May 08, 2017

Teachers union urges vetoes of K-12 schools budget, policy bill

Joanne_McCall_new_headshot@ByKristenMClark

Not even an hour after the Legislature wrapped up its work for 2017, the state's largest teachers union called on Republican Gov. Rick Scott to veto both the K-12 public schools budget and a mammoth $419 million policy bill that was cobbled together in private in the last days of session and narrowly approved Monday.

"HB 7069 was cooked up behind closed doors to tie popular changes like more recess and minor relief on testing to reducing local school district authority, yet another sketchy teacher bonus scheme, and more financial breaks for charter schools,” Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, said in a statement.

“Where’s the government transparency that the leadership promised this session? Floridians expect a fair process, not backroom deal-making," she said.

MORE: "$419M schools bill headed to Gov. Scott, after barely surviving Senate vote"

McCall said she was also "completely disappointed" by the $14.7 billion K-12 schools budget, a figure that doesn't include the additional funding earmarked for special programs under HB 7069.

“We hope the governor realizes, as we do, that this budget does not come anywhere close to meeting the needs of our students,” McCall said. “This budget neglects the needs of our children and our public schools.”

“This budget does nothing more than dig our public schools deeper into a financial mire,” she added. “It fails to properly and adequately support costs and growth to advance the 2.8 million students who attend our schools each day and it utterly fails to recognize the importance of funding in retaining and recruitment the high quality educators our student deserve.”

Photo credit: FEA

Lawmakers will decide major K-12 policy, spending today -- and rest of 2017-18 budget

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@ByKristenMClark

A swift outcry of condemnation came over the weekend from many parents, teachers and school administrators who want the Florida Legislature to reject a $419 million, 278-page K-12 public schools bill — which was decided behind closed doors, which lawmakers cannot change and which they’ll have had only about 72 hours to review when they vote Monday.

House and Senate members will decide the fate of HB 7069 as part of several up-or-down votes on a 2017-18 budget package. The Legislature extended its annual session until 11:59 p.m. Monday with the intent of passing an $82.4 billion spending plan, its single constitutional obligation.

MORE: “All eyes on the Florida budget as lawmakers return to state Capitol for one final act”

Public education advocates, like the Florida PTA and other groups, and superintendents — including Miami-Dade County Public Schools chief Alberto Carvalho — aim to convince their elected representatives to vote “no.” Such an outcome is unlikely but not unprecedented, and it would potentially call the entire budget into question because of the major dollars attached.

“I’ve spoken to so many senators — both parties — who are opposed to so many portions of that bill,” Broward County Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said. “The question is: Will they have the fortitude to vote no?”

More here.

Photo credit: Carl Juste / Miami Herald

May 05, 2017

Mammoth education budget bill will decide testing, recess, teacher bonus policies and more

Florida Legislature (7)

@ByKristenMClark

At the insistence of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, numerous major changes to education policy for Florida’s K-12 public schools — from teacher bonuses and daily recess, to testing reforms and expansions for charter schools — were crammed into a single mammoth bill on Friday, with $414 million in spending attached.

All of the policies in the the 278-page bill (HB 7069) will pass or fail as one on Monday, when lawmakers vote on the annual budget.

No changes can be made to the bill. House and Senate members have less than two days to make sense of it before they must cast an up-or-down vote.

If lawmakers’ pass it, the bill ties the hand of Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Should he want to veto the bill, he would be politically responsible for shooting down every policy in it — particularly the parent-demanded daily recess measure.

Corcoran told reporters it wasn’t political strategy to link all of the policies together, but he showed his cards a week ago when he tweeted after midnight Saturday that “the problem with recess is the governor not the Legislature.” (He pointed out Friday that that tweet ended up being true and was simply “just a week early.”)

But the sheer size and scope of the new version of HB 7069 caught many lawmakers by surprise — even those closely involved in negotiating the compromise between both parties and both chambers.

Several senators, in particular, were troubled by the process and said the bill wouldn’t automatically have their support.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, center right, watches as Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, left, and House members work out budget differences during a budget conference late afternoon Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Mark Wallheiser/AP

May 03, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott tours state to rally support for endangered budget priorities

via @Danielson_Times

Just as top legislators reached a budget deal Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott launched a three-day tour to rally support for Enterprise Florida’s business recruitment efforts, Visit Florida’s tourism promotion and other budget priorities.

