May 08, 2017

Senate narrowly approves $419M schools bill, while saying it needs immediate fix

@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers struggled to pass a controversial $419 million, 278-page K-12 public schools bill on Monday, the final day of the annual session — as senators acknowledged parts of the rushed legislation were flawed and would need to be fixed when the Legislature reconvenes in 2018.

However, the prospect of a possible veto by Republican Gov. Rick Scott was floated even before the Monday night vote, which would stop the legislation from becoming law.

The Senate endorsed HB 7069 by the narrowest possible margin after two hours of lackluster and largely negative debate, voting 20-18 to pass it.

Three Republicans joined the 15-member Democratic caucus in opposition: René García of Hialeah, Denise Grimsley of Sebring and David Simmons of Altamonte Springs — who, as the pre-K-12 education budget chairman, handled the bill on the floor and struggled to defend it.

MORE: “Parents, school leaders urge ‘no’ vote on mammoth education bill”

Earlier in the day, the Republican-led House made quick work to pass the bill within an hour, by a 73-36 vote with all but one Democrat — Miami Rep. Roy Hardemon — opposed.

HB 7069 was a top priority of land O'Lakes Republican and House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s. Miami Republican Michael Bileca and Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr. — the House education policy and pre-K-12 budget chairmen, respectively — were heavily involved in crafting it.

But in a manner that drew heavy criticism, the large and wide-ranging bill was negotiated and finalized in private and made public for the first time Friday evening — less than 66 hours before the House voted and 71 hours before the Senate voted. (Simmons said he saw a first draft of HB 7069 only at 7 p.m. Thursday.)

“This isn’t a finished bill, it’s got problems — big problems,” Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said. “It’s a litany of bad ideas … that do not take the needs of the student into account.”

More here.

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 06, 2017

In final session votes, lawmakers trade 'Stand Your Ground' for religious liberties in schools

Stand Your GroundBy Jim Turner
News Service of Florida

A change to the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law is heading to Gov. Rick Scott after the Senate agreed late Friday to go along with a House proposal.

The House and Senate both wanted to change the law but had clashed on a legal issue in the bill (SB 128).

But with time running out in the legislative session Friday, the Senate voted 22-14 — with Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford joining Republicans in support — to accept the House proposal.

The move came in exchange for getting the House to accept the Senate’s more far-reaching language on a separate measure (SB 436) dealing with religious expression in public schools.

“I thought that it was a reasonable resolution to both matters, and they’re both constitutional issues,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the “stand your ground” bill. “And we wrapped it all up in a bow, and we resolved them both in a satisfactory manner.”

More here.

Photo credit: AP

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

Testing reforms in House's hands on lawmakers' final day to pass policy

Flores stargel (1)

@ByKristenMClark

After several days of private collaboration among lawmakers, one major late-night rewrite and some last-minute tweaks, senators unanimously passed a sweeping education bill on Thursday — the main feature of which is to address excessive testing in Florida’s public schools.

HB 549 eliminates only a single test — the Algebra 2 end-of-course exam — and it requires the state Department of Education to study by Jan. 1 whether national exams, like the SAT or ACT, can be used as alternatives to the Florida Standards Assessments and other statewide tests.

The results of that study could spur further action by lawmakers in the 2018 session to curb duplicative testing, which several senators had hoped to accomplish this year.

“Is this bill what I wanted? No. I wanted more, but ... I know that, at least, this is a good beginning,” said Tallahassee Democratic Sen. Bill Montford, a former Leon County schools superintendent whose opinion on education policy is well-respected by the chamber.

HB 549 was the subject of prolonged haggling this week between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, and between the Senate and the House. It now goes to the House for final approval Friday, the last day lawmakers can vote on standalone policy legislation this session.

More here.

Photo credit: Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, left, with Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times.

May 04, 2017

A possible explanation for why the House hasn't heard school recess

SP_409499_KEEL_2_FLGOV@ByKristenMClark

Because Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, hasn't brought the Senate-approved recess bill to the House floor (and there are no indications of that changing), the fate of that proposal now rests almost entirely on negotiations between the House and Senate over a massive education policy bill that must be resolved by the end of Friday.

