May 24, 2017

At town hall meeting, Miami-Dade Schools urge parents to oppose HB 7069

Town hall photo web

@KyraGurney

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho had a dire message for parents and teachers at a town hall meeting Tuesday night: If Gov. Rick Scott approves the state budget and a controversial education bill, the school district faces serious financial trouble.

"This is a man-made crisis," Carvalho said, speaking to a packed auditorium at John A. Ferguson Senior High in West Kendall. "If something doesn't change, a crisis it will be."

The town hall at Ferguson High was the third of six meetings organized by the school district this week to urge teachers and parents to contact the governor and ask him to veto a mammoth education bill (HB 7069) and the line-item in the budget for per-pupil education spending.

The $82.4 billion budget passed by the Florida Legislature earlier this month increases school funding by 0.34 percent or $24.49 per student, which Carvalho and other Florida superintendents say is not enough to meet public education needs. At the town hall meeting, Carvalho told residents that after the district's mandatory contribution to the Florida retirement system, the increase amounts to just 50 cents for each of the district's nearly 350,000 students. 

"What can you get for 50 cents these days? Can anybody tell me, please?" Carvalho asked the audience at Ferguson High.

The Miami-Dade school district is also concerned that a provision in HB 7069 — which would compel districts to share millions of dollars in local tax revenue earmarked for capital projects with charter schools — would force Miami-Dade to put maintenance projects on hold and impact the district's credit rating, Carvalho said.

Many in the audience said they shared the school district's concerns and planned to contact the governor. Maria Prospero, the mother of a student at Olympia Heights Elementary School, said she had decided to attend the town hall meeting "for my daughter's rights." Prospero said she was concerned that her daughter's school could lose after-school activities and language programs if the district doesn't get enough state funding. She said she planned to share information about the budget with her friends on Facebook and send an e-mail to Scott. 

Meanwhile, supporters of the education bill are organizing their own events to urge the governor to sign HB 7069 into law. They have planned three rallies this week at the same locations as the school district's town hall meetings. A pro-HB 7069 rally will be held at Miami Senior High School on Thursday at 5 p.m. before the school district's 6 p.m. town hall meeting. Supporters of the bill are also holding a rally on Friday at 3 p.m. outside the School Board Administration Building downtown. A school district sponsored town hall will be held at that location at 4 p.m.  

Union-backed coalition launches ad urging veto of HB 7069, taking Republicans out of context

 Anti7069 ad

@ByKristenMClark

The fight over whether Republican Gov. Rick Scott should sign or veto a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill is escalating to new levels: Ad wars.

A labor union-backed political advocacy group debuted an online video ad Tuesday (below), asking Scott to veto HB 7069 because it heavily favors privately managed charter schools over traditional public education.

But the liberal-leaning Fight for Florida Inc. takes quotes from Scott and a Republican senator out of context in trying to make its case that the legislation is bad policy.

Full details here.

Image credit: Fight for Florida, Florida Education Association / YouTube

May 22, 2017

Report: Charter school offered students 'extra credit' to voice support for bill

Wsvn

While some Miami-Dade charter schools were offering incentives to parents last week if they declared support for a controversial education bill, one charter school in Hialeah Gardens reportedly directed its teachers to offer students "extra credit" if they signed online petitions in favor of HB 7069.

Reporters Brian Entin and Daniel Cohen of WSVN Channel 7 obtained a copy of a directive the station says was given to teachers at Mater Academy. The school's principal, Judith Marty, denied that she sent the directive that said "teachers will guide the student" to write emails to Gov. Rick Scott's office -- and "ensure that students include in their emails ... support for HB 7069."

Marty told WSVN that she had been out of town and was surprised to see the written directive, which she told the station "went a little too far."

Read (and watch) WSVN's full report here.

The news, reported Friday, came as the Herald/Times reported earlier that day that at least two other charter schools in the Hialeah area -- including a sister Mater Academy school -- had offered to give parents five hours' credit toward their volunteer hours if they wrote letters or otherwise lobbied Scott to sign the bill.

Conservative group thanks senators, urges Scott approval of schools bill

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@ByKristenMClark

A national Hispanic conservative group is showing its gratitude to 18 Republican state lawmakers who were crucial to passing a controversial and charter-friendly K-12 public schools bill, in the hopes of building more support for Gov. Rick Scott to sign the legislation into law.

The LIBRE Initiative -- which is supported by the Koch Brothers -- is mailing out bilingual fliers this week to voters represented by the three House members and 15 senators. The group is letting residents know their senator supported HB 7069 and is urging the resident to ask Scott to approve it.

The Initiative and another Koch-affiliated group, Americans for Prosperity, are among the school choice proponents of HB 7069 that want to see it enacted -- in contrast to county school superintendents, almost all elected school boards, and parent groups and teachers unions that want the legislation vetoed.

"Right now, too many Florida students are trapped in failing schools that are not meeting their educational needs. This is why it is essential for Governor Scott to sign H.B. 7069 into law and empower students and parents with more options to choose schools that better serve their educational needs," Cesar Grajales, the LIBRE Initiative’s coalitions director, said in a statement. "We urge Gov. Scott to quickly sign this bill and remove unnecessary barriers so our students don’t have to remain stuck in schools that are failing to provide a quality education."