“We have a job to do the next three days,” Scott said at CWU, a Tampa federal contracting company, as part of his 10-city “Fighting for Florida’s Future” tour. The tour was meant to encourage Floridians to pressure their state legislators to reverse votes to cut funding to Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. “You can make it happen. … You’ve got to call your House members, you’ve got to call your senators and let them know.”

Scott said he can veto individual line items in the budget or the budget as a whole, but he noted that he can’t add anything to the budget. Only legislators can do that, he said, and they should appropriate money for both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

While Scott is expected to sign a bill to create a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, he also said the Legislature needed to appropriate $200 million to help fix the Herbert Hoover Dike at the lake.

In addition to Tampa, Scott’s schedule for Wednesday called on him to visit a power grid engineering company in Lake Mary, an environmental consulting firm in Riviera Beach and a Kia dealership in Sunrise.

Scott’s appearance in Tampa came about an hour after House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron announced they had reached an agreement on an $83 billion state budget.

But Scott the Legislature’s process left him with “no earthly idea” what was in the proposed budget and criticized negotiations that had been “done in the dark.”

“That’s not the way your tax dollars ought to be spent,” Scott said. “That’s not right. We should know what’s going on.”

"I don't know how much money is in, if any, for Enterprise Florida, for Visit Florida, for the environment, for education,” Scott said. “I have no idea. There's no disclosure of this. I can't imagine. We have sunshine laws in this state. All of us are supposed to know what's going on."

Asked whether he would consider vetoing the budget if legislators did not include any of his priorities, Scott said,  "I'm going to look at my options. That’s an option I have. But what I do every year is I go through  (the budget) and say what's good for our Florida families? I represent everybody in the state, so I'm going to do what's best for every family in the state."

May 02, 2017

After failing to meet deadline, Legislature headed for OT

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@ByKristenMClark @stevebousquet @MichaelAuslen

Florida’s legislative session will head into overtime after two top Republicans — negotiating in private billions of dollars worth of spending and substantive policy — failed to meet a deadline to get an $83 billion budget done Tuesday night, so that the session could have ended on time on Friday.

As time expired Tuesday, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, both said the 60-day session would have to be prolonged, but they didn’t yet know for how long.

“You know the timetable as well as I do, with the 72-hour requirement. We will definitely not complete the budget work prior to the end of Friday,” Negron told reporters Tuesday evening — a few hours after House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, downplayed the increasingly expected delay by saying an on-time budget was still “90 percent likely.”

But earlier in the day, Trujillo was already guaranteeing lawmakers would remain in Tallahassee for longer than they’d planned.

More here.

Photo credit: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, with Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Session could be extended 'at least by a day,' Trujillo says

@ByKristenMClark @MichaelAuslen

Lawmakers now say they could extend the 60-day legislative session by “at least a day” but perhaps longer, because after days of private negotiations, House and Senate leaders still haven’t reached agreement on major sticking points of both funding and policy for the 2017-18 budget.

House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, told the Herald/Times around midday Tuesday that budget talks were going well, but it was unlikely legislative leaders would reach compromise on an $83 billion budget before day’s end — the deadline if the session was to end on schedule by Friday.

“We’ll extend at least a day, but I think one day max,” Trujillo said. That would push the session into Saturday, but Trujillo then said lawmakers would “maybe lay [the budget] on the table and come back Monday,” which would require at least an additional three days.

More here.

Miami-Dade state attorney not happy prosecutors won't get raises, while public defenders could

via @DavidOvalle305

Public defenders may be getting pay raises. And prosecutors may not.

And that isn’t sitting well with Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who on Monday emailed her entire staff to apologize — and to criticize Florida lawmakers, saying “our Legislature did not see fit to acknowledge your tireless work on behalf of our community.”

In unusually frank language, the longtime elected Democrat singled out Sen. President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, “who previously stated that he thinks the prosecution has an easier job than the defense,” according to her email.

At issue: Senate Bill 7030 boosts pay for public defenders with three years of experience or more by 6 percent. The bill, which passed the Senate’s appropriations committee on Monday, did not do the same for Florida prosecutors.

The issue, however, is not a done deal as the Senate and House leadership work to hash out final budget before Tuesday.

Full story here.

May 01, 2017

Education policy still under negotiation, with promised public meetings perhaps in doubt

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@ByKristenMClark

Heading into the final week of session, House and Senate leaders by Monday morning were still negotiating in secret several pieces of substantial education policy that are tied to the budget -- such as a $200 million idea to create "schools of hope" that would help students in failing schools and a $214 million expansion to teacher bonuses.

