July 07, 2017

Florida House responds to Broward Schools' threat of lawsuit with promotional video

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@ByKristenMClark

Two days after the Broward County School Board decided to sue over newly enacted and controversial statewide education reforms, Florida House Republicans countered by debuting a promotional video that touts their hotly debated “Schools of Hope” plan.

The “Hope” program — a top session priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes — is one of several provisions within House Bill 7069 that attorneys for the Broward school district plan to argue is unconstitutional.

Corcoran on Wednesday said the Broward School Board’s vote earlier that day to file a lawsuit was “clueless” and “arguably heartless,” in part, because “Schools of Hope” aims to break the cycle of traditional public schools that earn failing grades year after year.

RELATED: “Broward Schools to sue over controversial new schools law”

The House’s new video advertising “Schools of Hope” is the most recent product of an aggressive digital marketing strategy implemented under Corcoran, who took over as speaker in November.

The video’s message — and an accompanying tweet from Corcoran promoting it — are consistent with how Republican lawmakers have argued in defense of HB 7069: By casting critics as people opposed to helping tens of thousands of children in perpetually failing schools who might not have other public education options to turn to.

“As they prepare to sue ... we help prepare kids to soar,” Corcoran wrote Friday on Twitter, appearing to reference the Broward County School Board.

Watch the video and read our full story here.

Image credit: "Florida House of Representatives" YouTube page

July 06, 2017

Lawsuit against HB 7069 looms in Broward; Corcoran calls it 'clueless, arguably heartless'

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@ByKristenMClark

The bitter fight over new K-12 public school reforms that the Republican-led Legislature approved this spring entered a new stage on Wednesday when the Broward County School Board voted unanimously to challenge the law’s constitutionality in court.

Broward is the first school district to vote to sue over the passage of House Bill 7069, which became law Saturday above passionate objections from school administrators, teachers’ unions and parent groups statewide for its many provisions friendly to charter schools, in some cases, at the expense of traditional public schools.

“I’m in favor of taking aggressive action as soon as we possibly can,” Broward School Board member Rosalind Osgood said during a special board meeting convened solely to authorize Superintendent Robert Runcie to file the legal challenge and to spend up to $25,000 on initial legal fees.

MORE: “Here’s how the controversial new schools law will impact South Florida”

“We’re on life support now, and we have to literally fight for the life of public education in this state,” Osgood said. “If we don’t stand up now, if we miss this opportunity, we’ll never recover from it.”

It’s unclear how soon the lawsuit will be filed.

Broward County’s allegations of unconstitutionality primarily surround how HB 7069 gives charter schools a leg up over traditional public schools through less-restrictive regulations and extra taxpayer funding that make it easier for them to expand.

In a statement to the Herald/Times, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, blasted the Broward School Board for its decision, saying in part: "Not only is it clueless, it is also arguably heartless."

Full story here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file

June 21, 2017

Corcoran's Watchdog PAC pulls in $608,000 in first month -- including $100k from Norm Braman

Corcoran profile photo AP Steve CannonStraight off a controversial session, House Speaker Richard Corcoran ignited his month-old political committee this week with $608,000 in contributions -- half of it in the form of generous gifts from the political committees of his two top deputies, Reps. Jose Oliva and Carlos Trujillo. But the other generous check to the Watchdog PAC came in the form of a $100,000 contribution from Miami auto magnate Norman Braman.

The contribution of $250,000 from Oliva's political committee and the $100,000 from Trujillo's PAC, are noteworthy, but in the secret world of shape-shifting transfers between political allies in Florida, they are not all that meaningful.

The Braman gift, however, is telling as Corcoran is rumored to be using the PAC to position himself for higher office. Miami's business leaders were in a serious tizzy in late April, when it appeared that Miami Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the House's lead negotiator on a gambling bill, presented an offer to the Senate that indicated House leadership was prepared to overcome years of resistance and agree to authorize a new gaming facility in Miami-Dade. 

