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April 17, 2017

Does competition lift public schools as Jeb Bush says?


via @PolitiFactNH

As New Hampshire considers the merits of a universal Education Savings Account bill, education reformers nationwide are watching - and weighing in.

Senate Bill 193 would allow parents to use 90 percent of the per-pupil grant the state gives to local public schools and instead put it toward alternative educational expenses, including private school tuition or homeschooling.

ESAs function basically like vouchers, but they give parents more options about how the money can be spent.  

Proponents of ESAs tout them as the next evolution in school choice. If SB 193 is passed by the House (it cleared the Senate in March), it would be one of the most expansive school choice laws in the country.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose Foundation for Excellence in Education is backing market-based education reform efforts nationwide, submitted an op-ed in New Hampshire papers this week, urging passage of the bill.

"This legislation (will not) hurt public schools. In fact, a large body of research, including that done in my home state of Florida, indicates quite the opposite. When public schools face increased competition, they get better and kids learn more," he wrote.

Critics of choice typically say that diverting funds from public schools hurt those schools. So putting aside the question of whether vouchers actually help the kids who use them, we wondered: Does research show that school choice, and specifically vouchers, help public schools get better?

See what PolitiFact New Hampshire found.

Are African-Americans overrepresented on Florida's death row?



The decision by Orlando-area prosecutor Aramis D. Ayala to no longer seek the death penalty in murder cases has injected a racial discussion about death row into the Florida legislative session.

Ayala, a Democrat elected as state attorney in 2016, announced her decision while handling the case of Markeith Loyd, who is accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police officer. Scott removed Ayala from the Loyd case as well as 21 additional first-degree murder cases and reassigned them to Brad King, a Republican state attorney.

Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Orange County Democrat and chairman of the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee, defended Ayala’s right to make that call and criticized Gov. Rick Scott’s reaction in an op-ed in the New York Times.

"As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida," Bracy wrote. "The state has the second-largest number of death row inmates in the country, after California, and African-Americans are grossly overrepresented on Florida’s death row."

Related: Did the U.S. Supreme Court ban all state laws that make executions mandatory for murderers?

We decided to look at the statistics and see if they back up Bracy’s statement. Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Negron on Scott's plan to loan feds $200 million: 'I do have concern...the federal government will not repay'

Senate President Joe Negron said in a statement Monday that while he appreciate's the governor's endorsement of his plan for a southern reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, he has his doubts that the federal government will repay a loan the governor wants to advance the feds.

Here's Negron's statement:

"I appreciate Governor Scott's support for reducing and eventually eliminating harmful, polluted, high-volume discharges from Lake Okeechobee. The Governor has long been a partner in this important effort. He has visited our communities a number of times over the last several years and has seen firsthand the impact of this pollution on the environment, as well as the impact on the economies east and west of the Lake. Last summer he supported our communities by declaring a state of emergency in four Florida counties plagued by enormous toxic blue-green algal blooms. 

"There is no question that repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike are needed to ensure the safety of communities south of the Lake. I do have some concern that if Florida advances funds to complete the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike, the federal government will not repay our state.  I want to make sure we do not spend hundreds of millions of dollars of General Revenue funds on what is unquestionably a federal responsibility. I have shared these concerns with Governor Scott, and I appreciate the Governor continuing to work with our new federal partners to expedite the timetable for these necessary repairs.

"The Senate remains focused on reducing, and ultimately eliminating, the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee."

In a breakthrough for Senate President Negron, Scott endorses reservoir plan with some conditions

Gov. Rick Scott added some tension to the feud between the House and Senate over priority legislation and on Monday endorsed Senate President Joe Negron's proposal to build a deep-water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee on existing state lands to reduce the need to discharge polluted water in fragile estuaries.

But the governor added a new proposal, urging legislators to find $200 million to loan the federal government to accelerate improvements to the Herbert Hoover Dike.

“I support storage south of the lake in the A2 Reservoir which utilizes state-owned land and does not take people’s private land,'' Scott said at a rare press conference about a pending legislative issue. "This is a big step toward protecting our pristine environment. This additional storage, in conjunction with our currently planned projects around the Lake, will help reduce harmful discharges to the estuaries in South Florida."

Sen. Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who has shepherded the bill through the Senate with a 36-3 vote last week, met with Scott early Monday said the announcement was "a huge step forward in bringings this in for a landing."

"The legislative process is about compromise and I look at the governor's statement today as nothing other than a positive development,'' he said. "Everybody doesn't get everything in this process...We now have the governor's endorsement, all we need is our House partners to get on board."

Scott said that he wants the state to lend the federal government $200 million to help accelerate the repairs to the dike by three years. The federal government has committed to repairing the dike by 2025 and, Scott said Monday.

"My goal is for the dike to be completely repaired by 2022, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Trump Administration to complete this, which would substantially reduce future discharges,'' he said. 

Bradley said that leaves many unanswered questions, such as where the money will come from and how the state will get paid back for its loan to the feds.

"Those of us in the Senate want to learn more details about what assurances we will have from the federal government that they would pay us back that $200 million,'' he said. "That is a federal responsibility of course and it's important the federal government maintain its responsibilities. They own the dike, maintain the dike. They built the dike and it is their responsibility."

Scott added what Negron has emphasized, that money for the project not be taken from existing restoration projects, such as the building the C43 and C44 canals.

