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January 29, 2016

Raquel Regalado: Opposition to Liberty Square charter school not a flip-flop


This week, school board member and Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado came out hard against Mami-Dade County's proposal to redevelop Liberty Square, Miami's oldest and largest housing project. Chief among her criticisms was that, in an area surrounded by neighborhood schools that are significantly under-enrolled and undergoing millions in renovations, the developers competing for the job have both proposed to build charter schools in excess of 70,000 square feet.

"Where did we get the idea that what we need there is another school?" she said.

But Regalado was on the receiving end of similar criticisms just a few years ago when she was one of the chief proponents of building a new downtown public school. The idea was pitched despite the fact that Booker T Washington Senior High, an Overtown institution serving downtown families, was only about half-full.

"Booker T is an icon, a beacon in Overtown," School Board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall told the Miami Times in November 2014. "Our job as a board is to spend our time focused on curriculum. If Booker T. is not good enough for the children in Brickell, why not? I will not have anyone denigrate any school in my district. We don’t need another school; we need to do something to increase enrollment.”

Is Regalado flip-flopping?

Continue reading "Raquel Regalado: Opposition to Liberty Square charter school not a flip-flop" »

Keystone XL grassroots opponent endorses Alan Grayson


U.S. Rep. and U.S. Senate candidate Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, announced today that he's picked up the endorsement of Jane Kleeb, a grassroots organizer who helped kill the Keystone XL Pipeline project.

Kleeb heralded Grayson for his strength in opposing the project despite facing political pressure.

"No other candidate in this race will protect our environment and fight for clean energy jobs with the same guts as Alan Grayson," Kleeb said in a statement provided by Grayson's campaign.

The endorsement is another example of divergent support for Grayson and his primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.

Earlier today, Murphy announced he's gotten the backing of the Laborers' International Union of North America, adding to his cache of party establishment support in contrast to Grayson's progressive, more grassroots base.

LIUNA, like Murphy, supported the Keystone XL project.

Murphy and Grayson are competing in the Democratic party primary in August for the race to replace Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate.

Budget plans reveal Florida House, Senate far apart in school construction dollars

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The state House is proposing to give Florida's 650 charter schools almost twice as much of the state's sought-after school construction dollars than traditional public schools next year.

But over in the Senate, members wants to give them zilch, while traditional public schools would still get $50 million.

At least on paper.

The figures come from each chamber's proposed budget bills, released today. But House and Senate education budget committee chairmen caution not to read too much into the proposed line-items.

It's still relatively early in the legislative budget process, and both Senate Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said this week that they hadn't finalized figures for fixed capital outlay dollars yet nor determined how much exactly should go to either traditional public schools or charter schools.

Fresen said in a text message today that the specifics will be hashed out later when House and Senate leaders eventually meet in conference committee to settle on the final state budget.

"Those are block numbers," he said, referring to the fixed capital outlay line-items. "It doesn't really mean much right now."

But the proposed figures offer insight into each chamber's priorities and potential bargaining chips going forward.

Continue reading "Budget plans reveal Florida House, Senate far apart in school construction dollars" »

Alan Grayson announces $591,000 in fundraising - including new personal loan - to end 2015



Despite "an army of small-dollar progressive donors," U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson continues to lag well behind fellow U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in fundraising for the Democratic primary of Florida's high-profile U.S. Senate contest.

Grayson's campaign told the Herald/Times today the Orlando congressman took in $591,000 for the three-month filing period between October and December, with average donations around $28 from 9,300 individuals representing more than 240 Florida communities and all 50 states.

The total includes a new $100,000 loan Grayson gave his campaign, which is in addition to previous personal loans he's made, the campaign said.

Spokesman David Damron said the campaign is still calculating exactly how much Grayson had in cash on hand as of Dec. 31, but Damron said it's around the same amount "or slightly less" than what Grayson had heading into October.

Grayson reported $258,700 in the bank, as of Sept. 30.

Meanwhile, Murphy -- the party establishment's favored candidate -- announced his fourth-quarter fundraising totals last week.

The Jupiter congressman said he raised $1.46 million from October through December -- which, by comparison, is about 2.5 times as much as Grayson said he took in during the same time-frame. Murphy said he had nearly $4.3 million on hand in his U.S. Senate campaign, as of Dec. 31.

Fourth-quarter fundraising reports are due to the Federal Election Commission by Jan. 31. Senate campaigns typically file paper copies through the secretary of the Senate, so specific details on Grayson's and Murphy's most-recent fundraising aren't yet available.

Grayson's campaign expressed optimism for 2016, saying it "already set a new, one-month record for contributions in January" and has new, continuing pledges that total $60,000 a month going forward.

“This campaign is fueled by retirees and veterans, and people who work in classrooms or drive buses, not wealthy lobbyists and special interests," political director Mario Piscatella said in a campaign statement.

North Palm Beach attorney Pam Keith is also seeking the Democratic nomination. Her fundraising has been nominal.