Braman joined Healthcare executive Mike Fernandez, and Miami developer Armando Codina calling legislators enraged that they would move forward with the idea without understanding the impact it could have on the city, local businesses and the city's successful economic boom. In less than a week, talks collapsed and the bill was declared dead. 

Corcoran's report, posted on his Watchdog PAC site, indicates he raised another $183,000 in donations of between $100 and $1,000 before his much publicized fundraisers hosted by Orlando trial attorney John Morgan at the home of another Orlando trial attorney, Zander Clem. Reports show the fundraiser brought in about $17,450, mostly from attorneys, chiropractors and health care types -- likely many looking forward to the expanded application of medical marijuana. Absent from the contribution list was a check from Morgan. Clem gave $2,500 and former Democratic House Rep. Mike Clelland, who works for Morgan, gave $500. 

Another round of checks came in June 20 from mostly attorneys and health care folks raising $56,250. Corcoran's next fundraiser is set for June 28 in Miami, hosted by the speaker's many friends in the Miami delegation. 

Oliva's political committee, Conservative Principles for Florida, had $778,810 on hand after its last report on June 8. The June 6 donation to Corcoran's committee has not yet been recorded on the Division of Elections web site. Trujillo's political committee, Conservative and Principled Leadership for Florida, however, had only about $40,000 on hand on June 8 and reported the contribution to the Watchdog PAC on May 31. 

Photo: Steve Cannon, AP

 

June 13, 2017

With the governor's signature of HB 7069 expected, is a legal challenge coming?

Gary farmerWith Gov. Rick Scott expected to sign the controversial charter-school friendly bill -- that incited a groundswell of criticism -- at a press conference somewhere in Orlando on Thursday, opponents are mounting a last minute effort to lay the groundwork for a legal challenge or legislative retooling of HB 7069. 

In a letter to the governor on Tuesday, Sen. Gary Farmer, a freshman Democrat from Lighthouse Point, urged the governor to veto the bill because it would "dramatically reduce the ability of school districts across the state to devote resources towards improving our public education" as well as allowing private management companies to profit off taxpayer dollars, and local communities to be cut out of zoning decisions relating to schools.  Download SenatorFarmerLetterRe7069

But Farmer, a lawyer, also outlined his case -- for why he believes it could be challenged on the grounds that it passed illegally -- and in violation of the Senate rules and may be ripe for a legal challenge.

"I do intend to look into it,'' Farmer told the Herald/Times. "Process is supposed to matter. There are supposed to be boundaries and limitations so everybody is on equal footing. When we don't follow the rules, it erodes and denigrates the process."

For example, he said, HB 7069 morphed from a six-page bill "which dealt entirely with the Best and Brightest Scholarship Program" to a 278-page amendment" that included provisions that were the subject of 55 other bills "the vast majority of which either had been voted down in committee or had stalled."

In a lengthy point of order on the Senate floor on May 8, Farmer noted that the conference committee on May 5, the last scheduled day of session, between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron settled up the final budget package but the final wording of HB 7069 was rolled out two hours after they had met at the conference. At that meeting, Corcoran and Negron did not take a vote on the final budget agreement, except to announce that the agreement was made.

 

Although most of the bills’ provisions had been discussed at least conceptually by one of the chambers, not all of them had. The concept of the “Schools of Hope” was only discussed for only 90 minutes in the Senate prior to the final passage.

A Herald/Times analysis of HB 7069 also found that HB 7069 not only included language from 55 bills but also from bills never before discussed or considered publicly and — in one case — a bill that was defeated by a Senate committee.

For example, a new bonus scheme whereby all “highly effective” teachers would get $1,200 in each of the next three years and all “effective” teachers could get up to $800 as never discussed before in either chamber.

House Pre-K-12 Appropriations Chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, acknowledged the language was new but defended it. “That’s new, granted,'' he told reporters on May 5. "But it’s within the context of teacher bonuses”  as part of the “Best & Brightest” program.

