May 10, 2017

If Miami-Dade schools chief runs for Congress, who will replace him?

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@KyraGurney

Just days after Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s name surfaced as a potential candidate for Congress, speculation has already started over who might replace him as schools chief.

Several School Board members said they have received calls asking what would happen if Carvalho — who told the Miami Herald on Friday that he is being courted to run for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat — resigns to run for office.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of folks in all of the communities and yes, they are concerned,” said board Chair Larry Feldman. “He’s been working for us for eight years in this position and has taken us from financial disasters, academic issues, credibility issues,” to a school district that serves as a model for the rest of the country, Feldman said. 

It’s unclear how seriously the superintendent is considering pursuing a political run. On Friday, Carvahlo walked the fence in an interview with the Miami Herald. He said he had a “moral responsibility at least to entertain” requests from the people who are hoping he’ll get into the race but added that his commitment to the school district “is as strong and unwavering as ever.”

But Carvalho has since privately assured School Board members, including Feldman, that he plans to remain head of Miami-Dade Schools, where his contract runs until 2020. 

School Board member Lubby Navarro, who has gotten calls from residents in her district and elected officials concerned about Carvalho’s possible departure, said Carvalho told her on Saturday that there was “zero chance” he would run.

If the superintendent does leave, Navarro said there are two qualified candidates who come to mind as possible replacements: Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, an associate superintendent at the Miami-Dade school district who lobbies in Tallahassee on the district’s behalf, and Pablo Ortiz, a former school district administrator who currently serves as a vice president at Florida International University.

Both responded that they were happy where they were. 

More here

 

May 09, 2017

Why 2 House members missed the vote on HB 7069

Edwards@ByKristenMClark

Sometimes a poorly timed lunch break or trip to the bathroom can have consequences.

Broward County Democratic Rep. Katie Edwards said Tuesday she was taking heat from her constituents about why she wasn’t in the room when the House voted Monday on a $419 million education policy bill — one of the most consequential and controversial pieces of legislation lawmakers passed in the 2017 session.

Edwards, of Plantation, opposes HB 7069, but she was one of 11 House members who didn’t officially vote on it. (Eight of those 11 were excused to miss the last day of session.)

Edwards said her absence during the roll-call vote was simply a matter of poor timing. “Unfortunately I stepped away from my desk to use the ladies room,” Edwards explained in an email to the Herald/Times.

Tampa Bay-area Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, also missed the vote for a simple reason. She said by email that she was “eating in the back and [the vote] came up quicker than I thought.”

Read more here.

Photo credit: Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times.

May 08, 2017

Teachers union urges vetoes of K-12 schools budget, policy bill

Joanne_McCall_new_headshot@ByKristenMClark

Not even an hour after the Legislature wrapped up its work for 2017, the state's largest teachers union called on Republican Gov. Rick Scott to veto both the K-12 public schools budget and a mammoth $419 million policy bill that was cobbled together in private in the last days of session and narrowly approved Monday.

"HB 7069 was cooked up behind closed doors to tie popular changes like more recess and minor relief on testing to reducing local school district authority, yet another sketchy teacher bonus scheme, and more financial breaks for charter schools,” Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, said in a statement.

“Where’s the government transparency that the leadership promised this session? Floridians expect a fair process, not backroom deal-making," she said.

MORE: "$419M schools bill headed to Gov. Scott, after barely surviving Senate vote"

McCall said she was also "completely disappointed" by the $14.7 billion K-12 schools budget, a figure that doesn't include the additional funding earmarked for special programs under HB 7069.

“We hope the governor realizes, as we do, that this budget does not come anywhere close to meeting the needs of our students,” McCall said. “This budget neglects the needs of our children and our public schools.”

“This budget does nothing more than dig our public schools deeper into a financial mire,” she added. “It fails to properly and adequately support costs and growth to advance the 2.8 million students who attend our schools each day and it utterly fails to recognize the importance of funding in retaining and recruitment the high quality educators our student deserve.”

Photo credit: FEA

Senate narrowly approves $419M schools bill, while saying it needs immediate fix

@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers struggled to pass a controversial $419 million, 278-page K-12 public schools bill on Monday, the final day of the annual session — as senators acknowledged parts of the rushed legislation were flawed and would need to be fixed when the Legislature reconvenes in 2018.

