in upcoming legislative sessions, said Diaz -- who's in line to be the next chairman of either the House Education Committee or the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee under incoming speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

"It's clearly awoken," Diaz said of the push for school choice. "There is a political will you see in the incoming leadership; there is a fire burning. We’re headed in that direction and they’ll be a charge led from the top."

Diaz's remarks came during a luncheon in downtown Miami on Tuesday about the benefits of school choice in Florida. The discussion was sponsored by the James Madison Institute -- a Tallahassee-based free market think tank, which supports school choice policies.

More here.

Photo credit: Republican State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., center, speaks during a panel discussion about educational choice, sponsored by the James Madison Institute, on Tuesday at the the InterContinental Miami Hotel. (Sabrina Paz Riesgo / Influence Communications)

April 29, 2016

U.S. Education Secretary John King, Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam to speak at FAMU graduation

@ByKristenMClark

U.S. Secretary of Education John King and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will deliver the commencement addresses at Florida A&M University on Saturday.

King will speak at the 9 a.m. ceremony, while Putnam is scheduled to speak at the 2 p.m. ceremony. More than 1,200 students are graduating from FAMU this spring.

The ceremonies will be held at the Al Lawson Jr. Multi-Purpose Center on FAMU's campus in Tallahassee and be broadcast live online.

King was appointed by President Barack Obama last year to be the nation's top education official.

Putnam, a Republican and former U.S. congressman, was first elected in 2010 as state agriculture commissioner. He is widely believed to be planning a run for governor in 2018.

Marco Rubio to speak at Hialeah business charter school's inaugural commencement

@ByKristenMClark

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is scheduled to give the commencement address next month at the inaugural graduation ceremony for a Hialeah charter school run by the Latin Builders Association.

The Latin Builders Association Construction and Business Management Academy Charter High School -- also known as LBA Academy -- touts itself as the first business charter high school in the U.S.

Rubio is a former director of the LBA. He previously praised the school during a national summit two years ago as an example of the opportunities charter schools and other "school choice" programs can provide. The school, which opened in 2012, educates its students in the construction trades and teaches them how to become future business leaders.

The former GOP presidential candidate will deliver his remarks at 9:30 a.m. May 23 at the academy's graduation ceremony, to be held on FIU's Modesto Maidique Campus in Miami.

Other elected officials and Miami-Dade County Public School officials also are expected in attendance.

April 26, 2016

Joe Negron: Rick Scott and I 'strongly aligned' on goals for Florida universities

@ByKristenMClark

After meeting for about a half hour with Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday, incoming Florida Senate president Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he and the governor seem to be in general agreement about their future goals for Florida's 12 public universities.

Enhancing the State University System -- and adding $1 billion in funding to it over two years -- is a priority for Negron as he's poised to take over the Senate in November. Last week, Negron and a handful of other senators toured all of the universities to learn about each institution's needs and goals.

"I updated the governor on some of the things that we learned during the university tour," Negron told reporters after the meeting at the Florida Capitol. "I think there’s a strong alignment of policy and budget goals, with my commitment to universities."

Scott's spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said Negron "requested a meeting to discuss his priorities." She had no comment on what they discussed, because the governor typically doesn't talk about private meetings.

But the universities have been on Scott's mind, also.

Negron said Scott has a summit planned next month in Orlando, "where he's bringing in large employers, boards of trustees and university and community college presidents."

Schutz confirmed the event will be called the "Degrees to Jobs" Education Summit. It will be held May 25-26, and a list of speakers should be announced later this week, she said.

Negron's policy goals for the university system include: Recruiting and retaining top faculty, improving graduate schools, and "making sure that every student can attend the university to which they've been accepted regardless of their financial background," he said.

"That may require them to work part-time and contribute themselves or their families, but we want to make sure that financial insecurity doesn’t keep students from going to a university or keep them from graduating on time," Negron said.