The Murphy-Grayson contest is drawing a lot of national attention, as Murphy has built momentum off support from key Democrats and union groups, while Grayson has picked up endorsements from notable progressives and grassroots supporters, including both the state and national Progressive Democrats of America.

Florida's U.S. Senate race is seen as one of the pivotal seats for both Republicans and Democrats to win, because it could decide which party controls the upper chamber of Congress next year.

Four candidates are running in the Republican primary: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox.

Photo credit: AP

Marco Rubio's debate claim about cap and trade

Sen. Marco Rubio defended past support of a cap-and-trade bill in the Florida House by saying it was an attempt to protect the state from future federal regulations.

Fox News moderator Bret Baier asked Rubio about the issue at a Republican presidential primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 28, 2016. Baier said Rubio had "wanted Florida to get ahead of other states and establish a cap-and-trade system" while he was House speaker in 2008, and asked why Rubio had changed his mind.

Rubio denied he backed a popular plan supported by then-Gov. Charlie Crist, claiming he was looking to insulate Florida from restrictions a future president might impose.

"I have never supported cap and trade, and I never thought it was a good idea, and I was clear about that at the time," Rubio said.

Rubio has been very outspoken during this campaign about his opposition to cap and trade, which lets businesses trade pollution credits if they don't meet emission caps. But is his retelling of what happened in 2008 accurate?

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact found.

Florida House wants $601M increase to K-12 education funding


The Florida House is also seeking a big boost in K-12 education funding next year, proposing an extra $601 million more for schools.

Both the House and Senate are seeking to increase K-12 education funding even more so than what Republican Gov. Rick Scott has proposed.

Scott called for $500 million in extra funding. The House would increase that by another $100 million, while the Senate has pitched an extra $650 million, or $150 million more than Scott's plan.

But the the point of contention continues to be how much of those new dollars will come from the state versus growing revenues from local property taxes.

Some Republicans in both chambers argue increasing the required local effort constitutes a "tax increase," and they're not on board with that -- especially in the Senate.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who chairs the Senate budget subcommittee for education, said his panel would consider several alternatives early next week, including replacing local property taxes with state tax revenue. More here.

Some lawmakers would prefer scaling back the local dollars and counting that toward the $1 billion in tax cuts that Scott wants, or even just simply acknowledging that the increase in education spending would cut into the overall tax cuts.

"If we cut taxes here a billion dollars and raise them $500 million at home, we need to call it a $500 million tax decrease, not $1 billion," said Rep. Fred Costello, R-Ormond Beach, a member of the House education budget committee.

That chamber's plan uses Scott's method of predominantly relying on local property tax revenue -- which House Education Budget Committee Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, describes as an "adjustment with no actual increase in the millage."

But even if the tax rate doesn't change, property owners' tax bills will likely still be higher because of improved property values statewide.

Fresen said the proportion of local taxes toward education declined from 2009 to 2013, "so during a time of declining tax rolls, it was essentially a tax cut," so he said this adjusts for that now that property values are rebounding.

Fresen rolled out the House proposal during a swift discussion on Thursday. The chamber unveiled its full budget plan this morning.

For K-12 education, the House recommends a total budget of $20.3 billion, with $7,232 in per-pupil funding. The current level is about $7,107 per student this year.

To fund the House's plan of an extra $601 million in K-12 education, about 78 percent of that -- or $505 million -- would come from required and discretionary local dollars. About $95 million would come from the state.

By comparison, Scott's budget proposal called for a $20.2 billion education budget with funding of $7,221 per student. He wants to increase K-12 dollars by $507.3 million in 2016-17. But only about $80 million of that would be extra state aide, while $427.3 million — 85 percent — would come from property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay

Meanwhile, the Senate's budget plan is about $50 million more than the House's and $150 million more than the governor's. It's roughly $20.3 billion, with $7,249 in per-pupil funding.

To fund its $650 million increase -- for now -- the Senate has penciled in similar proportions of local and state funding as the House and governor, but Gaetz expects that to change given his and his colleagues' discontent with that calculation.

Meet a Florida woman campaigning in Iowa -- for Ted Cruz


DES MOINES -- Cindy Tanner lived in Colorado before she moved four years ago to Coral, Florida -- near Fort Myers -- so what happened to her a recent morning in Iowa wasn't entirely unfamiliar.

"I had to scrape ice off my windshield!" she said.

Tanner, 54, is bearing the Iowa winter by choice: She volunteered to campaign for her favorite Republican running for president, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. They took her up on her offer.

So she hopped on a flight to Houston on Monday, then flew to Denver, and then, finally, to Des Moines -- all for a candidate she didn't meet until Wednesday. She also met his wife, Heidi Cruz.

"I just couldn't stay on my lounge chair in Florida, in the sunshine," she said. "I'm hoping it will make a little difference."

Tanner has been a fan of Cruz's since he staged a filibuster against Obamacare on the U.S. Senate floor. She's been engaged with his campaign in Florida, even though there are two Floridians also seeking the GOP nomination, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush.

"I would love for a Cruz-Rubio team," she said. "That would be ideal, because I like Rubio too, and I just think that if he was vice president, that would be amazing."

