July 06, 2017

Lawsuit against HB 7069 looms in Broward; Corcoran calls it 'clueless, arguably heartless'

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@ByKristenMClark

The bitter fight over new K-12 public school reforms that the Republican-led Legislature approved this spring entered a new stage on Wednesday when the Broward County School Board voted unanimously to challenge the law’s constitutionality in court.

Broward is the first school district to vote to sue over the passage of House Bill 7069, which became law Saturday above passionate objections from school administrators, teachers’ unions and parent groups statewide for its many provisions friendly to charter schools, in some cases, at the expense of traditional public schools.

“I’m in favor of taking aggressive action as soon as we possibly can,” Broward School Board member Rosalind Osgood said during a special board meeting convened solely to authorize Superintendent Robert Runcie to file the legal challenge and to spend up to $25,000 on initial legal fees.

MORE: “Here’s how the controversial new schools law will impact South Florida”

“We’re on life support now, and we have to literally fight for the life of public education in this state,” Osgood said. “If we don’t stand up now, if we miss this opportunity, we’ll never recover from it.”

It’s unclear how soon the lawsuit will be filed.

Broward County’s allegations of unconstitutionality primarily surround how HB 7069 gives charter schools a leg up over traditional public schools through less-restrictive regulations and extra taxpayer funding that make it easier for them to expand.

In a statement to the Herald/Times, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, blasted the Broward School Board for its decision, saying in part: "Not only is it clueless, it is also arguably heartless."

Full story here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file

July 05, 2017

Talk of fixing HB 7069 ‘way too premature,’ Hialeah lawmaker says

Florida Legislature (12)

@ByKristenMClark

Although a major school reform bill was signed into law last month amid heavy criticism and calls that it be fixed immediately, an influential lawmaker from Miami-Dade County indicates that issue won’t be a priority on the Legislature’s agenda for 2018.

“It’s way too premature,” said Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., who helms the House’s pre-K-12 education budget committee. “Making adjustments going forward — we first have to see what happens instead of jumping the gun.”

HB 7069 took effect Saturday, prompting myriad changes in statewide education policy — many favorable to charter schools seeking less restrictions to their expansion in Florida.

Among the most controversial of those changes is a new “Schools of Hope” program to help the state’s worst-performing schools by, in part, providing incentives for new charter schools to directly compete with them.

It’s that part of the bill that some senators — led by Republican David Simmons of Altamonte Springs — have argued needs to be revised. They say, as written, the new law forces failing schools to either shut down after getting two “D” or “F” grades or hand themselves over to privately managed charters, with both options leaving the schools’ teachers out of work.

Diaz — who helped craft HB 7069 and shepherd it through the Legislature — contends such critics are misreading the new law and they need to be patient while the Florida Department of Education drafts rules this summer that better clarify how the “Schools of Hope” program will be implemented.

More here.

Photo credit: AP 

June 27, 2017

Gov. Scott signs school funding, economic development bills

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From the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott signed 29 bills late Monday, including measures boosting spending on education, tourism marketing and economic development.

By signing the bills, and vetoing five more, Scott essentially closed the books on this year’s regular and special legislative sessions.

The bills Scott approved included perhaps one of the hardest-fought wins of his time as governor: a measure (HB 1A) that provided $76 million for the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida; established an $85 million fund to pay for infrastructure improvements and job training to help draw businesses; and set aside $50 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike along Lake Okeechobee.

That legislation was approved in this month’s special session after the House refused to approve direct business incentives that Scott prefers and gave far less for Visit Florida than he had requested during the regular session, which ended in May.

“With this legislation, we can promote public infrastructure projects and job-training projects to continue to grow jobs for families in every community of our state,” Scott said in a statement issued by his office. “We know that for Florida to be competitive in domestic and international markets, we need as many tools as possible to attract growing businesses to our state.”

Scott also signed another bill from the special session (HB 3A) boosting per-student spending in the state’s main formula for funding public education by $100. The budget for public schools had originally only increased spending by $24 a student, leading to charges from critics that it was too stingy and prompting a rare veto by Scott.

The governor hailed the increase Monday.

“Our students are the future of our state, and I’m incredibly proud to sign legislation today to ensure they have every opportunity for success,” he said.

During the special session, some Democrats had complained that the increase wouldn’t offset what they said would be the negative impact of HB 7069, a controversial and wide-ranging education bill Scott approved shortly after the special session as part of a rumored deal with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes.

“It’s an increase — but at what cost?” asked Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat who pointed out that funding for education is still short of pre-recession levels when inflation is factored in. “The state has recovered, but education funding has not.”

Scott also signed several other education bills Monday, including a measure (HB 15) expanding eligibility for a program that helps pay for educational services for students with disabilities and boosting the size of voucher-like tax credit scholarships that help parents pay for private school tuition.

In addition, the governor approved HB 989, which overhauls the state’s policy on instructional materials to allow any county resident — not just parents — to challenge materials used at schools.

In all, Scott signed 230 of the bills that lawmakers approved during this year’s regular legislative session while vetoing 11. He signed all four bills that passed during the special session.

Photo credit: AP

June 23, 2017

Credit rating agency: HB 7069 could affect Florida school districts' financial standing

Florida Legislature (38)

From the News Service of Florida:

Part of a controversial and wide-ranging education bill (HB 7069) signed by Gov. Rick Scott could affect the credit ratings of some of the state's school districts, according to a report released Thursday by Moody's Investors Service.

