April 13, 2017

Senate has different ideas for $200M 'schools of hope' funding

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@ByKristenMClark

The senator in charge of negotiating education spending for next year's budget said late Wednesday the Senate is willing to consider the House's $200 million plan to help students in perpetually failing public schools -- but not necessarily in the manner the House proposes.

A session priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, and education policy chairman Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, the House's "schools of hope" plan (HB 5105) was fast-tracked through two committees since it was unveiled late last month, and it's poised to pass the Republican-led House on Thursday afternoon -- likely with unanimous Democratic opposition.

MORE: “Are ‘schools of hope’ the solution to perpetually failing public schools?”

But Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, told the Herald/Times that rather than adopting the explicit plan for what the House calls "schools of hope," he's more interested in focusing on the general premise of helping students in struggling schools break the cycle of generational poverty.

And he said that doesn't necessarily have to come through incentivizing high-performing, specialized charter schools to set up shop in Florida in neighborhoods with failing schools, as HB 5105 calls for.

"They're looking at this from a view of what we call 'wraparound services' or 'communities in schools,' " Simmons said of the House plan. "I know traditional public schools provide a lot of these services, and we're doing that already; we're finding that it works."

"If we can meld the concept of doing 'communities in schools' with charter schools, with traditional public schools with mentoring programs, then we'll not be very far apart at all," said Simmons, the Senate's Pre-K-12 education budget chairman.

He called the $200 million allocation the House wants a "great idea," but he said the funding doesn't have to explicitly go to establishing new "schools of hope" that could supplant traditional neighborhood schools.

Continue reading "Senate has different ideas for $200M 'schools of hope' funding" »

April 12, 2017

Andrew Gillum: House Republicans 'have a credibility problem'

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@ByKristenMClark

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — a Democrat running for governor next year — is accusing Republicans in the state House of having “a credibility problem.”

Speaking at a press conference today at the Florida Capitol about House Republicans' "schools of hope" legislation, Gillum said Republicans contradict themselves with their legislative priorities.

RELATED: " 'Schools of hope' are not the answer, Democrats say" (w/ video) 

Gillum said that, for instance, while Republicans say they want to help students in failing schools by bringing in charter-operated "schools of hope," they’ve also proposed this session little to help those same communities, which are often neighborhoods with low-income families who are predominantly black or Hispanic.

Gillum noted that Republicans have proposed limitations on government welfare programs, such as food stamps, and they also have not prioritized early childhood education spending or investing in health care programs that help low-income families afford medical services.

"The Republican House, right now, is trying to take $200 million and put into the hands of their friends who are well-healed and well-connected," Gillum said referencing the "schools of hope" plan. "They want us to trust them on this issue — when by and by, and time and time again, they have turned the other direction when it comes to meeting the needs of the most indigent in this state."

Photo credit: Courtesy of CateComm

Broward Democrat: 'We’re creating a segregated system' with 'schools of hope' (VIDEO)

@ByKristenMClark

Florida Democrats aren’t easing up on their criticism of House Republicans’ “schools of hope” plan to spend $200 million on attracting new charter schools to Florida that would serve students who currently attend perpetually failing traditional schools.

Democrats say the Republican proposal short-changes struggling neighborhood schools, which have tried to improve but are hamstrung by limitations — imposed by the Legislature — that charter schools don’t face.

“We’re creating a segregated system that will not fix the issue but will create deeper issues — pitting charter schools against our traditional public school system,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, the top Democrat on the House Education Committee.

MORE: “Are ‘schools of hope’ the solution to perpetually failing public schools?”

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed public schools.

A few hours before the “schools of hope” legislation would be taken up on the House floor later Wednesday, Jones — joined by Democratic gubernatorial candidate and current Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — convened a press conference to reiterate Democrats’ concerns with HB 5105.

Full story here.

April 11, 2017

Nelson calls for end on attacks to climate science

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via @jenstaletovich

Three years after he held a field hearing in Miami Beach to draw attention to a region at ground zero for climate change, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson convened a second hearing in West Palm Beach on Monday with a new target: the Trump administration’s attack on climate science.

Held just across the Intracoastal Waterway from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s vulnerable island retreat, the hearing highlighted worsening conditions — and the need to free science from politics.

“There are people trying to muzzle scientists. I’ve seen it in Washington. I’ve seen it here in the state of Florida,” said Nelson, a Democrat and the state’s former insurance commissioner.

Southeast Florida is often considered a model for planning for climate change as it grapples with sea rise that has increased five to eight inches over the last 40 years. Four counties, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach, formed a compact eight years ago, vowing to work together to make the region more resilient for what could be a nearly three-foot rise by 2060.

But progress has been slow, in part because South Florida has often been at odds with a Republican-led state and the administration of Gov. Rick Scott, who reportedly banned the term climate change.

