March 04, 2016

Gardiner: Putting 'Best & Brightest' in budget again could be 'appropriate' compromise


As rank-and-file senators grow more worried that a controversial teacher bonus program could be slipped into the annual budget for the second year in a row, Senate President Andy Gardiner said this evening he endorses that approach as a possible "appropriate" compromise with the House.

"It was in the implementing bill last year. I think it’s an issue that’s very important to the speaker-designate (Rep. Richard Corcoran), and it’s not a new issue," Gardiner, R-Orlando, said of the "Best & Brightest" program that awards bonuses to "highly effective" teachers based on their high school SAT/ACT scores.

"Maybe that’s the compromise -– where instead of codifying it in statute in Senate Bill 524, it’s a one-year implementation," Gardiner said, referencing a massive education bill that includes permanently extending the bonuses.

"I think that might be appropriate, but I’ll leave that to the chairs to see if they want to do that," he said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, are still negotiating the 2016-17 budget in conference committee.

To the frustration of some of his fellow senators (Republicans and Democrats), Lee said earlier this week he "absolutely would" consider extending the teacher bonuses for another year through implementing language -- which was how the program was enacted last year. Lee said Corcoran "deserves some deference" on his priorities, as the Senate does their's.

When asked whether the Senate should grant an up-or-down vote to the controversial policy, Gardiner told reporters: "If it’s in the budget, there will be a floor vote."

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Citing rules issue, Florida Senate declines to take up last-ditch attempt for school recess


Sorry, recess moms.

For the third time this session, Florida senators have declined to consider a parent-driven proposal to require elementary school recess statewide.

Although the measure passed the House last month by a near-unanimous vote, the bill by Sen. Alan Hays never got a hearing in a Senate committee because education policy committee Chairman Sen. John Legg refused to take it up.

When Hays tried to amend his proposal on to a bill last week in committee, the Umatilla Republican was convinced by his party leaders to withdraw the proposal.

And then again today, his last-ditch attempt was thwarted by the full Senate.

Hays attempted again to amend his proposal on to a wide-ranging education bill (HB 7029) by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville -- this time, using slightly different language. Hays' original bill called for 20 minutes of recess a day, but he tweaked it in the amendment to propose 15 minutes of recess in both the morning and the afternoon.

As Hays' amendment was called up on the floor, Legg immediately called a point of order. (The Trinity Republican has called the recess proposal "a local issue" that doesn't merit a statewide mandate.)

Senate rules prohibit members from considering amendments on the floor that are the substance of a bill stuck in committee, unless two-thirds of the chamber agrees for it to be heard.

When Legg said Hays' amendment was out of order, Hays responded: "Yes, sir. That's why I move we waive the rules!"

Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, agreed with Legg, but because of Hays' request, the decision was left to the full Senate.

The procedural move forced a quorum call to get all available senators back in the chamber.

On a voice vote, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples -- the president pro tempore, who was presiding at the time -- ruled the vote had failed, but some senators wanted a roll call so senators' individual votes could be recorded.

The final tally wasn't even close.

It failed 14-24.

See how each member voted here.

March 03, 2016

Sen. Hays tries again for mandatory school recess, but he could face procedural hurdles


Sen. Alan Hays said last week he wasn't giving up on his legislative plan to require Florida public elementary schools to provide 20 minutes of recess a day.

And he's not.

But before the passionate coalition of self-proclaimed "recess moms" across Florida get too excited: It's likely that the Umatilla Republican's latest efforts could be unsuccessful once again.

Hays filed amendments today to two education bills that the Senate could take up as early as Friday.

SB 1166 is one of two wide-ranging education measures sponsored by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. Hays last week tried to add his recess plan to it when Gaetz's bill was before the Senate Appropriations Committee; he ultimately withdrew that amendment after talking with Senate leaders that day.

He plans to make another go at it on Friday, though, -- using slightly different language -- when SB 1166 comes up on the Senate's "special order" calendar.

Seemingly as a safeguard, Hays also filed the amendment to HB 7029, a broad and somewhat related education bill that passed the House last month. It's in the Senate's hands now and shares many of the same policies as SB 1166.

(If a Senate bill is significantly similar to a bill the House already passed, the Senate can opt to substitute its pending bill for the House's. That could be what Hays is anticipating for these bills.)

But herein lie the hurdles for Hays:

Senate rules prohibit members from considering amendments on the floor that are the substance of standalone bills stuck in committee. For instance, that rule was invoked earlier today to thwart Gaetz's attempt to tack his controversial open-carry proposal on to a different bill.

It's likely other senators could call such a point of order on Hays' recess amendments on Friday.

