June 09, 2017

Funding for HB 7069 left alone after Senate backs off

Florida Legislature (22)

@ByKristenMClark

Florida senators wanting a second crack at stopping a contentious $419 million education reform bill that narrowly passed the Legislature last month were unsuccessful on Thursday in defunding it to redirect the dollars to general K-12 public school spending.

Broward County Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer led the charge to undo HB 7069, after Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons — earlier passionately defiant — backed off his plans to force lawmakers to revisit the legislation during a three-day special session, even though it’s not on the Legislature’s restricted agenda.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, of Land O’Lakes, and his Republican caucus have dismissed the Senate’s effort as a waste of time and said even if the Senate approved changes to the HB 7069 funding, they wouldn’t support them. The bill is a top priority of Corcoran’s.

But Senate Democrats cast Thursday as the day for the Senate to stand up for itself and “redo” the May 8 result when the legislation passed by one vote.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

June 08, 2017

Senate caves on strategy in effort to reach compromise on K-12 spending

Florida Legislature (8)

@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers on Thursday morning inched closer to agreeing on how to boost state funding to K-12 public schools starting on July 1, even as a few senators still have plans to revive a debate over a controversial education reform bill, which could wrinkle any compromise.

In amending legislation to add money to the K-12 budget in 2017-18, the Senate Appropriations Committee agreed to forgo the chamber’s plan of using local property tax money to pay for the new spending — a plan House Speaker Richard Corcoran had rejected outright as a “massive tax increase.”

The Senate now agrees with the House’s method of paying for the extra $215 million using general revenue — money freed up from Gov. Rick Scott’s vetoes handed down last week. About $150 million of that would be one-time spending that lawmakers would have to make up for the next budget year in order to keep spending level, or else schools would lose funding in 2018-19.

The Senate also withdrew its intent to demand the Legislature respect the Constitution’s required 72-hour “cooling off” period for general budget bills, which would have kept lawmakers in Tallahassee for longer than the three-day special session that’s supposed to end Friday evening.

By approaching the extra school money as “supplemental” spending to the K-12 budget lawmakers passed in May — instead of starting from scratch with a whole new budget — the 72-hour period wouldn’t be necessary, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said in explaining his changes to the Senate’s K-12 spending bill (SB 2500A).

Full details here.

Photo credit: Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, speaks to the Senate about overriding Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of the public schools budget during a special session of the Florida Legislature Wednesday June 7, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. AP

June 06, 2017

Miami-Dade Republican: I'm 'not comfortable' with more K-12 funding without changing HB 7069

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@ByKristenMClark

Hialeah Republican Sen. René García told Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in a letter today that he's "not comfortable supporting any compromise" on increasing K-12 funding for 2017-18 that does not also address a controversial education policy bill that awaits Gov. Rick Scott's approval.

García was one of three Senate Republicans to vote against HB 7069 when it narrowly passed the Senate on the final day of the 2017 regular session.

Lawmakers are returning to Tallahassee for a three-day special session starting Wednesday, one of the topics of which includes increasing money for K-12 public schools after Scott vetoed the Legislature's approved spending level as insufficient.

But HB 7069 -- although tied to the budget -- will not formally be up for discussion during the special session, which has drawn some unrest among senators who had expected Scott to veto it and now fear he won't. Scott has not committed to an opinion on the bill, but many lawmakers expect he'll sign it in trade for the Legislature approving his ask for additional economic development money.

García said in his letter he was grateful for the special session to "revisit several critical issues."

"While my career has reflected a passionate commitment to school choice and local autonomy, I find it difficult to support adjusting the Florida Education Finance Program while failing to address the erosion of Florida's commitment to public education that is contained in HB 7069," García said.

"Dramatic policy shifts such as broadening the scope of eligibility of Title I funds, as well as allowing charter schools to use local tax revenue for capital outlay projects should be discussed in conjunction with any proposed increases in per student funding," he added. "The public policy held within the FEFP and the set of policies passed within HB 7069 are inherently intertwined."

Negron's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Read García's full letter here.

Altamonte Republican Sen. David Simmons, the chairman of the K-12 education appropriations committee who also opposed HB 7069, has said he wants to "fix" the bill as early as this special session -- particularly to address challenges in implementing it that he says are too constraining on traditional public schools. However, HB 7069 is not formally part of the call for a special session and it would take a two-thirds vote of both chambers to add it to the agenda, which is incredibly unlikely.

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

June 03, 2017

Second backroom budget deal is sowing seeds of distrust

Scott at MIA 60217@MaryEllenKlas and @Steve Bousquet

Another backroom deal, this time involving the governor who has blasted the Legislature for secrecy, is leaving a trail of frustration and distrust in the state capital as elected lawmakers are being called back for a special session this week to rubber stamp a budget they were excluded from negotiating.

After stoking rumors that he might veto the Legislature’s budget and an accompanying controversial public school reform bill because they were negotiated behind closed doors, Gov. Rick Scott emerged this week with House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron in Miami with an announcement. He would sign the budget, veto $409 million in local projects, and order lawmakers back June 7-9 to add $215 million to the public education budget.

The announcement caught most legislators off guard, even ranking Republicans who were left out of the deal-making.

“Other than a seeing a press release, I haven’t talked to anyone about any of it,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate budget panel on tourism and economic development.

“Is this how the process is supposed to work?” he asked. “There has to be a better way.” Story here. 

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