However, the prospect of a possible veto by Republican Gov. Rick Scott was floated even before the Monday night vote, which would stop the legislation from becoming law.

The Senate endorsed HB 7069 by the narrowest possible margin after two hours of lackluster and largely negative debate, voting 20-18 to pass it.

Three Republicans joined the 15-member Democratic caucus in opposition: René García of Hialeah, Denise Grimsley of Sebring and David Simmons of Altamonte Springs — who, as the pre-K-12 education budget chairman, handled the bill on the floor and struggled to defend it.

MORE: “Parents, school leaders urge ‘no’ vote on mammoth education bill”

Earlier in the day, the Republican-led House made quick work to pass the bill within an hour, by a 73-36 vote with all but one Democrat — Miami Rep. Roy Hardemon — opposed.

HB 7069 was a top priority of land O'Lakes Republican and House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s. Miami Republican Michael Bileca and Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr. — the House education policy and pre-K-12 budget chairmen, respectively — were heavily involved in crafting it.

But in a manner that drew heavy criticism, the large and wide-ranging bill was negotiated and finalized in private and made public for the first time Friday evening — less than 66 hours before the House voted and 71 hours before the Senate voted. (Simmons said he saw a first draft of HB 7069 only at 7 p.m. Thursday.)

“This isn’t a finished bill, it’s got problems — big problems,” Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said. “It’s a litany of bad ideas … that do not take the needs of the student into account.”

More here.

Mailers from conservative group back Florida lawmakers on 'schools of hope'

Manny Diaz
@PatriciaMazzei

A national Hispanic conservative group is giving a political boost to five Florida Republican lawmakers who pushed to bring more charter schools into the state.

The LIBRE Initiative, which is backed by the industrialist Koch brothers, will send mailers beginning Tuesday to voters in five districts represented by Rep. Michael Bileca of Miami, House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah, Rep. Chris Latvala of Clearwater and Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart.

The bilingual, campaign-style fliers will "thank" the legislators for voting to "empower our kids." The "schools of hope" legislation allows out-of-state charter school operators to set up shop for a minimum of five years in low-income Florida communities with long-struggling public schools.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. Critics counter that more charter schools will divert state funds from traditional public schools, which will be left to languish.

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Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

Ban on charters' private enrichment left out of education bill

@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers were on track this spring to enact long-sought safeguards to stop businesses from turning a profit off public money intended for charter school capital projects.

But for the second year in a row, that proposal abruptly vanished and was left out of a late-session compromise House and Senate leaders struck in private.

MORE: “Parents, school leaders urge ‘no’ vote on mammoth education bill”

Despite being sought and supported by both chambers, the proposed accountability restrictions on charter schools didn’t make it in the final education budget bill released Friday evening — a 278-page proposal that combined four K-12 budget measures and lumped in myriad other education policies unrelated to spending.

Lawmakers will cast up-or-down votes on HB 7069 Monday, along with other bills that make up the 2017-18 budget; they can’t amend the bills.

Full details here on why the capital outlay restrictions aren't in the bill.

May 07, 2017

'Monday’s vote is about more than recess,' disappointed parents say of education budget bill

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@ByKristenMClark

Passionate parents, like Kate Asturias of Miami and Angela Browning of Orlando, have been fighting for years to get guaranteed daily recess for their children and the more than 1.2 million other kids in Florida’s public elementary schools.

The two moms trekked to Tallahassee on Friday, for the countless time, hoping to see lawmakers finally make that happen. They left disappointed once again.

The favored proposal of “recess moms” and dads that unanimously passed the Senate a month ago (SB 78) wasn’t brought to the floor by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, before Friday’s session deadline — despite parents’ numerous emails and phone calls urging him to take up the bill, which had the votes to pass easily.

Instead, Corcoran prolonged a conclusion to the recess proposal by lumping it — with a never-before-seen exemption parents didn’t ask for — into a 278-page education budget bill released Friday evening, three days before lawmakers will vote Monday on an annual budget package they can’t change.

Filled with disappointment and anger, parents vented their frustration in social media groups this weekend — and some now have a message for their lawmakers: Don’t vote “yes” on this bill just so Florida’s kids can be assured recess.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

May 05, 2017

Mammoth education budget bill will decide testing, recess, teacher bonus policies and more

Florida Legislature (7)

@ByKristenMClark

At the insistence of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, numerous major changes to education policy for Florida’s K-12 public schools — from teacher bonuses and daily recess, to testing reforms and expansions for charter schools — were crammed into a single mammoth bill on Friday, with $414 million in spending attached.

