April 10, 2017

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

Anitere Flores_ap

@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'

Mcghee2

@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.

RECESS 0212 b epf

@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

IMG_2186

@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.

April 03, 2017

“ ‘Schools of hope’ will hopefully be a beautiful thing,” Florida House Speaker says (video)

Corcoran_richard 022217 1

@ByKristenMClark

Legislation unveiled last week to encourage nonprofit charter-school operators to bring "schools of hope" to communities in Florida that have perpetually failing schools has been a labor of love for House Republicans this session.

The policy (HB 5105) was spearhead by Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, the House education policy chairman -- with Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman, ensuring the bill's $200 million price-tag was included in the House budget proposal.

MORE: Are ‘schools of hope’ the solution to Florida’s perpetually failing public schools?

The bill will be a major factor in budget negotiations this month, and it's a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who said he hopes the "schools of hope" will be "a beautiful thing."

"When you can get those people to come and educate those students, so they no longer have that generational poverty and they have dignity and they have a future -- that’s a priority," Corcoran told reporters.

Watch more of what Corcoran had to say below:

Video credit: Florida Channel

House Republicans want $200M to bring 'schools of hope' to Florida's poorest areas

SP_409499_KEEL_2_FLGOV@ByKristenMClark

Fed up with traditional K-12 public schools that perpetually fail, often in Florida’s poorest communities, Republican lawmakers in the state House have proposed a bold — and costly — idea to help those students.

They want to spend $200 million in 2017-18 to entice “the best of the best charter schools in the entire country” to set up shop near Florida’s failing traditional schools and establish “schools of hope” that would offer a better education — and better chance to succeed — to those students currently in struggling neighborhood schools.

Republican House leaders say traditional public schools and county school districts have had ample opportunity, flexibility and resources to turn around perpetually failing schools, but the results haven’t yielded enough success.

VIDEO: House Speaker: 'Schools of Hope will hopefully be a beautiful thing'

“There are kids within an hour’s drive of where we’re sitting that are in an environment that gives them no hope,” Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala said during a House Education Committee meeting in Tallahassee this week. “It’s already been proven that giving them more money in that classroom doesn’t fix the problem. We have to completely change the way we do things and have a new approach.”

But some Democrats, school board members, public school teachers and parents caution that the solution isn’t as simple as bringing in out-of-state operators to run brand-new schools that could essentially replace languishing neighborhood schools.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 31, 2017

Florida House backs protections for murder witnesses' identities

LibertyCity_Shooting_MJO_2

@ByKristenMClark

The examples of tragedy in Rep. Cynthia Stafford’s district are almost too many for the Miami Democrat to list, but she offered a few to the Florida House on Thursday:

▪ “A 10-year-old retrieving his basketball in his front yard, shot and killed.”

▪ “An 8-year-old girl shot and killed, walking out of her front yard.”

▪ “A straight-A student on her way to college — the valedictorian of her class with a full scholarship — shot and killed riding in her car.”

“In each of these instances, someone knows what happens, but they’re afraid to come forward,” said Stafford, who represents areas that include Opa-locka, Liberty City and parts of Miami Gardens.

Stafford hopes legislation she proposed will give murder witnesses more incentive to talk with police, and the Florida House endorsed her bill Thursday by a near-unanimous vote.

More here.

Photo credit:Matias J. Ocner / For the Miami Herald

March 30, 2017

House education chairman: I’ve been clear where I stand on school recess

SP_409499_KEEL_3_FLGOV

@ByKristenMClark

The only lawmaker on record still opposing state-required daily recess in Florida’s elementary schools wields a lot of power over education policy this session.

But Miami Republican and House education chairman Michael Bileca won’t say whether he intervened to water down this year’s recess bill to eliminate the daily requirement and cut off guaranteed recess from more than 430,000 fourth- and fifth-graders in Florida.

“I think I’ve made the thoughts that I’ve had on recess clear, so how they chose to change it is how they chose to change it to move things through,” Bileca told the Herald/Times.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times 

March 29, 2017

'Best & Brightest' expansion ready for full House vote

@ByKristenMClark

A bill to expand the controversial "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program is ready for a full House vote, after clearing the 30-member Appropriations Committee this afternoon on a party-line vote.

HB 7069 was fast-tracked to the floor in the past three weeks, with only two committee hearings. It's unclear how fast the House will take up the bill; it could be as early as next week.

The expansion proposal allows more "highly effective" teachers and — for the first time — principals to qualify for an annual bonus. Instead of only using on the teachers' SAT or ACT scores from high school, teachers could qualify next year by also using graduate school entrance exam scores, like the GRE or the LSAT.

MORE: "Another budget showdown looms over ‘Best & Brightest’ teacher bonuses"

The number of educators who would be eligible for the money would increase greatly. Pre-K-12 Education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said he doesn’t yet have an estimate for how many might be eligible, but he told the Appropriations Committee funding it at $214 million -- as the House proposes to do -- is intended to keep the awards at around $10,000 per person.

With those figures, that would be enough to cover bonuses for potentially more than 21,000 teachers and principals statewide.

In 2015-16, about 5,300 teachers qualified and received $8,248 each. This school year, nearly 7,200 teachers qualified and each got $6,816. (There are about 188,300 certified teachers statewide.)

Democrats on the Appropriations Committee said they still don’t like the premise of rewarding teachers based on assessment scores and they want the Legislature to use the additional funding to instead find a way to raise the salaries of all teachers.

“We just need to give our teachers raises and stop beating around the bush in how we do it,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park.

Diaz blasted the Democrats’ opposition. “Here’s a bill that puts $200 million into teacher’s pockets and we’re saying ‘no,’” he said. 

UPDATED: Prepare for another budget showdown over 'Best & Brightest' bonuses

SP_409499_KEEL_2_FLGOV@ByKristenMClark

While both the House and Senate are interested in more than quadrupling funding to expand the “Best & Brightest” teacher bonus program next year, only the House actually proposes a dollar figure in its initial budget plan.

Both chambers’ education budget plans were unveiled Tuesday in advance of the full budget roll-out this week.

The House plan calls for $214 million in the 2017-18 budget for the teacher bonuses, up from the $49 million the Legislature allocated this year. But the Senate proposal zeros out the program funding — setting up another year of negotiations over the controversial program.

“That’s part of the process; this is not the first go-around with that in dealing with the Senate,” said Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman. “That’s par for the course.”

MORE: “$250 million for teacher incentives? Florida lawmakers crafting plan to do it”

Senate Pre-K-12 Education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, revealed in February that lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol were interested in expanding the “Best & Brightest” program so that teachers could be eligible in more ways than just their SAT/ACT score from high school and so that principals could also qualify for bonus dollars.

Simmons said then the House was exploring potentially $250 million for next year, which he said the Senate was supportive of.

He told reporters Wednesday morning that not including “Best & Brightest” in the Senate’s initial budget proposal is part of a strategic move to ensure the Senate gets some of its priorities, too, in budget negotiations.

“That’s a matter that we’re going to discuss and I believe when we put our budget together, it’s with the expectation that we will be dealing with that issue,” Simmons said, “and we want very much to accommodate the House on that issue — and that’s part of the give and take. We know that this is important [to them].”

More here.

Photo credit: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

[originally posted 5:30 a.m.; updated 10:15 a.m.]