Lawmakers had vowed repeatedly, especially in the past several days, that the compromise proposals would be released in time for Floridians to provide meaningful comment before a vote on the annual budget, but no language has been released yet -- although House and Senate leaders had said it would come over the weekend.

MORE: "As clock ticks, lawmakers’ compromises on education policy remain a mystery"

Just Saturday, Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, promised public meetings to consider the policy bills "one by one," and House pre-K-12 budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said, "I do believe you will see that go on in public," in reference to open, public debate among lawmakers prior to any vote or final compromise on language.

But on Sunday night, House Appropriations chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, deflected from the two chambers' previous promises of transparency, telling reporters that he personally never guaranteed public hearings on any policy bills linked to the 2017-18 budget.

"I’m not sure if we’ll have an opportunity for public comment, because we're still working on the bills," Trujillo initially told reporters, noting there was really only about 48 hours or so to shore them up.

After House budget director JoAnne Leznoff interjected and he conferred with her, Trujillo then said at least one more public hearing would be held to address only the budget-related legislation, which also includes environmental policy and other topics. (An email a short while later from Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said there would be an additional meeting on remaining budget items, too.)

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, set the tone and expectation of transparency for this session by promising "unprecedent openness" and a genuine change from how legislative business had been done in previous years. That hasn't turned out to be the case.

MORE: “ ‘Unprecedented openness’ slams shut as Corcoran, Negron forge secret budget deal

Diaz and Senate pre-K-12 budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, each told the Herald/Times on Sunday there were still disagreements on language that legislative staff was working out. Simmons added that the Senate was waiting on a House offer, but he remained optimistic that the chambers would reach middle ground on a final product that would have broad support.

Trujillo could not say when the policy bills would be released or how much time Floridians would have to analyze them before they're finalized. Unlike the budget -- which requires a 72-hour cooling-off period -- conforming bills need to be done only 24 hours before lawmakers vote on the budget, he said. Session is scheduled to end Friday.

Fort Lauderdale Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston, who sits on the Pre-K-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said he was eager to know what the final language for the education bills, in particular, looks like. "I think it's important that we, as a body as well as a community, know exactly where we're going with them," Thurston said.

"I'm not for the 'schools of hope.' I would like to see the final formation and what are we going to do and what's going to be included in it," he added. "I think the process of kicking everything up (to Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron) is not transparent at all."

Image credit: House Appropriations chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami. Florida Channel

April 29, 2017

Once on chopping block, Miami arts school could still get some state aid next year

Oscars Diversity@ByKristenMClark @KyraGurney

Lawmakers in Tallahassee are largely reversing course on plans to cut $650,000 in state grant funding to the Miami arts school whose alumni helped create the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” and the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”

During ongoing budget talks Saturday morning, the Florida House asked for $500,000 for New World School of the Arts in 2017-18. That would still represent a cut of $150,000 in funding from last year, but it’s a drastic change from the House’s first proposal to entirely de-fund the school.

The funding level is still under negotiation — talks that now elevate to the full Appropriations chairmen and will continue through the weekend. The Senate had also originally proposed cutting all funding to New World, but later proposed $20,000.

MORE: “Lawmakers set to defund Miami school that educated makers of ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Hamilton’ ”

Threats to the school’s state grant funding sparked public outcry when news of the Legislature’s plans spread on Friday. 

But House and Senate chairmen in charge of K-12 public school spending said Saturday morning those complaints had little to do with their change of heart.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

House, Senate agree to small increase in K-12 public school spending

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From Brandon Larrabee at the News Service of Florida:

The House and Senate agreed to a relatively modest increase in per-student funding for public schools Friday, as negotiations continued over state spending for the budget year that begins July 1.

Under an agreement reached by leaders, per-student spending through the state's main formula for schools would increase 0.34 percent, or $24.49 a head. Discussions on other education projects were expected to continue.

Lawmakers' ability to significantly increase per-student funding was hampered by two decisions that carried out other House priorities: to not allow local education property taxes to rise with real estate values, and to plow more than $400 million into teacher bonuses and the House's "schools of hope" proposal.

Neither of those two items is included in the main formula, known as the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP. But lawmakers involved in the education budget talks said not accounting for the additional spending doesn't give a full picture of what the Legislature is doing for education.

"It's been our theme from the very beginning that we're going to laser-target those students in the high-need areas," said Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican who chairs the House's education budget subcommittee.

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