Now comes the Trump administration. In recent weeks, Nelson said he has met with supervisors in federal agencies who say the administration has issued the same ban. Worse, he said, the administration has proposed scaling back agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Protection Agency, that provide critical research and enforce regulations that deal with climate-related problems.

More here.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle, Getty Images

April 10, 2017

Parents ask Supreme Court to review 'opt-out' testing case

From the News Service of Florida:

Several parents who oppose standardized-testing requirements in public schools are taking their battle to the Florida Supreme Court.

The parents last week filed a notice that is a first step in asking the Supreme Court to overturn a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal in a case related to what is known as the "opt out" movement.

Parents who brought the case against the Department of Education and several school boards told their third-grade students to put their names on a standardized test, then refuse to answer questions. When the students were barred from moving to fourth grade under state law, the parents sued, saying they wanted their children to be evaluated using a portfolio allowed in the case of "good cause exemptions."

A three-judge panel of the appeals court on March 7 ruled that Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers erred on procedural grounds in allowing the case to go forward and also disagreed with portions of her opinion that could have allowed some students to avoid answering questions on state exams. The appeals court ruled, in part, that the state has an interest in preventing social promotion, the reason given for the testing requirement.

The parents' notice of appeal to the Supreme Court, as is common, did not provide detailed arguments.

April 07, 2017

DeVos: I've touched base with Jeb Bush 'only very casually'

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via @KyraGurney

President Donald Trump’s education secretary spent two days in Miami this week, her first full trip with stops at a variety of schools and colleges since taking office.

Betsy DeVos was a controversial pick because of her advocacy for charter schools and lack of public education experience (she famously raised eyebrows during her Senate confirmation hearing for suggesting guns might be appropriate in remote schools to defend against grizzly bears). But her Friday morning visit to Royal Palm Elementary, a traditional public school in Westwood Lakes, went off without a hitch.

Accompanied by Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who had invited the secretary to Miami, DeVos visited classrooms and read a Dr. Seuss book to a group of kindergarteners. Then she stopped by Miami Dade College and dropped in on a class for small business owners. She also sat for a brief Q & A with the Miami Herald to talk about hot topics like school choice and immigration. The secretary was cautious in her responses but shared thoughts on bilingual education and protections for undocumented immigrant students. Here are highlights from the interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What do you think about the different education options in Miami?

A: Well, as you know, I was able to visit a wide array of schools and have a variety of experiences in doing so and I think the bottom-line takeaway is what a rich offering of educational options there are in Miami-Dade. I also felt very keenly the intentional collaborative nature of these efforts and that’s very encouraging.

Q: Jeb Bush is seen as a trailblazer in Florida when it comes to school choice options and is also a friend of yours. Do you share ideas?

A: We have shared many ideas in the past years. I served on the board of the organization he started and our paths have crossed many, many times over the years as we have done work in a variety of states. Our views and our heart for every child is very similar.

Q: Have you been in communication with him since you took on the new role as secretary?

A: He has congratulated me and has reached out on a couple of occasions, too. We’ve touched based only very casually... Because I’m no longer on the Excel in Ed board [an organization launched by Jeb Bush], I don’t have regular interaction.

More here.

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

April 06, 2017

Diverging from Senate, House passes narrower plan for religious expression in school

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@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers on either side of the Florida Capitol have different ideas on to what extent they should secure students’ and teachers’ rights to express religious beliefs in public schools — forcing the need for compromise before the Legislature can send a proposed law to the governor for his approval this spring.

A plan the Florida House approved Wednesday by a 114-3 vote fortifies basic rights to religious expression that are protected by the state and U.S. Constitutions. The Senate two weeks ago endorsed language that does that, too, but that also goes much further — by also requiring schools to give students a “limited public forum” to pray and otherwise express their beliefs at school assemblies and other school-sanctioned events.

The two proposals were originally identical, but a House committee quickly scaled back that chamber’s version to eliminate the more controversial elements that remain in the Senate-approved bill.

The House vote sends SB 436 back to the Senate — where senators can either make further changes or agree to the House language, which would then send the bill to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk to be signed into law. Senators could potentially take it up as early as Thursday, but it’s more likely to happen next week.

Full story here.

Photo credit: The Florida House. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 05, 2017

Miami lawmaker: 'Schools of hope' plan is 'separate but unequal'

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@ByKristenMClark

Miami Democratic state Rep. Kionne McGhee isn’t sugar-coating how much he dislikes House Republicans’ $200 million, “schools of hope” plan to attract high-performing charter schools to Florida that would aid students currently attending perpetually failing traditional public schools.

“This bill, in my humble opinion, creates a separate but unequal system” that “runs afoul” of the state and U.S. Constitutions, McGhee said Wednesday, when HB 5105 faced its second of only two committee hearings. McGhee will be the House Democratic leader starting in late 2018.

