March 09, 2016

FEA blasts Florida Senate for agreeing to 'Best & Brightest' extension, urges Scott to veto

@ByKristenMClark

The state's largest teachers union has some harsh words for the Florida Senate, after Republican leaders agreed this week to compromise with the House and continue funding a controversial teacher bonus program for another year.

"The public should be outraged and Senate leaders should be ashamed," Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall said in a statement today. "This flies in the face of democratic principles."

The final state budget proposal that lawmakers will vote on on Friday includes $49 million in 2016-17 to reward “highly effective” teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores in what's known as the "Best & Brightest" program.

The full Senate has never voted on the policy, although several members wanted that opportunity this session. It's the second year in a row that the bonuses have been authorized solely through budget language.

The Florida Education Association, which represents more than 140,000 teachers and education professionals, has long opposed the program. The union is challenging it, arguing it discriminates against older teachers and those who are minorities.

About 5,200 teachers of the state’s nearly 172,000 teachers qualified this year.

“The Florida Senate is shoving 'Best and Brightest' down our throats,” McCall said. "The point of bills, committees and votes is so that statewide policy that impacts Floridians is thoroughly vetted and transparently scrutinized."

Many Democrats and some Republicans in the Senate had voiced concerns for the past couple weeks, fearing Republican leaders might agree to keep funding "Best & Brightest" although the Senate hadn't approved the policy.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, called the program "the worst and dumbest," and Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, said last week Senate leaders' decision “empowers the Senate leadership over the Senate members and it looks like they’re siding with the House members more than Senate members.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, defended the decision, saying the budget process is about negotiation and compromise. He said some of the Senate's priorities were met, so they agreed to support "Best & Brightest" as a priority of the House.

McCall said, "This is not Florida in the sunshine; it is Florida in a smoky back room."

"We hope Gov. Rick Scott will stand up for public education and veto the program when he receives the budget," the FEA said.

With minimal debate, sweeping education bill passes Florida Senate

@ByKristenMClark

A wide-ranging education bill with more than a dozen significant policy proposals passed the Florida Senate this afternoon after minimal or zero debate on some of the measure's most consequential aspects.

HB 7029 deals with capital funding, charter schools, open enrollment in K-12 schools, high school athletics and higher education funding, among other areas.

Senators passed it 28-12, with Democratic Sens. Bill Montford, of Tallahassee, and Jeremy Ring, of Margate, joining the Republican majority in support. All other Democrats were opposed.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has spearheaded the bill through two major re-writes in the Senate during the final weeks of session. The legislation combines several pending bills that were either vetted in committee or have already passed the House.

The Senate's approved version now goes to the House for an up-or-down vote in the remaining two days of session.

Continue reading "With minimal debate, sweeping education bill passes Florida Senate" »

March 08, 2016

Tom Grady confirmed to Florida State Board of Education

IMG_GRADY.JPG_6_1_U335J022 (1)

@ByKristenMClark

The Florida Senate this morning confirmed a former state lawmaker and former interim president of Citizens Insurance to the State Board of Education.

Tom Grady has been serving on the board since late last year, after Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a close friend, appointed him to a vacant seat last fall. His appointment was subject to the Senate's approval.

Grady's appointment was approved Tuesday unanimously en masse with 15 other education-related appointments. In such cases, senators have the option to record with the Senate secretary a "no" vote on any individual appointee.

Grady, a 57-year-old wealthy securities lawyer from Naples, most recently served on the Florida Gulf Coast University board of trustees, also as a Scott appointee.

In the 1990s, Grady was a director of the Collier County Education Foundation. He served one term in the Florida House from 2008 to 2010.

Grady sparked controversy for his hefty travel spending during his brief tenure in 2012 as interim president of Citizens Property Insurance.

In less than two months overseeing the state-run provider, he spent nearly $10,000 on expensive hotel rooms, airplane trips, a limo ride and a three-night stay in Bermuda. Grady defended the spending, saying he was actually “very frugal.” He lost the permanent job to a Maryland insurance executive, amid questions raised by the Tampa Bay Times about his spending habits. He returned to the private sector.

Grady's term on the State Board of Education ends on Dec. 31, 2018.

Photo credit: Gov. Rick Scott, right, greets Tom Grady during the Aug. 2, 2011 Cabinet meeting in which Grady was appointed head of Financial Regulation. Bill Cotterell / Tallahassee Democrat

March 07, 2016

Sen. Detert stands by previous vote on teacher bonus program although it's 'worst & dumbest'

@ByKristenMClark

In defending their decision to put the "Best & Brightest" teacher bonuses into the annual state budget again, Republican Senate leaders argue that the controversial program "was heard" in the Senate this year, as members wanted.

There were a few informal discussions, but the only vote cast (so far) on the policy by itself was in January before the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee -- where it advanced by a single vote.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, was the deciding vote in that decision, which averted what could have been an early defeat for the contentious policy this session.