Rules Chairman Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said this evening that he hadn't seen Hays' amendments yet, but if there's a conflict, "we'll certainly address that."

If there's no problem there, the other obstacle Hays faces is that Gaetz filed "delete-all" amendments to both SB 1166 (to add some additional provisions) and HB 7029 (to make it identical to SB 1166).

Such strike-all amendments, if approved, negate other proposed amendments that lawmakers may have sought on the original bill. Hays would need to seek to amend Gaetz's amendment -- welcome to legislative procedure -- in order for it to be considered. (As of 7 p.m. today, he hadn't done that.)

The House resoundingly supports mandatory recess, but it's been an uphill battle in the Senate.

The House passed the measure last month, 112-2 -- with only Republican Reps. Richard Corcoran, of Land O’Lakes, and Michael Bileca, of Miami, opposed.

But Hays' bill stalled in the Senate because Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, refused to take it up in the education policy committee.

Legg calls it "a local issue," but passionate "recess moms" are imploring lawmakers to take act. They want a uniform requirement statewide, rather than individual school districts or principals deciding their own policies.

Parents in Miami-Dade County recently launched an online petition urging the school district to "restore recess in our schools." As of this afternoon, it had more than 5,200 signatures.

Much like Gaetz's other big education bill (SB 524), SB 1166 had several amendments filed to it as of this evening besides Gaetz's and Hays' proposed changes.

SB 524 was supposed to be heard Wednesday but has been postponed for the past two days because there's been no time for senators to consider the more than 50 amendments that have been filed to it and its House companion.

Gaetz said this evening that he hopes the Senate will have time to consider at least one of those two large education bills on Friday.

March 01, 2016

Miami-Dade superintendent: Coding and foreign language are not interchangeable

Carvalho head to waist shot@ByKristenMClark & @MaryEllenKlas

The top administrator of Florida's largest school district -- and the fourth largest school district in the country -- remains opposed to a legislative proposal that would let high school students count computer coding as a foreign language.

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said again Tuesday that lawmakers should not equate the two, and he said he fears for the implications the policy decision could have on students' future opportunities -- such as their ability to apply for scholarships, college or even competitive jobs in a global workforce.

"We all value the importance of computer science and coding. We all value the importance of foreign language. We just don't believe they're interchangeable," Carvalho told the Herald/Times, while he was back in Tallahassee today to testify on a different bill.

The computer coding proposal easily passed the Florida Senate last week. A similar measure awaits consideration on the House floor.

Margate Democratic Sen. Jeremy Ring, a former Yahoo executive, has spearhead the legislation. He argues that technology is a "basic skill" students need to have and that allowing computer coding as a foreign language would better prepare students for high-demand careers.

On the Senate floor, Ring said he believed a person who knows computer coding is "bilingual."

But the proposal has many opponents, ranging from civil rights organizations to some school and district administrators, like Carvalho.

"If you're going to consider computer science as a language -- a foreign language, not just a language -- why not consider music? You can write it, you can read it, it's been around for millenia, right?" Carvalho quipped. "They're different forms of communication and expression, but they're not interchangeable."

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February 29, 2016

NAACP, other groups blast computer-coding proposal as 'misleading and mischievous'


Organizations that represent black and Hispanic Floridians released a joint statement Monday declaring their opposition to legislation that would let high school students count computer coding as a foreign language class.

The measure passed the Senate, 35-5, last week, and its companion bill awaits consideration on the House floor.

The groups who joined in Monday's statement were the NAACP's Florida Conference and Miami-Dade branch, the Florida chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Spanish American League Against Discrimination (SALAD).

"Our children need skills in both technology and in foreign languages to compete in today's global economy," the joint statement reads. "However, to define coding and computer science as a foreign language is a misleading and mischievous misnomer that deceives our students, jeopardizes their eligibility to admission to universities, and will result in many losing out on the foreign language skills they desperately need even for entry-level jobs in South Florida.

"We stand with Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, educators, parents, the (Florida Education Association) and (United Teachers of Dade), and other advocacy organizations in asking our legislators to vote NO on HB 887."

Read the full statement here.

The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, and Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate. Ring is a former Yahoo executive, who has spearheaded the measure as a means to better prepare today's students for in-demand careers in the technology sector.

On the Senate floor last week, Ring said he believed a person who knows computer coding is "bilingual."

'Best & Brightest' teacher bonuses might be continued through budget language


As legislation to make permanent the "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program remains in limbo this session, Florida House and Senate leaders are floating the possibility of a one-year extension by including the program -- once again -- in proviso language for the annual budget.

The controversial program predictably surfaced as a point of leverage between House and Senate education leaders this weekend as they started hashing out the 2016-17 budget.