MORE: “Are ‘schools of hope’ the solution to perpetually failing public schools?”

House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and other Republicans noted that a question of constitutionality in Florida’s public education system already arises if the state continues to let students languish in perpetually failing schools for years and years.

“These schools have failed these kids long enough,” Diaz said. “These are kids trapped in generational poverty, and for us to create this illusion it [schools of hope] is a separate system? It’s not.”

The full Appropriations Committee sent the “schools of hope” bill to the House floor on a party-line vote, with Democrats opposed.

They argue the money could be better spent on bringing innovations to traditional public schools, rather than picking “winners and losers” and propping up a specific few nonprofit charter operators, whose “schools of hope” could essentially replace failing neighborhood schools.

The “schools of hope” bill is lawmakers’ “best effort to give hope to kids who have no hope,” Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater said. He told the committee members: “If you’re content with failure, then by all means vote against this bill.”

There are 115 schools in 27 counties across Florida — almost half of which are in South Florida and Tampa Bay alone — that have been graded “D” or “F” for three years or more. The 77,000 students in those schools are the ones House Republicans aim to help by bringing in these proposed “schools of hope.”

A Senate companion to HB 5105 doesn’t yet exist but is poised to surface through a sweeping amendment that would replace a relatively generic charter school bill from Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, with the “schools of hope” legislation. SB 796 — and Bean’s strike-all amendment — were supposed to be considered this week but the Senate Education Committee ran out of time. It could now be taken up as early as April 17.

Photo credit: Jeremy Wallace / Herald/Times

April 04, 2017

Daily school recess mandate passes Senate. The House remains this year's challenge.

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@ByKristenMClark

Nearly 1.3 million elementary school students in Florida are a major step closer to being guaranteed 20 minutes of recess every school day after the state Senate unanimously endorsed the concept Tuesday.

The easy win for SB 78 — sponsored by Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores — comes one year after chamber leaders wouldn’t even consider the idea.

“This bill is here as a result of moms from across the state having to listen to their children come home — their 7-year-old son come home — and say, ‘Mom, I’m so tired. I hate going to school; I hate going to school because there’s nothing for me to look forward to.’ ” Flores said. “This was a real grassroots effort of moms from across the state, saying: ‘Can you please help? Can you please be the voice in Tallahassee that I can’t be?’ ”

Requiring daily recess in elementary schools is overwhelmingly favored by parents who have lobbied aggressively for the change in Florida law. It’s also supported by a majority of state lawmakers.

But it still faces a potential repeat of 2016 — when the proposal stalled over a single lawmaker’s opposition.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Loana Paine 6, plays on the slide during recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools. Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Corcoran: 'It's not one person' determining House's school recess bill

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida senators are poised to pass a bill this afternoon that would give 1.3 million elementary school students a guarantee of 20 minutes of recess every day, something parents have clamored for for more than a year.

The Senate's bill (SB 78) is the preferred version for passionate "recess moms," who have lobbied for a statewide daily requirement in public schools. The House version -- previously identical -- was significantly watered down last week by a subcommittee, so now "recess moms" want House Speaker Richard Corcoran to move forward with the Senate's measure after today's vote.

Corcoran won't commit to doing that -- and he rejects that one person in the Florida House might be dictating the direction of that chamber's proposal.

“It's working its way through the process, and we’ll see what happens,” Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, told the Herald/Times Tuesday morning.

When asked specifically if he'd take up the Senate bill, he said: “I’ve said it from Day 1 until Day 60, these institutions shouldn’t be top-down; these institutions should be an egalitarian place where everyone has an equal voice — and we’ll keep doing that.”

MORE: "Did Miami lawmaker intervene to dilute school recess bill? He won’t say."

On whether one lawmaker was determining the fate of the House's bill, though, Corcoran added: “It’s got to be voted on out of committee; anyone can offer amendments, so it’s not one person.”

Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, Corcoran's education policy chairman, is the only lawmaker who publicly opposes mandating daily recess in Florida's elementary schools. 

Bileca wouldn't say last week whether he intervened to water down the House's bill in a way that eliminates that daily requirement. (House sponsor Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, said the changes were necessary to ensure his bill would move through House committees. Assuming the recess bill clears its next committee, too, it would then have to go before Bileca's committee before it could reach the House floor.)

Corcoran last year joined Bileca in opposing the school recess legislation; they were the only two in the 120-member House to vote "no." But Corcoran supported this year’s original bill, he reiterated Tuesday, because a provision was removed that would’ve barred teachers from withholding recess as a punishment. (Bileca had opposed that provision, too, along with the legislative mandate.)

UPDATE: The Senate passed its recess bill unanimously. Full story here.

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