She said at the time, and again Monday, that she opposes the program but voted in favor of the bill then only to get it out of committee.

The program rewards "highly effective" teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores -- an unproven correlation that most Democrats and some Republicans don't support.

Detert said Monday she wanted to "get it to the floor and have an open discussion about the substance of the bill itself. It's too bad we didn't get to that point."

"I would rather vote it down and kill it permanently, because it’s the worst and dumbest," Detert added, "but if they put it in the budget, I have no choice but to vote for the budget."

Continue reading "Sen. Detert stands by previous vote on teacher bonus program although it's 'worst & dumbest'" »

Sweeping education bill - with capital funding reforms - ready for Senate vote on Monday

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida senators are poised on Monday to vote on a wide-ranging education bill that includes numerous high-profile proposals -- including reforms for capital funding for traditional and charter schools, open enrollment for all Florida public school students, more accountability measures for charter schools, and immediate eligibility and recruiting penalties for 285,000 high school athletes.

A far more simple and narrow version of the bill (HB 7029) passed the House last month, but in the Senate, it was loaded up with amendments spearheaded by Sen. Don Gaetz, both in committee last week and on the floor Friday.

The version that senators will vote on Monday clocks in at 132 pages. Many of the proposals are included in bills that the Senate and House have either passed off the floor or considered in committee.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, on Friday added to the bill his plan for changing how traditional and charter schools receive capital funding from the state and how they can use that money.

The proposal bans charter schools from receiving capital dollars for "private enrichment," and it steers funding to charter schools that mostly serve impoverished students or those who have disabilities. School districts also could be penalized -- by losing state capital funding -- if they exceed a state-imposed cap on spending for construction and maintenance projects, unless the cost overruns were due to "extraordinary circumstances."

Gaetz's plan is a counter-proposal to a measure by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, who sought to rein in districts' "excessive" spending and change how charter schools qualify for capital dollars. The House has yet to consider Fresen's plan on the floor.

Gaetz's proposed capital funding reforms are also attached to a different wide-ranging education bill (SB 524) that the Senate postponed for the past three days of session. Indicating that bill might have stalled, Gaetz's re-writes to HB 7029 have included several duplicative policy changes that now appear in both bills.

One high-profile policy change that's not included in HB 7029: enacting in state law the "Best & Brightest" program that awards "highly effective" teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores.

Despite opposition from Republican and Democratic senators who want a floor vote on the issue, House and Senate leaders are poised to extend it another year only through budget language.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said Sunday "we are going to agree to fund it at some level."  The exact figure should be revealed Monday when Lee and Land O'Lakes Republican Rep. Richard Corcoran, the House appropriations chairman, announce publicly the differences they've settled in the Legislature's proposed education budget.

March 06, 2016

Lawmakers agree on $75 million each in capital aid for traditional schools, charter schools

@ByKristenMClark

Florida's 650 charter schools and 3,600 traditional public schools would each get a pot of $75 million in state funds next year to spend on construction and maintenance projects, under a budget agreement the House and Senate appropriations chairmen announced Sunday afternoon.

The figure -- about the same as what Republican Gov. Rick Scott had asked for -- is $25 million more for each set of schools than lawmakers allocated this year.

It's also a compromise between Republican leaders in the House and Senate from what each chamber originally sought. In their budgets, both the House and Senate wanted to keep capital funding for traditional public schools level at $50 million. For charters, the House wanted $90 million, while the Senate budgeted nothing.

"From our perspective, it was kind of a guiding principle that we ought to be doing for the public system what we're doing for the charter school system, and we ultimately agreed on a level for funding both," Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said.

"The reality is we're up from last year," added House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

The equal funding level is a victory for charter school advocates, who lobbied to get at least as much in capital dollars as traditional schools. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed. Unlike district-run schools, charter schools often lease their facilities, rather than build them.

In a statement this evening, the Florida Charter School Alliance, which represents more than 200,000 students, "thanks the Legislature for the increase of $25 million in dollars to fund the cost of school facilities."

Supporters of conventional public schools are likely to be somewhat disappointed, although they're set to get more money this year than last. They had urged lawmakers to make up for years of reduced funding, when state capital money to charter schools far outweighed what conventional schools received.

Continue reading "Lawmakers agree on $75 million each in capital aid for traditional schools, charter schools" »

March 04, 2016

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

Capture@ByKristenMClark

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."

Continue reading "Gardiner: Putting 'Best & Brightest' in budget again could be 'appropriate' compromise" »

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

Capture@ByKristenMClark

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."

Continue reading "Gardiner: Putting 'Best & Brightest' in budget again could be 'appropriate' compromise" »

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

@ByKristenMClark

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

@ByKristenMClark

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.