April 26, 2016

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.

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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.

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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.

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Gov. Rick Scott must act on 21 bills today, including 'school choice' measure

@ByKristenMClark

Republican Gov. Rick Scott faces a deadline today on 21 bills that the Legislature passed during the 2016 session. Among them: A far-reaching education bill that includes several new policies intended to advance "school choice" in Florida public education.

HB 7029 was the product of more than a dozen different bills that lawmakers negotiated up through the final hours of session on March 11.

Most notably, it creates a framework for allowing open enrollment in public schools statewide -- giving students the ability to attend any school in the state so long as there is space available. If Scott signs the bill, that part of the new law would take effect in 2017-18; the remaining provisions would take effect this summer.

The bill would also let high school athletes have immediate eligibility when transferring schools, subject charter schools to more accountability and a new formula for receiving capital dollars, and codify performance funding formulas for Florida's 12 public universities and 28 state colleges -- among various other new policy changes. (Here's a full rundown of the bill's provisions.)

Also poised for Scott's action today are the session's major transportation package and proposed new laws affecting health care policy and Citizens Insurance.

With any bill, Scott has the option to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

He has vetoed only one bill so far this year: one that called for a referendum to create a utility board in Gainesville.

After today, Scott will have just three bills left 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.

April 09, 2016

Florida's conservative school board members got a boost from a like-minded Legislature

@ByKristenMClark

Through both policy and taxpayer funding during the 2016 session, the Republican-led Legislature subtly gave a leg up to politically conservative school board members in Florida who want greater influence on statewide education policy.

The Legislature’s actions show how partisan politics continue to influence education in the Sunshine State, but party ideology is not supposed to infiltrate local school boards.

The Constitution requires school boards to be nonpartisan, so critics are especially concerned by Republican leaders’ eagerness to intervene — and to diminish the influence of those with viewpoints contrary to their own.

This session, Republican lawmakers first sought to retaliate — through a proposed law — against the Florida School Boards Association because it previously challenged a Legislature-approved, voucher-like program in court.

Republicans backed off that in the face of criticism in the final days of session, but they still passed — as part of the massive “school choice” bill — a provision that will let the 356 individual school board members in the state direct their dues to a new advocacy organization that seeks to rival the FSBA.

While offering more freedom and flexibility to school board members, the measure could potentially de-fund the well-established FSBA in favor of boosting revenue for the 15-month-old Florida Coalition of School Board Members, which champions conservative values in line with legislative leaders’ priorities

April 08, 2016

More recess time for school kids the mission for Miami-Dade moms

via @cveiga

Their professional backgrounds are in communications and lobbying, international development and the law. The word they use to describe themselves is “determined.” And their goal is to make recess in school nothing short of a daily, guaranteed right for kids.

Meet Kate Asturias, Louisa Conway, Debora Hertfelder and Victoria Kenny: a group of super-charged moms who promise to let nothing and no one stand in their way.

Not the leaders of the Miami-Dade school district, who stress they already have a recess policy. Not lawmakers who killed a bill to mandate recess last session. Not teachers and principals who say there isn’t enough time or space.

“We can do this, and we’re going to do this,” Asturias said.

The moms are demanding 20 minutes a day of supervised play – preferably outdoors and definitely unstructured by adults. They’re also asking for recess to be built into the school schedule just like music and math.

They carry the support of almost 7,000 people who have signed an online petition the women launched about a month ago.

“It’s something everybody agrees on. Let’s just do it,” Asturias said.

More here.

Trial challenging Florida's education framework wraps up in Tallahassee

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@ByKristenMClark

A four-week trial challenging Florida’s public entire education system and its hallmark components — such as standardized testing, school grades and “school choice” options, like charter schools — concluded Friday.

Numerous witnesses, including state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, testified in Leon County Circuit Court during the trial, which began in mid-March. Judge George Reynolds III isn’t expected to rule in the case for several weeks, as attorneys for both the state and Citizens for Strong Schools have until April 25 to file final written arguments in the case.

Citizens for Strong Schools filed the lawsuit in 2009. The group wants Reynolds to declare that the Florida Department of Education — and by extension, the Florida Legislature — has failed to fulfill its constitutionally mandated “paramount duty” to provide a “high quality” education for all public school students, particularly low-income and minority students.

“This is not an insignificant matter,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Jodi Siegel said during Friday’s closing arguments.

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