"Also, it is important to me that whatever is passed does not impact any person’s job,'' he said. And embracing the position of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the governor said: "We have dedicated record funding toward Everglades restoration and I am confident we have the funds available to get these projects done without taking on more debt."

Bradley said the Senate plan does not call for bonding in the first year but leaves open the door for bonding in future years to pay for land under the state's existing bonding authority. Bradley said he wants to see how the governor envisions the plan working without that.

"We need to see the cash flow,'' he said. 

When asked if the governor, whose political committee has accepted $425,000 from U.S. Sugar, said he has not spoken to the sugar industry about Negron's retrofitted proposal which many farmers have rejected.

Here's the governor's statement:

Continue reading "In a breakthrough for Senate President Negron, Scott endorses reservoir plan with some conditions" »

Some school districts, including Miami-Dade, are actively lobbying against 'schools of hope'



Administrators at some of Florida’s largest school districts — including Miami-Dade County — are speaking out in opposition to House Republicans’ $200 million “schools of hope” plan that would pit new, specialized charter schools against the districts’ perpetually failing traditional public schools.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is “actively lobbying against” HB 5105, a spokeswoman said, and Duval County schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti sent a lengthy letter to the Florida Senate Monday morning urging lawmakers to “please use logic and reject” the House’s bill.

The Senate has yet to formally discuss the “schools of hope” legislation that the Republican-led House passed last week along party-lines. The legislation seeks to attract specialized, out-of-state charter schools to come to Florida and compete with struggling traditional schools so that students currently attending such schools have another option.

Because both chambers agreed to send the House-approved bill to upcoming budget conference negotiations, it all-but ensures some form of the policy will become law in 2017-18. (The bill is a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.)

However, school district administrators — echoing some of the opposition expressed by House Democrats — say they have concerns about the proposal.

In his five-page letter, Vitti said the bill “seemingly attempts to address the authentic need” of improving schools that serve students who largely face the challenge of generational poverty “but does so without a research-based, data-driven, realistic or sustainable solution.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

Rubio records robocall for Republican in Georgia special election

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio has recorded a robocall to gin up support for Republican Judson Hill in Georgia’s much-watched special election Tuesday.

“He can provide the leadership we need to defeat radical terror and repeal and replace Obamacare,” Rubio says. “Judson is the only trusted conservative in the race.”

Hill is a contender in the 6th Congressional District, which had been held by Rep. Tom Price, now President Trump’s health secretary. There are numerous candidates, including Democrat Jon Ossoff, who has been flooded with millions of dollars in donations from across the country as the race is pitched as a test of Trump.

A June 20 runoff is likely.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has more here.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

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

Anitere Flores_ap


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:


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

Sen. Bill Nelson poised for battle with Gov. Rick Scott


via @stevebousquet

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has been on the political stage longer than anyone in Florida, since 1972 — the year of Watergate and President Richard Nixon's re-election.

That's staying power. It's no wonder that at 74, he's not ready to retire.

Nelson, the only Democrat holding statewide office, has led a charmed political life, winning three Senate races against weak Republicans.

But that may be coming to an end. He wants a fourth term, and his likely opponent is Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

"The way I approach an election, I assume nothing," Nelson says. "I run scared as a jackrabbit."

He should.

Scott, who has won two close races for governor, looks more battle-tested than Nelson, has more money in the bank and is a perpetual campaigner.

On the road constantly, the governor held several roundtables in recent weeks and urged local leaders to save Enterprise Florida from that "job-killing" House speaker, Richard Corcoran.

So it surely was coincidental that, with no notice, Corcoran invited Nelson to address the House last Thursday while the senator was in Tallahassee.

Keep reading here.

House to intervene in Supreme Court case between Rick Scott and state attorney



The Florida House is stepping into the legal battle between Gov. Rick Scott and Orlando-area State Attorney Aramis Ayala over the death penalty.

Last week, the House's lawyers asked for permission to file a brief with the Florida Supreme Court in support of Scott, who transferred 23 death penalty cases to another state attorney after Ayala said she would not seek the death penalty in Orange and Osceola counties. Ayala has asked the court to tell Scott he is acting outside his constitutional powers to reassign cases and give them back to her office.

The court on Monday gave the House permission to file its brief.

It "would address the exclusive role assigned by the Constitution to the Legislature in the setting of public policy for the State and the ill effects that flow from the refusal of a state officer or agent to enforce a duly enacted legislative policy based on his or her disagreement with the rectitude or efficacy of that policy."

Republicans in the chamber -- including Speaker Richard Corcoran, who called for Scott to suspend Ayala from office -- have been highly critical of Ayala from the beginning.

They and Republican senators are pushing to cut more than $1 million and 23 positions from Ayala's office.

Photo: Aramis Ayala (AP)

No further hearings on gun bills in Senate Judiciary after all

Stand Your Ground (2)@ByKristenMClark

Earlier this month, Senate Judiciary chairman Greg Steube had told the Herald/Times he wasn’t giving up on holding a hearing for some of his more controversial gun bills this year, which proposed to eliminate some “gun-free” zones in Florida.

But it appears the Sarasota Republican is backing off.

His committee will meet for the final time on Wednesday and, while it’s a packed agenda, there are no gun bills slated to be heard. (Here’s the agenda.)

Full details here

Photo credit: Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. AP