April 19, 2017

Senate will try another route to get daily recess in state law

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@ByKristenMClark

With House Republican leaders holding up a Senate-approved bill to mandate daily recess in public elementary schools, Florida senators will attempt another route to get the proposal enacted this year.

Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, the sponsor of the Senate recess bill (SB 78), filed a sweeping amendment Wednesday morning to her measure aimed at reducing statewide standardized tests, which would drastically broaden the bill to include several other policies — including mandatory daily recess.

The 17-page amendment will be considered this afternoon when the testing bill (SB 926) is up for its final committee hearing in Senate Rules before it would go to the floor.

By attaching the recess policy to the broader bill, it gives the Senate more leverage and could force the House into considering it through negotiations. The House also views testing reforms as a top priority this session. 

Full story here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Florida parents want a House vote on recess. Will they get it?

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@ByKristenMClark

All that Florida parents want is guaranteed daily recess for their elementary school children. Just 20 minutes a day to allow for a brain break and some playtime.

But for the second consecutive year, that relatively simple request seems increasingly in jeopardy — despite overwhelming public and legislative support — thanks to obstruction by a few influential lawmakers in the Florida House.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, won’t have a conversation about school recess, and his top lieutenants offer only deflection when asked what the House will do.

Parents want a vote. In the two weeks since the state Senate unanimously passed its bill to require daily recess in public elementary schools, parents have mobilized, calling for SB 78 to be brought to the House floor.

“The PEOPLE have spoken and they want this bill!” Orlando “recess mom” Amy Narvaez wrote in an email to House leadership earlier this month that was obtained through a public records request.

But despite the public outcry, House leaders have shown no inclination to act.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Omari Accius 6, enjoys recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools. Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

April 17, 2017

Anitere Flores gets love from Jeb Bush's education foundation with web ad

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@ByKristenMClark

A highly influential education policy foundation that was set up by former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush is running an online ad promoting Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores and her bill to address excessive standardized testing in Florida public schools.

The ad from the Foundation for Florida’s Future proclaims that “Sen. Flores is working to give teachers more time to teach” and directs viewers to a webpage, which offers the foundation’s explanation of the original versions of SB 926 and HB 773 — Flores’ and Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.’s testing legislation.

The foundation had a hand in crafting the legislation, according to Flores, and has a stake in ensuring its passage.

The legislation is a way for Republican lawmakers to delicately respond to intensifying complaints from parents and teachers upset about over-testing and the “high stakes” associated with those statewide exams. The education accountability system Florida uses today stems from Bush’s legacy of linking student assessment scores to school grades and funding.

Flores was Bush’s education policy chief in the early 2000s and has worked closely with the Foundation for Florida’s Future on several bills over the years, she said.

She said she was unaware of the foundation’s ad until told about it Monday by the Herald/Times. It’s unclear how long the ad has been online. Foundation officials did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Read the full story here, and below is a screen-grab of the ad:

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Photo credit: Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. AP. Image credit: Screengrab by Herald/Times.

April 14, 2017

Miami-Dade-backed 'witness protection' bill now goes to governor's desk

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@ByKristenMClark

With overwhelming support from the Florida Senate on Thursday, a proposal — heavily inspired by ongoing gun violence in Miami-Dade County — that affords new protections for murder witnesses will go to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk and possibly become law.

HB 111 passed the Senate by a 34-3 vote, similar to the near-unanimous show of support the bill received in the House late last month.

Senators from Miami-Dade County called the bill “long overdue.”

“I talk a lot about senseless violence and things that happen in my community. This is one of those bills that will help the law enforcement officers find the perpetrators of these senseless acts,” said Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens.

Hialeah Republican Sen. René García agreed: “Back in our community, the biggest problem that we have is people don’t want to speak up when they see a crime. This bill is going to go a long way to ensure that people’s voices are heard, their identities are kept private.”

More here.

Photo credit: Members of the Miami-based Parents of Murdered Kids were recognized in the Senate gallery on Thursday, April 13, 2017, prior to a floor vote on a bill that shields murder witnesses’ identities from being disclosed in public records. HB 111 now goes to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk to be signed into law. Florida Channel.

April 13, 2017

Consider it 'education day' in the Florida House

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@ByKristenMClark

The Florida House will pass out its budget proposal today for 2017-18, but it might as well be "education day" in the chamber, too.