Those targeted by the mailers are: House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, and Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah and Michael Bileca of Miami; and Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart and Sens. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, Rob Bradley of Fleming Island, Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Anitere Flores of Miami (shown above), Bill Galvano of Bradenton, Tom Lee of Thonotosassa, Debbie Mayfield of Vero Beach, Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, Keith Perry of Gainesville, Wilton Simpson of Trilby, Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, Greg Steube of Sarasota and Dana Young of Tampa.

Corcoran, Diaz and Bileca shepherded HB 7069 through the House, one of the chamber's top priorities of session. The 15 senators listed represent most of the 20 Republican senators whose votes were vital in ensuring HB 7069 passed.

It was approved on a 20-18 vote in the Senate, so one more opposing vote would have killed it. (Flores was the only Miami-Dade County senator to support it.)

The LIBRE Initiative's latest direct-mail campaign comes two weeks ago after the group sent out mailers hailing five select Republicans -- Negron, Corcoran, Diaz, Bileca and Clearwater Rep. Chris Latvala -- who were key to pushing through the school choice measure in the final days of session.

May 19, 2017

Miami Dade public schools to host town halls on Legislature's K-12 spending plan

Carvalho at MH editboard 031417 (1)@ByKristenMClark

Miami-Dade County Public Schools — namely through its superintendent, Alberto Carvalho — has been one of the most vocal opponents in the past couple weeks against the Legislature’s approved K-12 spending for 2017-18 and related legislation (HB 7069) that has $419 million earmarked for special programs and myriad policy critics say would diminish traditional public education.

Now Florida’s largest school district is taking its opposition on the road to amplify its message in local neighborhoods — by hosting a series of six town hall meetings next week in Miami-Dade County.

The purpose of the events is “to discuss the financial forecast for Florida and the proposed budget for public education for next year,” the district said in a news release.

RELATED: “Veto schools bill and ‘starvation-level’ K-12 spending, critics urge Gov. Scott”

“Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the economic development of our community will be greatly impacted,” the district said. “Please stay informed, and help maintain world-class educational opportunities for our nearly 350,000 students.”

The district wants “PTA members, M-DCPS alumni, community groups, taxpayers, students, employees, and all who care about education” to attend.

The events will be held:

-- at 6 p.m. Monday at Miami Northwestern Senior High School in Miami.

-- On Tuesday, at 6 p.m. at Miami Palmetto Senior High School in Pinecrest, and at 7:30 p.m. at John A. Ferguson Senior High School in Miami.

-- On Thursday, at 6 p.m. at Miami Senior High School in Miami, and at 7:30 p.m. at Miami Beach Senior High School in Miami Beach.

-- at 4 p.m. Friday at the School Board Administration auditorium in Miami and televised on WLRN Channel-17.

The debate over the 2017-18 budget and HB 7069 has staunchly divided traditional public school advocates and supporters of school choice and charter school expansion.

Both sides are escalating their public awareness campaigns to urge Gov. Rick Scott to either accept or reject the Legislature’s funding and policy decisions. 

As of Thursday evening, the nearly 10,000 phone calls, emails, letters and individual petition signatures received by Scott's office were 3-to-1 against HB 7069 and/or the education budget.

Meanwhile, school choice proponents are stepping up their advocacy of the bill, in particular, through organized phone banks, letter-writing campaigns and even, in some schools, offering an incentive to parents if they write letters of support for the legislation.

Neither HB 7069 nor the main budget act have yet reached Scott’s desk. Once they do, he’ll have 15 days to either sign them, veto them or let them become law without his signature.

Gov. Scott on schools bill: 'If people want to get involved, get involved'

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via @ChabeliH

At a press conference Friday on statewide job numbers at the offices of LATAM Airlines in Miami, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he had no yet heard that two charter schools in Hialeah were offering parents an incentive in exchange for letters supporting a massive K-12 public schools bill.

“I was not informed somebody was doing it that way, but if people want to get involved, get involved,” said Scott, who added that he encourages constituents to engage with elected officials.

MORE: "Charter schools to parents: Write to Gov. Scott, get volunteer hours"

Asked more broadly for his take on HB 7069, Scott said he wants "to make sure every child has the opportunity to get the education they deserve, whether you go to a traditional public school or a charter school."

Scott has not yet given any inkling as to his plans for vetoing parts or all of the budget.

"The budget got to me just at the last minute; it was basically done in secret. So I'm reviewing just like everyone else is," Scott said. "From my standpoint, I'm going line by line through the budget."

Neither HB 7069 nor the main budget act have yet reached Scott's desk. Once they do, he'll have 15 days to either sign them, veto them or let them become law without his signature.

Photo credit: Gov. Rick Scott in Miami on May 15. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hialeah charters: Parents get break from volunteering if they lobby for HB 7069

Cityofhialeahedacademy_text@ByKristenMClark & @KyraGurney

Some school choice advocates in South Florida are going so far as to offer incentives to parents in order to amplify the perception of public support for a controversial K-12 public schools bill that many are clamoring for Gov. Rick Scott to veto.