The Cruz campaign has so many out-of-state volunteers in Iowa ahead of Monday's caucuses that it's rented a dormitory for them. "Camp Cruz" is home this week to Tanner, a retired electronics manufacturing consultant who was assigned a roommate, college-style. 

"It's not a resort feel," she said wryly. "I didn't come for the accommodation." 

Continue reading "Meet a Florida woman campaigning in Iowa -- for Ted Cruz" »

Laborers' union endorses Patrick Murphy in Florida U.S. Senate contest



U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, picked up another high-profile endorsement on Friday in his bid to be the Democratic Party's candidate in Florida's U.S. Senate race to replace Marco Rubio.

The Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) announced its support for Murphy during a campaign event in Pompano Beach.

"He supports our working families and we believe that his commonsense approach to leadership is exactly what Florida needs right now," Glenn Farner, business manager of LIUNA’s Southeast Laborers' District Council, said in a statement provided by the campaign. "Time and again, Patrick has proven that he will fight to protect our workers’ rights, fight for their hard-earned, high-quality union health benefits, and fight to raise the minimum wage.”

Murphy has continued to rack up endorsements from the party establishment and key interest groups in the competitive primary against fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, of Orlando.

Grayson, meanwhile, is drawing his support from state and national progressives and grassroots donors. North Palm Beach attorney Pam Keith is also seeking the Democratic nomination.

National experts say the outcome of Florida's race could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate a year from now.

The Republican Party of Florida had this to say on Murphy's latest announcement:

“While Patrick Murphy attempts to hide the rapidly growing support behind Alan Grayson with the endorsements of a job-killing union, the truth remains that he is more focused on advancing his personal political ambitions than the best interest of Florida families," RPOF spokesman Wadi Gaitan said in a statement.

It's an example of one of the party's efforts to drive a greater wedge between Grayson and Murphy and add fuel to their rivalry.

Four candidates are running in the Republican primary: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox.

Photo credit: @gslayen / Patrick Murphy campaign


Senate: Reduce property tax load on schools and call it a tax cut

As work on a new state budget moves forward, Senate leaders are crafting a plan that would reduce the burden on local property taxpayers to pay for a boost in school funding, and make it part of Gov. Rick Scott's call for $1 billion in tax cuts.

Scott's call for a "historic" increase in K-12 funding relies overwhelmingly on growth in the value of businesses and homes, which means higher property tax bills. Some Republicans say this is a tax increase.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who chairs the Senate budget subcommittee for education, said his panel would consider several alternatives early next week, including replacing local property taxes with state tax revenue. Gaetz said 88 percent of Scott's proposed increase in school spending would come from property taxes and the goal should be 50 percent, which would carry s a price tag of $254 million, more than one-quarter of Scott's tax cut target.

"Our committee is concerned that the governor's proposal offloads 88 percent of education funding onto local property taxpayers," Gaetz said. "This notion of tipping the balance and sending 88 percent of the bill to local taxpayers is a problem." Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, told reporters he supports the concept -- which would take a major chunk out of Scott's call for $1 billion in business-friendly tax relief.

Scott told reporters Friday he had not seen the Senate proposal and could not comment on it, and he renewed his call for $1 billion in tax cuts.


'Best & Brightest' teacher bonus plan goes to Florida House floor



A comprehensive education reform package -- which includes controversial bonuses for K-12 schoolteachers based on how well they did on the ACT/SAT -- cleared its only House committee on Thursday and is headed to the chamber floor for consideration.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, is the lead sponsor of House Bill 7043 -- a work product of the House Education Committee last fall. It had been referred to only one committee -- Fresen's education budget committee -- which passed it 9-4, with the panel's Democrats in opposition.

Bills typically have multiple committee references, which can increase the difficulty of passage. The fact that Fresen's was referred to just one reinforces its status as a priority for House leadership.

Fresen's bill includes five major items:

-- it creates performance-based funding for the state college system, similar to what universities have now;

-- it revises the universities' performance-based funding formula and codifies the existing plan so it doesn't expire;

-- it revises the "pre-eminence" funding for Florida's top two research universities and creates an "emerging pre-eminence" status to encourage other universities to grow in that effort;

-- it establishes an educator liability insurance program, so teachers are covered up to $2 million for job-related claims;

-- and it "memorializes in statute" the Best & Brightest teacher bonus program, which lawmakers tacked on to the budget this year.

The program offers bonuses to teachers who are rated “highly effective” and score in the top 20th percentile at the time they took the SAT or ACT in high school. First-year teachers are eligible simply based on their exam scores.

The concept is Fresen's brainchild. He calls it both a recruitment and a retention tool, telling a Senate panel earlier this month that "common sense would tell you that a smarter person may do a better job teaching."

But critics say there's no proven correlation between teachers' high school test scores and their ability to be effective and improve student performance in the classroom. The state's largest teachers' union, representing 175,000 teachers, also is challenging the program and argues that it discriminates against older teachers and those who are minorities.

Continue reading "'Best & Brightest' teacher bonus plan goes to Florida House floor" »