Today is also when the chamber's Republican majority will -- barring any earth-shattering surprise -- pass out its most-desired and drastic reforms for education policy this year. And unlike last year, they're all tied to the budget.

Those include:

-- the $200 million "schools of hope" plan to attract specialized, high-performing charter schools to Florida to serve students who currently attend failing traditional schools;

-- the $214 million expansion of the "Best & Brightest" teachers bonuses, which changes the criteria to qualify and extends the bonuses to principals, too;

-- and changing the formula for how local and state capital dollars for school construction and maintenance will be disbursed among traditional and charter schools, giving charter schools a cut of the local dollars they don't currently get.

Democrats took a caucus position to oppose the "schools of hope" bill, and you can expect many will also vote against the "Best & Brightest" expansion and the capital outlay funding changes, too. Republicans hold a 79-41 majority, so they don't need Democratic support to push through their priorities.

The Senate has its own ideas on each of these measures, of course, so the final two weeks of session will be ripe with behind-closed-doors negotiating and backroom dealing.

The Senate is conceptually on board with the "Best & Brightest" expansion and the premise behind "schools of hope," but leaders in that chamber have their own ideas on how those policies could be accomplished.

As well, senators on Wednesday passed their own proposal for changing capital outlay funding -- removing a main component of their bill (SB 376) so that sharing local tax dollars with charters wouldn't actually be required. (It currently is optional anyway.) The bill also includes reforms to restrict charter schools from using capital funding for "personal financial enrichment," something the Senate first sought last year.

Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, has previously said a mandate on school districts to share their local dollars couldn't be imposed without also affording districts the ability to collect more tax revenue locally, because districts carry a lot of debt service that has to be paid regardless. But raising the millage cap for districts makes some lawmakers wary, because it could be seen as a tax increase even though the decision to actually raise the tax would be approved locally.

Simmons told the Herald/Times Wednesday that taking out the mandate from the Senate bill resolves that conflict and positions the Senate to negotiate with the House in conference committee. The House proposal (HB 5103), meanwhile, calls for a more complicated formula that requires state and local money to be divided among charter and traditional schools, while accounting off the top for the districts' debt service.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Senate has different ideas for $200M 'schools of hope' funding

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@ByKristenMClark

The senator in charge of negotiating education spending for next year's budget said late Wednesday the Senate is willing to consider the House's $200 million plan to help students in perpetually failing public schools -- but not necessarily in the manner the House proposes.

A session priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, and education policy chairman Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, the House's "schools of hope" plan (HB 5105) was fast-tracked through two committees since it was unveiled late last month, and it's poised to pass the Republican-led House on Thursday afternoon -- likely with unanimous Democratic opposition.

MORE: “Are ‘schools of hope’ the solution to perpetually failing public schools?”

But Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, told the Herald/Times that rather than adopting the explicit plan for what the House calls "schools of hope," he's more interested in focusing on the general premise of helping students in struggling schools break the cycle of generational poverty.

And he said that doesn't necessarily have to come through incentivizing high-performing, specialized charter schools to set up shop in Florida in neighborhoods with failing schools, as HB 5105 calls for.

"They're looking at this from a view of what we call 'wraparound services' or 'communities in schools,' " Simmons said of the House plan. "I know traditional public schools provide a lot of these services, and we're doing that already; we're finding that it works."

"If we can meld the concept of doing 'communities in schools' with charter schools, with traditional public schools with mentoring programs, then we'll not be very far apart at all," said Simmons, the Senate's Pre-K-12 education budget chairman.

He called the $200 million allocation the House wants a "great idea," but he said the funding doesn't have to explicitly go to establishing new "schools of hope" that could supplant traditional neighborhood schools.

Continue reading "Senate has different ideas for $200M 'schools of hope' funding" »

April 10, 2017

Most gun bills have stalled in the Legislature. Many say Anitere Flores is the reason why.

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@ByKristenMClark

When Anitere Flores declared, unprompted, a month ago there were a lot of controversial gun-rights measures she wouldn’t support this year, the Miami Republican state senator truly set the tone for the Legislature’s gun debate in 2017.

With the session half over, only a handful of the two dozen pieces of gun-related legislation proposed this year have been considered at all, and of those, only a couple have a viable path at actually becoming law.

The House approved three such bills this week — two of which could likely be enacted this year, including highly divisive changes to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law — but lawmakers in both chambers and from both parties predict those measures will be the only ones on the table for this session.

Several attribute Flores — who is No. 2 in the Senate behind President Joe Negron, R-Stuart — as the reason.