 

June 05, 2017

New economic development bill gives governor $85 million grant fund with few strings attached

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After spending the session peeling back what they deemed was taxpayer-financed “corporate welfare” in the name of jobs, the Florida House returns this week with a plan to replace those programs with a new $85 million economic development fund that gives Gov. Rick Scott exclusive control — and few strings attached.

The agreement, between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and the governor, and signed off on by Senate President Joe Negron last week, paved the way for Scott to sign the $83 billion budget on Friday and call for a three-day special session starting Wednesday.

In calling back legislators, the governor directed them to add $215 million in K-12 funding to the budget, restore $75 million to the tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida, and create an $85 million grant program within the Department of Economic Opportunity. If they pass the bills, many expect the governor to sign Corcoran’s priority legislation, HB 7069, a controversial public education bill intended to expand charter schools by giving them control of the state’s struggling schools.

READ MORE: “Another backroom deal stokes distrust in Florida’s Legislature”

The economic development bill proposed by the House, HB 1a, will regulate how taxpayer money is used for economic development. It creates the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund within the Department of Economic Opportunity to finance projects that fit broad criteria to help targeted industries: rural infrastructure, transportation projects for local governments and individual training programs at state colleges and technical schools.

The bill says that DEO and Enterprise Florida will “identify projects, solicit proposals, and make funding recommendations to the Governor, who is authorized to approve” them.

There are no restrictions on how the grant money is dispersed except that it “shall not be used for the exclusive benefit of any single company, corporation, or business entity.” Nothing in the legislation requires an audit. There are no application requirements, no job metrics and no mandate that the project show it is developing jobs.

After feuding with the governor all session, many lawmakers were surprised that the House was willing to turn over unfettered control for economic development spending to Scott, and Senate leaders say they may not be ready to accept the House bill entirely. Story here. 

 

June 03, 2017

Second backroom budget deal is sowing seeds of distrust

Scott at MIA 60217@MaryEllenKlas and @Steve Bousquet

Another backroom deal, this time involving the governor who has blasted the Legislature for secrecy, is leaving a trail of frustration and distrust in the state capital as elected lawmakers are being called back for a special session this week to rubber stamp a budget they were excluded from negotiating.

After stoking rumors that he might veto the Legislature’s budget and an accompanying controversial public school reform bill because they were negotiated behind closed doors, Gov. Rick Scott emerged this week with House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron in Miami with an announcement. He would sign the budget, veto $409 million in local projects, and order lawmakers back June 7-9 to add $215 million to the public education budget.

The announcement caught most legislators off guard, even ranking Republicans who were left out of the deal-making.

“Other than a seeing a press release, I haven’t talked to anyone about any of it,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate budget panel on tourism and economic development.

“Is this how the process is supposed to work?” he asked. “There has to be a better way.” Story here. 

June 02, 2017

Budget deal includes $200M more for schools, $165M for economic development

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@stevebousquet @maryellenklas @michaelauslen @ByKristenMClark

Gov. Rick Scott has agreed to sign the budget and a controversial House public education plan and come back in special session next week to inject more than $165 million into the governor’s top economic development priorities, as well as put about $200 million in additional funding for public schools.

The agreement, which will be announced at a 10 a.m. news conference at Miami International Airport, was finalized late Thursday night after several days of backstage negotiations mostly involving House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Scott and their top staff members.

Lawmakers have agreed to boost public school spending by $210 million, bringing the total increase in this year’s state budget to $100 per student, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, told the Herald/Times. That’s still less than half as much as Scott and the Senate originally sought earlier this year to boost school funding but it’s a significant increase from the extra $24.49 per student that the Legislature had in its approved budget — which critics had described as “starvation-level.”

They also will fund Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing program that was gutted in the Legislature’s original budget, at its current level of $76 million. And they will put $85 million into a new job-creation fund at the Department of Economic Opportunity, which would be used for infrastructure and other economic development costs, rather than to pay companies for bringing workers to Florida, which Corcoran has decried as “corporate welfare.”

