April 24, 2017

House's testing bill set to expand, setting up negotiations with Senate

SP_409499_KEEL_2_FLGOV@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers in the Florida House plan to take a priority proposal aimed at reforming the standardized testing schedule in K-12 public schools and transform it into a broader education policy bill — a move intended to set up negotiations with the Senate with less than two weeks left in the 2017 session.

Members of the House Education Committee will vote Monday afternoon to expand HB 773 through a 76-page amendment — filed late Sunday by bill sponsor Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. The amendment would replace the bill so it incorporates language not only from Diaz’s original measure but also from at least five other education bills lawmakers have considered to varying degrees.

Such a strategic move is typical at this point in session but often draws criticism over a lack of transparency. Individual policy bills that stalled in committee can find new life through omnibus bills lawmakers create by attaching those smaller proposals on to a single, expanded bill that’s still on track to reach the floor.

Senators last week similarly expanded their testing proposal (SB 926), although the tangential education policies being added to each chamber’s testing bill don’t yet align.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 21, 2017

Politicians react to Frank Artiles' resignation over racist, profane remarks

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@ByKristenMClark

Since embattled Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles resigned earlier today, Florida politicians have begun to react on social media.

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens 

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park

Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando

Chris King, a Democratic candidate for governor

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for governor

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 20, 2017

Speaker Corcoran's message to parents wanting school recess: Be patient

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@ByKristenMClark

Speaker Richard Corcoran told reporters Thursday that there’s plenty of time in the final two weeks of the 2017 session for the Florida House to vote on a bill that would require more time for recess in public elementary schools, but he would not commit to holding a floor vote as parents demand.

When asked if the House would take up a parent-supported bill (SB 78), which passed the Senate unanimously two weeks ago, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said during a press conference: “What I’d say on that is: We have two weeks left. There’s a lot of activity on the recess bill that’s still happening, and anything is possible.”

The House version of the recess bill — which was significantly watered-down and is no longer supported by parents, health and physical education experts, or the lawmaker sponsoring it — is stalled in a committee that’s not scheduled to meet again. There is no visible action by House members that indicates that status would change.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Lawmakers, politicians sound off on social media about Frank Artiles

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@ByKristenMClark

Several state lawmakers and other politicians in the state have taken to social media to express their anger since the news broke Tuesday evening that Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles had used curse words and a racial slur to insult a black female lawmaker and describe other senators.

Artiles apologized privately by Tuesday evening and formally apologized publicly Wednesday morning on the Senate floor, but calls are mounting for him to resign.

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

Here's a snapshot of the reactions:

Continue reading "Lawmakers, politicians sound off on social media about Frank Artiles" »

April 19, 2017

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

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

Capitol

@ByKristenMClark

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

Major education policy will be decided in conference negotiations. Will it be transparent?

Richard Corcoran Jose Oliva@ByKristenMClark

Florida lawmakers thisweek set into motion a budget process that will result in several highly consequential policy reforms affecting public education to become law this year in one form or another.

But if years of precedent are any indication, what exactly those final laws might be will now be determined through deal-making and negotiations that will take place largely in private, behind closed doors and out of the public eye.

The policy ideas — each tied to hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding — range from reforming oversight and student financial aid for the state’s public colleges and universities to financially enticing privately run public charter schools to compete with failing K-12 neighborhood schools.

MORE: “House fights over $200 million incentive for charter schools, but bill passes”

Citing the fact that such policies are linked to the annual budget lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass, both chambers of the Legislature made a pivotal choice on Thursday to send these substantive education bills to a conference committee. That panel of House and Senate members will be tasked with hashing out a compromise on both the policy and the funding.

Conference is a common annual process for the budget, but lawmakers in recent years have shied away, in most cases, from using it as a vehicle to pass drastic policy reforms that are otherwise amended, debated and voted on on the House and Senate floors.

By comparison to the day-to-day legislative process, conference committee proceedings typically are not transparent and are more unabashedly a display of a preordained outcome.

Leaders in the Republican-led House and Senate reject that conference committee decisions haven’t been open, but at the same time, they’ve also pledged to make the meetings more transparent and accessible to the public this year.

“We’ll have public comments in the conference committee meetings if people want to talk,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican who is now House speaker, talks with Rep. Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes, on the House floor during the 2016 session. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 14, 2017

House Republicans, Democrats divided over $200M 'schools of hope' proposal

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@ByKristenMClark

How best to help 77,000 children at perpetually failing K-12 public schools sharply divided the Florida House on Thursday, as the chamber’s Republican majority pushed through a controversial $200 million spending plan to attract specialized, high-performing charter schools to Florida that would offer an alternative to — and potentially supplant the role of — struggling neighborhood schools.

The “schools of hope” proposal (HB 5105) sparked more than three hours of floor debate, mostly by Democrats — the longest of the 2017 session so far. The final vote was 77-40, with Democrats unanimously opposed over concerns the bill would set up a “segregated,” unfair system that would further disadvantage failing schools.

MORE: “Are ‘schools of hope’ the solution to perpetually failing public schools?”

“Are we returning to the days of separate but not equal in 2017? Over-funding charter schools and underfunding public schools is the same thing,” said Rep. Patrick Henry, a black Democrat from Daytona Beach. He called the bill “another nail in the coffin of public education.”

Republican supporters of the measure, meanwhile, touted “schools of hope” as a way to help break the cycle of generational poverty in communities that are frequently home to black and Hispanic populations, because they said these specialized charter operators would use innovative techniques that have been proven to work in other states, like New York or Washington, D.C.

Republicans also repeatedly dismissed their Democratic critics as pawns of teachers unions and cast them as implicit supporters of allowing failing schools to remain that way.

Full story here.

 

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 13, 2017

Consider it 'education day' in the Florida House

OT_402078_KEEL_6_flgov

@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