For example, he wants to improve funding for Bright Futures scholars to cover 100 percent of tuition and $300 a semester for books. He said he hopes lawmakers will approve that in the 2017 session, so next year's graduating high school seniors can start enjoying those benefits the following fall.

Tampa businessman cautions against dismantling school choice in Florida

John kirtley _ c-o save our scholarships

@ByKristenMClark

Speaking to the Economic Club of Florida today in Tallahassee, Tampa venture capitalist John Kirtley likened the push for "school choice" in Florida's public education system to the Cold War divisions the Berlin Wall illustrated.

East Berlin, he said, was like today's traditional public school system -- "where decisions were made at the top" and a uniform system applied to everyone -- whereas West Berlin offered freedom and economic opportunities.

"I think that it’s just too hard, even if you have the best people, to manage a huge system from the top down and allocate resources that way," Kirtley told a crowd of about 150 people at the Economic Club luncheon. "If parents were empowered to choose, it would be better for teachers, better for parents and better for students."

Kirtley has been an influential voice in education in the Sunshine State. He fought 15 years ago for lawmakers to create the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program and now serves as chairman of Step Up for Students, the main organization that doles out those voucher-like scholarships to help poor children attend private school.

He has numerous other roles on the boards of national and state pro-"school choice" organizations and, in recent years, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions to get "school choice" advocates elected to county school boards and the Florida Legislature.

Continue reading "Tampa businessman cautions against dismantling school choice in Florida" »

April 18, 2016

Joe Negron begins statewide university tour with contrasting visits at FSU, FAMU

Negrontouratfsu_041816

@ByKristenMClark

The disparities between Tallahassee's two public state universities were on sharp display on Monday, during the first day of Joe Negron's whirlwind four-day tour of the State University System.

Negron, the incoming Florida Senate president, wants to assess the needs of each of Florida's 12 public universities and look for ways to boost higher education funding, resources and facilities -- a top priority for the Stuart Republican who is due to take over the Legislature's upper chamber in November.

As history has shown and as Negron's tour highlighted, the needs of both Florida State University and Florida A&M University are vastly different.

At FSU, Negron and the four other senators who joined him in Tallahassee heard from several star students: Dual majors, Bright Futures scholars, doctoral standouts. None of whom said they or their classmates worried about paying for college or feared having to drop out because they couldn't afford it.

FSU President John Thrasher and university administrators ended the visit, set in a polished, modern-style conference room, by laying out a request for $113 million in capital aid that they want from the state to finish off three signature projects.

Barely a mile away at FAMU -- one of the state's historically black colleges and universities -- senators were taken on a 45-minute walking tour that included an example of a decades-old classroom they want to upgrade that sits just down the hall from a new computer lab, of which administrators say they are in dire need of more.

President Elmira Magnum emphasized that many of her university's students come from households that earn $40,000 or less. Her request for lawmakers: Expand need-based funding and open grant and scholarship programs to include summer enrollment, which can help students graduate faster while saving money. She also asked for more funding for faculty salaries and to modernize dorms and other aging facilities.

The FAMU students who spoke to the senators -- a mix of both scholars and more average students -- were in full agreement: The main reason their peers don't finish at FAMU is because they can't afford it. Several said they have to work, sometimes full-time, in order to pay for school or to help their families at home.

Environmental services sophomore Demarcus Robinson said he might have to go back his home in Atlanta to complete school, because he has an outstanding balance for this semester and doesn't know how he'd pay for next year.

The contrast between the two universities resonated with the senators.

Continue reading "Joe Negron begins statewide university tour with contrasting visits at FSU, FAMU" »

National, state teachers unions endorse Patrick Murphy for U.S. Senate

@ByKristenMClark

The state's largest teachers union and its two national affiliates are endorsing Democrat Patrick Murphy in Florida's U.S. Senate race.

The Florida Education Association threw its support behind the Jupiter congressman with an announcement Monday morning in Palm Beach County. The FEA represents over 140,000 teachers and school support professionals in the state.