All of the policies in the the 278-page bill (HB 7069) will pass or fail as one on Monday, when lawmakers vote on the annual budget.

No changes can be made to the bill. House and Senate members have less than two days to make sense of it before they must cast an up-or-down vote.

If lawmakers’ pass it, the bill ties the hand of Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Should he want to veto the bill, he would be politically responsible for shooting down every policy in it — particularly the parent-demanded daily recess measure.

Corcoran told reporters it wasn’t political strategy to link all of the policies together, but he showed his cards a week ago when he tweeted after midnight Saturday that “the problem with recess is the governor not the Legislature.” (He pointed out Friday that that tweet ended up being true and was simply “just a week early.”)

But the sheer size and scope of the new version of HB 7069 caught many lawmakers by surprise — even those closely involved in negotiating the compromise between both parties and both chambers.

Several senators, in particular, were troubled by the process and said the bill wouldn’t automatically have their support.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, center right, watches as Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, left, and House members work out budget differences during a budget conference late afternoon Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Mark Wallheiser/AP

Parents could more easily object to books, lesson materials in public schools

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@ByKristenMClark

Moms and dads will have more power to challenge their child’s classroom books or other lesson materials that parents deem distasteful, offensive or inappropriate for public schools, under a bill the Florida Legislature passed Friday.

Lawmakers argue county school boards aren’t giving parents a fair say to contest instructional materials, and that HB 989 only “tightens up that process.” But opponents fear it makes it easier for parents to object on philosophical grounds to some core topics their children are taught — such as evolution or sex education, or historical events, like slavery or the Holocaust.

Senators approved the bill, 19-17, after about 40 minutes of debate Friday. Miami-Dade Republican Sens. Anitere Flores and René García opposed it with the chamber’s 15 Democrats.

Senate sponsor Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, said critics’ concerns about extreme complaints were unwarranted because he said the legislation limits what kind of objections parents could make.

The bill states parents and residents of a school district can challenge any classroom materials, library books or reading lists that contain “pornographic” content or “is not suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented, or is inappropriate for the grade level and age group.”

It’s that vague language — as well as how the bill defines the “resident” who can make the challenge — that has Democrats most concerned. They also worry it overrides the authority of elected school board members.

“This seems to go a lot farther than a lot of us think makes sense,” Miami Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez said.

More here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file photo

Senate OK’s school voucher expansion; House still to sign off

@ByKristenMClark

With reluctance by several Democrats, senators on Friday morning endorsed significant expansions to two of Florida’s premiere voucher-like programs for education that help children with disabilities pay for alternative learning options and help poor children to afford private school.

Senators approved HB 15 by a 27-11 vote, with four Democrats joining Republicans in support. The House has to vote again this afternoon to approve the same language as the Senate, so that the bill can go to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

The bill’s passage would mark another session victory for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

Corcoran opened the 2017 session by prioritizing, in particular, growing the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which is facilitated almost entirely by a single organization that is led by an influential and wealthy school choice advocate. The controversial scholarship aids low-income, mostly minority families by giving dollar-for-dollar tax breaks to businesses that donate money, which then pays for private school scholarships.

HB 15 calls for raising the award amounts so that families can stay in the program when their children advance to high school, where private education is more expensive.

Several Democratic senators said they didn’t want to “divert” more dollars to the tax credits — dollars they argue could otherwise go to improving K-12 public schools — and they struggled with voting “no” because they do support the Gardiner Scholarship to help children with disabilities.

By putting the two programs in a single bill, House Republicans linked the expansion of the Gardiner Scholarship to that of the tax-credit awards — meaning lawmakers could not expand one voucher program without the other.

“The Gardiner Scholarship program is a fantastic program, so I want desperately to be able to support this bill because of those provisions ... but I am philosophically opposed to corporate tax vouchers and diverting money away from our general funds, which could be used to improve our public school system,” Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said.

Proponents of the bill defended against the criticism of the tax credit scholarships.

“If we want to keep from failing our children, we have got to support this program and we have got to support these children who have no hope without it,” Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young said.

Democrats Daphne Campbell of Miami Shores, Bill Montford of Tallahassee, Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg and Linda Stewart of Orlando broke with the rest of their caucus and voted “yes.”