April 19, 2017

WATCH: Senate President Joe Negron addresses Frank Artiles' remarks

@ByKristenMClark

After this morning's Senate session when Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles formally apologized, President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sat down with reporters to discuss Artiles' offensive remarks toward his Senate colleagues on Monday night.

MORE: "Legislative complaint seeks to expel Miami lawmaker from Senate over ‘racist rant’ "

Negron first laid out in detail -- almost as if presenting a case in a courtroom -- how he was informed of Artiles' comments and how and why he decided to respond. He then answered questions, including whether he thought Artiles should resign and what the next steps for possible discipline might be for the freshman senator.

Watch Negron's explanation and answers below.

Gov. Rick Scott calls Artiles' comments 'disgusting' but declines to say whether he should resign

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via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Gov. Rick Scott said this afternoon that Sen. Frank Artiles comments were “disgusting” but declined to say whether the Miami Republican should resign.

“He’ll have to make a decision on what he does,” Scott told reporters after spending the day in Washington.

“It’s disgusting,” Scott said when asked to react to the racist, sexist rant.

“I called Senator (Audrey) Gibson this morning. I have a good working relationship with her," Scott said, nothing they walked in a Martin Luther King Day parade. "Nobody should be called names like that. Nobody should be treated like that. It was disgusting.”

Pressed by Gannett’s Ledyard King, Scott repeated that Artiles would have to make the decision whether to step down.

“I’ll just tell you it was disgusting what he said," Scott said. "It was not right to say to anybody. That’s why I called Senator Gibson this morning. She’ a wonderful person.”

Asked again, Scott said: "What you do everyday in your job has consequences when you run."

Photo credit: AP

Artiles' apology not enough: Democrats, Equality Florida, NAACP call for his removal

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via @mikevansickler

Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles may have said he's not resigning minutes after he apologized Wednesday for earlier using a racial slur and directing profanity at another senator.

But other groups are calling him to quit. Others are criticizing how Artiles apologized.

Here's a mid-afternoon sampling of the fallout:

Continue reading "Artiles' apology not enough: Democrats, Equality Florida, NAACP call for his removal" »

WATCH: Sen. Frank Artiles delivers a formal apology on Senate floor

@ByKristenMClark

At the direction of Senate President Joe Negron, Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles delivered a formal apology on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, two days after he insulted Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, in the presence of Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, and used a racial slur to describe other senators.

Watch the video below, and read more here on Artiles' apology and the continuing fallout of his actions.

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

Parents of murdered kids

@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" »