President Joanne McCall said, at the FEA's recommendation, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers back Murphy's U.S. Senate bid, too.

"We support Patrick Murphy for U.S. Senate because he has proven time and time again wholehearted commitment to education and Florida’s teachers and education staff professionals," McCall said. "Patrick has stood with our teachers, education staff professionals, parents and students when it mattered the most. He knows that there is nothing more important to Florida's children's futures than a high-quality education."

Murphy said he'd continue to support fully funding education including Title I and Head Start programs, better teacher pay and universal access to pre-K education, as well as backing away from high-stakes standardized testing.

"We’re setting back an entire generation. We’ve got to make sure we’re moving toward debt-free education," Murphy said during his remarks.

Murphy has racked up establishment endorsements during the course of his bid for Marco Rubio's open U.S. Senate seat. Other union support includes the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Florida Teamsters, among others.

His primary opponent -- fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando -- has also gotten support from some unions, including the Communications Workers of America.

April 16, 2016

For South Florida, statewide open enrollment likely to expand on existing district policies

@ByKristenMClark

Thanks to flexible transfer policies that already exist within Miami-Dade and Broward counties, superintendents in South Florida say they don’t anticipate drastic shifts in enrollment under a new law Gov. Rick Scott approved Thursday.

As part of a wide-ranging “school choice” measure, any child in Florida — starting in 2017-18 — will be able to attend any public school in the state that has space available.

The new policy breaks down barriers that previously prohibited students from crossing county lines to attend school, except where local agreements existed.

Superintendents in Miami-Dade and Broward counties said they expect the new freedom will most likely be taken advantage of by high school athletes or by parents who commute in South Florida and would find it easier to enroll their students in schools closer to work.

“I don’t foresee this being a very problematic experience because of the choice programs we have and the transfer policies we already have,” Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.

April 15, 2016

Scott signs bill ending Dade Medical College loophole

@MrMikeVasquez

Gov. Rick Scott has signed a law ending a legal loophole that benefited Dade Medical College. The now-shuttered for-profit college used the loophole to offer expensive degrees with few job prospects.

The degrees were in the field of physical therapy assistant, and Dade Medical’s $40,050 PTA associate’s degree program was unaccredited. That meant that graduates of the school, under federal regulations, couldn’t work with Medicare patients. Several large hospitals made it clear they would never hire these students.

Tad Fisher, CEO of the Florida Physical Therapy Association, said students were “taken advantage of” by the unaccredited PTA programs, and he credited the Miami Herald with exposing the damage caused by the loophole. Fisher’s association had repeatedly asked lawmakers to close the loophole, and this year the Legislature finally did so, adding the provision to a wide-ranging Department of Health bill that passed the House and Senate easily.

It was a lawmaker with close ties to Dade Medical — Miami state Rep. Carlos Trujillo — who engineered the loophole in 2013.

Read more here

April 14, 2016

Gov. Scott signs 'school choice' education bill, 19 others into law; vetoes dental incentive

0304_senatefloor

@ByKristenMClark

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed into law on Thursday a massive education bill that will let public school students, starting in 2017-18, attend any school in the state that has space available.

Starting next school year, the measure also will let high school athletes have immediate eligibility when transferring schools, and it will subject charter schools to more accountability and a new formula for receiving capital dollars.

Scott also signed 19 other bills, including the session's main transportation package and new laws affecting health care policy and Citizens Property Insurance Committee.

He also issued his second veto of the session, disapproving of HB 139 -- which would have provided incentives for dentists who practice in underserved areas or who treated underserved people. Scott said it did not place "appropriate safeguards on taxpayer investments" and it "is duplicative of existing programs."

Scott has just three bills remaining to act on of the 272 that lawmakers passed during the 2016 session. Two require his action by Saturday and the final one -- a controversial bill reforming alimony and child custody arrangements -- is due for action by Tuesday.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott signs 'school choice' education bill, 19 others into law; vetoes dental incentive" »