The bonuses are a priority for House Republicans, but senators in both parties are especially reluctant to buy in to the idea.

By Sunday evening, lead education budget negotiators Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. Don Gaetz had agreed on the largest budget issue: how to fund increases to K-12 schools and by how much.

But the rest of the education budget remains unresolved.

The House rejected the first and only offer from the Senate, which included -- among a host of issues -- a proposed compromise on funding for the "Best and Brightest" program. The bonuses award "highly effective" teachers who scored in the top 20 percent on their high school SAT/ACT exams.

The offer from Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, was a broad this-for-that exchange of several priority areas, which was presented as "all or nothing" to the House.

Under Gaetz's offer, the Senate would have supported the House's desire to include the teacher bonus plan in the budget implementing bill -- allowing it to continue for a second year. The Senate would have also supported $22.5 million in funding, half the amount the House wants.

Continue reading "'Best & Brightest' teacher bonuses might be continued through budget language" »

February 27, 2016

House, Senate close to deal on K-12 funding that avoids hike on local tax dollars

Gaetz and fresen


Legislative leaders were close to hashing out a deal Saturday evening to provide record-level K-12 education funding next school year -- without forcing businesses and homeowners to shoulder hundreds of millions of dollars in extra funding through local property taxes.

The proposal is a gesture of significant compromise by the Florida House.

But by using a greater share of state dollars instead, the $458 million proposed increase for 2016-17 is far less than what Republican Gov. Rick Scott or House or Senate leaders had originally sought.

Scott's recommendation to the Legislature was for a $507 million increase, almost 90 percent of which would have come from property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay.

By comparison, the House had originally proposed a $601 million increase, while the Senate wanted $650 million extra.

Both initial legislative budget plans mirrored Scott's funding formula, but Senate leaders have, for weeks, argued that increasing K-12 funding through the "required local effort" -- as Scott proposed -- would constitute a "tax increase."

Scott and some House members disagreed with that assertion, arguing that the tax rate wouldn't have changed. Even so, property tax bills would've gone up because property values have rebounded statewide.

On Saturday, House members -- led by education budget conference committee Chairman Rep. Erik Fresen -- shifted their tone.

"There was obviously a lot of concern by members of both parties as to how those funds were distributed," the Miami Republican said.

After re-analyzing their budget allocations, Fresen said he and committee Vice-Chairman Sen. Don Gaetz "made the policy decision overall to apply more general revenue ... (and) apply less of what could be considered -- whether construed properly or not -- as a property tax increase."

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February 26, 2016

What's included in those Florida Senate education 'train' bills?

Via @JeffSolochek and the Gradebook:

By now you've heard that the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee this week strung together a variety of education proposals that were struggling to get to the finish line, and put them into two previously tiny and barely related bills that had to be renamed to encompass their new, broader scope.

Some of the issues have received a great deal of attention in the new SB 524 (state university system performance based funding), and the revamped SB 1166 (education funding).

The Best and Brightest teacher bonus, for one, dropped into SB 524 after facing must criticism in other forms when heard in other Senate committees. Even after landing in the new bill, that measure has an uncertain fate, with some key Republican senators still questioning the program's value.

A bill to mandate elementary school recess, already adopted by the House, came and went as an amendment without a vote but also could resurface on the floor.

What else got looped into these two pieces of legislation, which still must win approval in the full Senate and agreement in the House? Here's a rundown.

Continue reading "What's included in those Florida Senate education 'train' bills?" »

Marco Rubio slams Trump University but has own ties to embattled for-profit colleges


Marco Rubio highlighted Donald Trump's for-profit college ties in Thursday night's Republican debate. What Rubio didn't mention: His own connections to the embattled industry.

Here's what my colleague Michael Vasquez and I wrote about the industry and some of the presidential candidates, back in August:

For years, for-profit colleges have been accused of predatory tactics and taxpayer fraud. In May, scandal-plagued Corinthian Colleges, which operated Everest University and other brands, declared bankruptcy. Corinthian’s implosion marked the largest school collapse in U.S. higher education history and came amid widespread allegations that the school falsely inflated its job placement rates.

Last year, as Corinthian was beginning to unravel, Rubio wrote to the Department of Education asking the feds to “demonstrate leniency” with the company. The letter was first reported by Bloomberg

“Senator Rubio felt it was important to protect the thousands of students in Florida from being punished and having their educations disrupted while the investigation was underway,” his campaign told the Herald. “Ultimately it was found that Corinthian was misreporting information to attract prospective students, which is wrong and unacceptable for any institution of higher education.”

Rubio’s links with Corinthian go back many years. As an up-and-coming state lawmaker in 2006, Rubio wrote 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future

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