All of that would be funded by more than $300 million in vetoes of member projects tucked into the state budget passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate in early May.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

May 24, 2017

Corcoron has a new political committee, ahead of possible run for governor

via @adamsmithtimes

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has opened a new political committee, Watchdog PAC, that may or may not bankroll his campaign for governor in 2018. The Land O'Lakes Republican says he will remain speaker of the Florida House through the 2018 session and decide after that whether or not he will run for governor.

In the meantime, it apears virtually every special interest wanting something done or not done in the legislature can bankroll the ironically named Watchdog PAC to curry favor with Corcoran. We haven't heard back from Corcoran yet, but this new committee fits exactly what he said he intended to do.

"If I can't raise the money, I can't raise the money, and if I raise the money and I don't want to run for governor, I don't run for governor. I'll use it for constitutional amendments, I'll use it for helping real conservatives, or I'll turn it over to the (Republican) party," Corcoran told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month.

Adam Putnam already has north of $8 million for his gubernatorial campaign, and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater seems increasingly likely to get into the race as well. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of northeast Florida is also a prospect.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

May 18, 2017

Corcoran responds to superintendents: Focus on 'building beautiful minds,' not 'beautiful buildings'

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via @martindvassolo

Two days after Gov. Rick Scott hinted at vetoing a controversial $419 million, 278-page education bill that narrowly passed the Legislature a week ago, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran visited the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation and said he was hopeful the bill will survive Scott’s veto pen.

“I haven’t spoken to him, but I don’t know, there’s still a lot of time,” said Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, after a meeting at Florida International University on Wednesday morning. “Hopefully it’ll go well.”

The massive K-12 public schools bill, which drew sharp criticism from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents on Tuesday, is part of the 2017-18 budget. It includes a $234 million bonus package for most teachers and some top principals and a $140 million “Schools of Hope” program to help struggling traditional public schools and bring in private charter schools to give parents in these areas an alternative.

It also requires school districts to share some capital funding with charter schools, which the association said would take much-needed money away from traditional public schools.

RELATED: "In Liberty City, Corcoran praises Miami Democrat for supporting schools bill"

The association’s president called on Scott to veto the education funding bill, HB 7069, along with $23.7 billion in primary funding for K-12 schools, arguing the approved 0.34 percent increase in spending per student was not acceptable.

The bill, which passed the Senate on May 8 by a vote of 20-18 after passing the House 73-36, was a top priority for Corcoran, who called it “the most transformative, accountable, beneficial K-12 public education bill in the history of the state.”

“I know a lot of these superintendents, they’re good guys, but I wish they would focus more on not building $20- and $40 million Taj Mahal buildings,” Corcoran said. “What’s more important than beautiful buildings is beautiful minds, and this bill is about building beautiful minds.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

In Liberty City, Richard Corcoran lauds rogue Democrat for supporting 'Schools of Hope'

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@ByKristenMClark

Miami Democratic Rep. Roy Hardemon had an unlikely and influential ally showering him with praise in his legislative district Wednesday: House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“[Hardemon] doesn’t care who’s got power. He doesn’t care what the status quo is. He doesn’t care whether he gets elected,” Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said in brief remarks on stage for the groundbreaking of the Liberty Square redevelopment project, with Hardemon at his side.

Hardemon, a freshman lawmaker, secured himself in Corcoran’s good graces last week, when he broke from the House Democratic caucus to support a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill that Corcoran and House Republicans unveiled and successfully pushed through in the final days of session.

Hardemon was the only Democrat in either the House or Senate to vote in favor of HB 7069.

“He doesn’t fear. What he cares about is his community,” Corcoran said, before touting a key provision of HB 7069 that’s meant to help neighborhoods like Liberty City.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, left, R-Land O’Lakes, sits with Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami, while they attend the groundbreaking ceremony to for the Liberty Square Rising project in Liberty City on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Matias J. Ocner / For the Miami Herald