“I think the members — not just myself, but some others — we’re a little gun-bill fatigued,” Flores told the Herald/Times in late March.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. Steve Cannon / AP

April 05, 2017

Miami lawmaker: 'Schools of hope' plan is 'separate but unequal'

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@ByKristenMClark

Miami Democratic state Rep. Kionne McGhee isn’t sugar-coating how much he dislikes House Republicans’ $200 million, “schools of hope” plan to attract high-performing charter schools to Florida that would aid students currently attending perpetually failing traditional public schools.

“This bill, in my humble opinion, creates a separate but unequal system” that “runs afoul” of the state and U.S. Constitutions, McGhee said Wednesday, when HB 5105 faced its second of only two committee hearings. McGhee will be the House Democratic leader starting in late 2018.

MORE: “Are ‘schools of hope’ the solution to perpetually failing public schools?”

House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and other Republicans noted that a question of constitutionality in Florida’s public education system already arises if the state continues to let students languish in perpetually failing schools for years and years.

“These schools have failed these kids long enough,” Diaz said. “These are kids trapped in generational poverty, and for us to create this illusion it [schools of hope] is a separate system? It’s not.”

The full Appropriations Committee sent the “schools of hope” bill to the House floor on a party-line vote, with Democrats opposed.

They argue the money could be better spent on bringing innovations to traditional public schools, rather than picking “winners and losers” and propping up a specific few nonprofit charter operators, whose “schools of hope” could essentially replace failing neighborhood schools.

The “schools of hope” bill is lawmakers’ “best effort to give hope to kids who have no hope,” Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater said. He told the committee members: “If you’re content with failure, then by all means vote against this bill.”

There are 115 schools in 27 counties across Florida — almost half of which are in South Florida and Tampa Bay alone — that have been graded “D” or “F” for three years or more. The 77,000 students in those schools are the ones House Republicans aim to help by bringing in these proposed “schools of hope.”

A Senate companion to HB 5105 doesn’t yet exist but is poised to surface through a sweeping amendment that would replace a relatively generic charter school bill from Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, with the “schools of hope” legislation. SB 796 — and Bean’s strike-all amendment — were supposed to be considered this week but the Senate Education Committee ran out of time. It could now be taken up as early as April 17.

Photo credit: Jeremy Wallace / Herald/Times

April 04, 2017

Daily school recess mandate passes Senate. The House remains this year's challenge.

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@ByKristenMClark

Nearly 1.3 million elementary school students in Florida are a major step closer to being guaranteed 20 minutes of recess every school day after the state Senate unanimously endorsed the concept Tuesday.

The easy win for SB 78 — sponsored by Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores — comes one year after chamber leaders wouldn’t even consider the idea.

“This bill is here as a result of moms from across the state having to listen to their children come home — their 7-year-old son come home — and say, ‘Mom, I’m so tired. I hate going to school; I hate going to school because there’s nothing for me to look forward to.’ ” Flores said. “This was a real grassroots effort of moms from across the state, saying: ‘Can you please help? Can you please be the voice in Tallahassee that I can’t be?’ ”

Requiring daily recess in elementary schools is overwhelmingly favored by parents who have lobbied aggressively for the change in Florida law. It’s also supported by a majority of state lawmakers.

But it still faces a potential repeat of 2016 — when the proposal stalled over a single lawmaker’s opposition.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Loana Paine 6, plays on the slide during recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools. Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Compromise on student testing reforms advances in Florida Senate

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@ByKristenMClark

A sweeping plan to reduce standardized testing in Florida’s K-12 schools cleared its first state Senate committee on Monday, after lawmakers struck a compromise to blend competing reform proposals.

Despite political drama last week that delayed the policy discussion, senators breezed through vetting SB 926 and passed it unanimously after considering most of the amendments — all but two out of the 19 filed — in less than 15 minutes. Trilby Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, who led the meeting, provided no time for the Education Committee to debate the changed bill or for the public to weigh in prior to the final vote.

MORE: “Senator calls political games surrounding testing reforms ‘an abomination’ ”

The committee ran out of time, because nearly two dozen bills were scheduled to be heard in just two hours. (The committee won’t meet next week because of the Passover holiday.)

“I know sometimes, with the public, it looks like we rushed through this and we went through a lot of things in a short amount of time,” said Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, who sponsored the bill. “But this is the result of not just working together in the last week, but working together over the last several months.”

More here.