The report said a requirement that school districts share construction funds generated by local property taxes with charter schools "is credit negative for school districts with significant charter enrollment."

The finding isn't a change to the districts' ratings, but could affect them in the future.

"As capital revenues follow students to charters, traditional schools' ability to cut capital expenditures will be tempered by aging infrastructure and the need to attract and retain students," the analysis said.

The bill, championed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, touched off weeks of debate, with major education groups urging Scott to veto it. But Scott signed the measure last week.

Read the Moody's report here.

Photo credit: Gov. Rick Scott speaks to legislators at the end of a special session, Friday, June 9, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. AP

June 21, 2017

Miami-Dade schools hires lobbyist — at $108,000 a year — to take concerns to Congress, Trump

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@KyraGurney

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Miami-Dade school district is hiring a lobbying firm to represent its interests in Washington, D.C.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the School Board approved a three-year contract — at $108,000 a year — with Ballard Partners, a Florida lobbying firm, to advocate for the district’s interests before Congress and several federal agencies.

“We’ve always had a very active presence at the federal level, but in light of the new players in the administration we felt it was prudent to seek assistance in being able to have additional access,” said Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, who oversees the school district’s office of intergovernmental affairs. The district hopes to “nurture good working relationships with the federal administration to continue to be able to provide a quality education to the students in Miami-Dade.”

The School Board’s decision comes amid growing concern nationwide about proposed cuts to federal education funding.

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 calls for $9.2 billion in cuts to the Department of Education, including slashing funds for teacher training and after-school programs.

The proposed budget cuts would “severely reduce” the amount of federal education funding Miami-Dade receives and are among the district’s top concerns, said Mendez-Cartaya.

Read more here

June 19, 2017

Hack attacks highlight vulnerability of Florida schools to cyber crooks

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@KyraGurney

Two months before the U.S. presidential election, international hackers slipped into the computer systems of at least four Florida school district networks in the hopes of stealing the personal data of hundreds of thousands of students.

They infected the systems with malware — malicious software — that turned off the logs recording who accessed the systems, according to United Data Technologies, the Doral-based cybersecurity company that investigated the incidents. For three months, the hackers probed the systems, mapping them out and testing their defenses. At one point, they even posted photos of someone dressed as an ISIS fighter on two school district websites.

They weren’t just looking for the names of kids and valuable Social Security numbers, UDT found. The hackers were also searching for some way to slip into other sensitive government systems, including state voting systems.

Luckily, the hackers from Morocco, not Moscow — never found one or managed to get their hands on personal data. But the attempted hacking exposed the vulnerabilities of Florida’s school district networks: vast computer systems that store sensitive information on thousands of students, and their parents, and could potentially provide a backdoor into other government systems. Amid the national obsession with the alleged Russian hacking during the U.S. election and the constant stream of headlines on corporate data breaches, like the ones at Target and Chipotle, experts say the dangers of cyber attacks targeting school districts are being overlooked.

To read the rest, click here

June 09, 2017

Dems on K-12 funding: 'The increase is helpful but more is needed'

Florida Legislature (14)

@ByKristenMClark

Some House Democrats on Friday criticized a new K-12 schools budget for 2017-18 that would boost spending by $100 per student over this school year — calling the additional dollars a “hollow victory” and “not enough” to truly address public education.

“I believe the increase is helpful but more is needed,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami. “Florida is the third largest state in the nation, yet our per-pupil funding is still $3,000 below the national average.”

“We’re underfunding public education,” agreed Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura. “That’s a mistake. That sells short the future of our state.”

“Public education has been the great leveler in this country; it’s been the main means of advancement for people of modest means,” Geller added, before making reference to a $419 million, charter school-friendly bill (HB 7069) lawmakers passed last month: “We’re putting way too much money into non-public education at the expense of public education.”

RELATED FROM POLITIFACT: “Florida House speaker touts record education spending, but there’s more to grade”

The increased funding — addressed in a contentious three-day special session this week — was a compromise between Gov. Rick Scott and House and Senate leaders after Scott a week ago vetoed the Legislature’s initial K-12 budget, deeming it insufficient.

In calling lawmakers back to Tallahassee, Scott asked for $215 million more in state money for K-12 in order to raise the per-pupil level by $100, an increase of 1.4 percent.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

Senator floats idea: Another special session to fix HB 7069

Florida Legislature (40)

@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers are supposed to wrap up on Friday a contentious special session that brought them back to Tallahassee for three days to resolve budget disputes over K-12 funding and jobs and tourism spending.

But regardless if that’s successful, one key Republican senator says the Legislature’s work shouldn’t be over and that one more return trip to the Capitol this month would be in order.

Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons told the Herald/Times he wants Gov. Rick Scott to veto a controversial K-12 schools bill (HB 7069) — which Simmons has deemed “fundamentally and fatally flawed” — and call lawmakers back for a second special session to redo it.

“That’s the solution that I and, I think, others would love to have,” said Simmons, of Altamonte Springs. “He doesn’t have to just say, ‘I veto,’ and therefore nothing will be accomplished. He can do what he did here.”

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

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