Although session extended until Monday, that extra time applies only to the budget and "conforming" policy bills linked to that. All other run-of-the-mill policy bills -- such as the one mandating 20 minutes of daily recess in elementary schools -- die when floor sessions end Friday, the original scheduled end of session.

To keep recess in the conversation, Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores included it in a 72-page rewrite of another education bill that was published late Wednesday and could be heard on the Senate floor Thursday.

MORE: "Short on time, lawmakers seek to cram in new education policies — from testing to recess"

But why is school recess -- a measure overwhelmingly wanted by parents and one that could easily pass the House if brought to the floor -- up for negotiation in the first place?

Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman, offered one possible explanation Wednesday.

"That's a good question. We got to this point in session, and it's still up in the air, but as the speaker, I believe, said it’s still in play," Diaz said, adding: "We didn’t take that up, but if you look at it holistically, why didn’t they [the Senate] take up the single-policy education bills that we sent over?"

"We didn’t take up recess? I’ll shoot back and say, 'why didn’t you take up the schools of [hope]?' That’s the same for both sides," he added. "I’d have love to have been passing these individual policies, so it was clear and transparent. We sent them over but they’re not being picked up."

Corcoran previously has declined interview requests from the Herald/Times to discuss the recess bill, and he hasn't publicly explained why he won't take up the Senate bill as parents have pleaded with him to do through now more than a thousand emails and many dozen phone calls. Corcoran, a couple weeks ago, said there was still time to address recess, but he made no guarantees it would be heard.

Photo credit: Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Will Senate reach bipartisan compromise on testing reforms, education policy?

Anitere Flores_ap

@ByKristenMClark

With two days left for lawmakers to enact policy this session, two Republican senators late Wednesday released what’s essentially a brand-new bill that salvages a myriad of stalled education proposals, while also preserving one of the Legislature’s top K-12 priorities: Reforms addressing excessive standardized testing in Florida public schools.

Sens. Anitere Flores, of Miami, and Kelli Stargel, of Lakeland, filed their 72-page amendment at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday to rewrite a House-approved education bill that had been just 17 pages in length.

Their new version of HB 549 also, notably, keeps in play for negotiation a parent-demanded proposal that mandates daily recess in Florida’s public elementary schools. The Senate approved the idea in early April, but House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, ignored parents' pleas to bring the standalone measure to the floor, even though it has the votes to easily pass.

HB 549 was one of two bills House members envisioned could be a vehicle for testing reforms — and various unresolved education policies — before session ends. It passed the House last Friday, 117-1, but Flores’ and Stargel’s amendment creates a bill much broader than the House considered.

More here.

Photo credit: AP

May 03, 2017

Democrats' criticism complicates Senate's testing reform plans

Montford

@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers’ session-long efforts to substantively address over-testing in Florida’s public schools are stumbling to the finish line this week, after one key Democrat came out against a compromise bill senators will keep refining into Thursday.

Senate Democrats said legislation that’s supposed to reduce testing and otherwise improve the assessment regimen (SB 926) barely makes any major changes and is, instead, turning into a problematic hodgepodge of education policy they’re reluctant to support.

Time runs short. For the testing reforms to pass this year, both the House and Senate have to approve identical language before Friday.

A total re-write of SB 926 is possible overnight. It would attempt to address concerns from Tallahassee Democratic Sen. Bill Montford and other senators, as well as school district superintendents — who say the legislation doesn’t go far enough to eliminate duplicative tests or afford schools the option of administering exams by pencil and paper (instead of by computer) among other reforms.

RELATED: “Senate committee strikes compromise toward reducing student assessment tests”

Venting his frustration early Wednesday, Montford — whose widely praised, bipartisan testing reform proposal was shelved so that Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores’ less comprehensive plan supported by Jeb Bush’s influential education foundation could advance instead — told his Democratic colleagues that if he’d had to vote that day, “I’d vote against this bill.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. AP

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.