At least two privately managed charter schools in Hialeah — Mater Academy Lakes High School and City of Hialeah Educational Academy — publicly advertised this week that they would give parents five hours’ credit toward their “encouraged” volunteer hours at the school, so long as they wrote a letter or otherwise urged Gov. Rick Scott to sign HB 7069.

“It is IMPERATIVE that the Governor, and the rest of the State of Florida, see what a POSITIVE DEMAND there is for this education bill,” read an alert on the homepage of Mater Academy Lakes’ website Thursday evening. “This is the strongest legislation supporting the charter school movement since charters were first established in Florida 20 years ago.”

“We need all of our Bear Family to show their support for HB 7069 and encourage your friends, family and children to get involved as well,” the message continued.

A similar alert was blasted across the City of Hialeah Educational Academy’s website, too, offering the same volunteer-hour credit to parents if they attended a pro-HB 7069 event at the school this past Wednesday or Thursday.

The school also sent email and text alerts to its parents asking them to “use all realms of social media to advocate for House Bill 7069!”

Full story here.

Image credit: The City of Hialeah Educational Academy issued calls to actions to their parents through email and text alerts, such as this one, asking them to praise HB 7069 on social media. (Special to Herald)

Most of public wants veto of HB 7069, Gov. Scott's office indicates

Rick2+jungle+lnew+cmg

@ByKristenMClark

By a margin of at least 3-to-1 so far, Floridians are telling Gov. Rick Scott they want him to veto a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill House Republicans pushed through at the end of session, according to information requested from Scott’s office Thursday evening.

In the 10 days since lawmakers approved HB 7069, the state’s Republican governor has been inundated with roughly 10,000 emails, phone calls, letters and petition signatures urging him to either sign or reject the bill.

Both sides have been vocal, but the cries from the opposition — advocates of traditional public school — have been greater in number so far, based on tallies provided by Scott’s office.

But is that the full picture? Maybe not.

Full story here.

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

Florida colleges: Funding cuts to us - amid favor to universities - is 'demoralizing'

Galvano 2015@ByKristenMClark

As Senate President Joe Negron aims to make Florida’s 12 public universities “elite” destinations, state lawmakers this spring voted to give an extra $232 million next year to those institutions — while simultaneously cutting $25 million that has helped the state’s 28 state colleges serve students who are most in need.

The stark difference in funding priorities was received as a decisive insult to institutions like Miami Dade College and Broward College — and the tens of thousands of students they serve: That they don’t matter as much as the universities.

“That, I think, is what is the most demoralizing part of the conversation. ... we’re disinvesting in them,” MDC Executive Vice President and Provost Lenore Rodicio said in reference to the 800,000 students served by the Florida College System. “This population of students, in a sense, don’t count as much as students who are more elite, more high performing.”

Bill Galvano, a top Senate Republican who helped craft the 2017-18 higher education budget, said there’s a longer term plan to help the colleges, too, and that any inference by the colleges of a sleight is “short-sighted.”

But with Negron, R-Stuart, laser-focused this year on the universities first and foremost, administrators at state colleges feel those efforts came at their students’ expense — especially when the state banked $1 billion in reserve spending it could have tapped to, at least, keep the college system’s funding level.

“When we had record windfall of money for the state budget, we [the colleges] appear to be about the only place that got cuts,” Broward College President J. David Armstrong said. “It’s bad for Florida’s future. It sends a message to Floridians that perpetuates social and economic inequities.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. AP

May 18, 2017

Corcoran responds to superintendents: Focus on 'building beautiful minds,' not 'beautiful buildings'

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via @martindvassolo

Two days after Gov. Rick Scott hinted at vetoing a controversial $419 million, 278-page education bill that narrowly passed the Legislature a week ago, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran visited the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation and said he was hopeful the bill will survive Scott’s veto pen.

“I haven’t spoken to him, but I don’t know, there’s still a lot of time,” said Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, after a meeting at Florida International University on Wednesday morning. “Hopefully it’ll go well.”

The massive K-12 public schools bill, which drew sharp criticism from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents on Tuesday, is part of the 2017-18 budget. It includes a $234 million bonus package for most teachers and some top principals and a $140 million “Schools of Hope” program to help struggling traditional public schools and bring in private charter schools to give parents in these areas an alternative.

It also requires school districts to share some capital funding with charter schools, which the association said would take much-needed money away from traditional public schools.

RELATED: "In Liberty City, Corcoran praises Miami Democrat for supporting schools bill"

The association’s president called on Scott to veto the education funding bill, HB 7069, along with $23.7 billion in primary funding for K-12 schools, arguing the approved 0.34 percent increase in spending per student was not acceptable.

The bill, which passed the Senate on May 8 by a vote of 20-18 after passing the House 73-36, was a top priority for Corcoran, who called it “the most transformative, accountable, beneficial K-12 public education bill in the history of the state.”

“I know a lot of these superintendents, they’re good guys, but I wish they would focus more on not building $20- and $40 million Taj Mahal buildings,” Corcoran said. “What’s more important than beautiful buildings is beautiful minds, and this bill is about building beautiful minds.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times