April 05, 2016

Daniel Horton launches bid for competitive South Florida Senate seat


HortonA 30-year-old graduate of Florida International University's law school is joining the fray of a competitive state Senate race in Miami-Dade County.

Democrat Daniel E. Horton announced his candidacy this week for District 39, where current state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Democrat Andrew Korge are already in a fierce contest.

Horton and Korge will now face-off first, though, in the Aug. 30 party primary. As it stands, the winner will challenge Flores in the November general election. Sheila Lucas George has also filed as an independent candidate in the race.

District 39 spans western and southern Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, including the Florida Keys and Horton's alma mater of FIU.

Horton's credentials include serving as president of the FIU College of Law student body and various accolades for his community service work. Among them, he was named the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's 2016 Most Valuable Graduate and last year, he received the American Law Institute’s Scholarship and Leadership Award.

The north Georgia native moved to South Florida in 2011 to attend FIU. Recently, he became a founding board member of the newly formed Progressive Democratic Caucus of Miami-Dade.

“The people of District 39 deserve to have a representative that is a hard-working and dedicated member of their community,” Horton said in his announcement. “For too long, many South Florida politicians have practiced lip service rather than public service. The people of South Florida are tired of electing politicians that only serve big corporate interests and their own ego.”

Photo credit: votehorton.com

April 04, 2016

Joe Negron shifts Florida Senate's focus to higher education with listening tour

via @JeffSolochek and the Gradebook:

Incoming Florida Senate president Joe Negron has made clear his intention to focus his chamber, which has spent many years working on K-12 education issues, on colleges and universities.

He reiterated his point Monday with the announcement of his planned State University System listening tour.

Negron sent a memo to all senators inviting them to participate in the weeklong endeavor, which will take him to the main campuses of all the state's universities. He wrote:

"As Florida continues to recover from the recent recession, the Senate has supported the establishment and continued increase of performance funding to reward universities that link affordable, rigorous education programs with private sector employment. We also established stringent criteria for preeminent universities whose research expenditures and academic standards, particularly for graduate study, have earned well-respected national rankings. We set aside significant funding for emerging preeminent universities to support Florida institutions that are working to achieve preeminent status. Our state has also awarded more than 700 Benacquisto Scholarships to National Merit Scholars who have chosen to study in Florida.

"These recent budget and policy enhancements certainly reflect the Senate's strong commitment to ensuring Florida's State University System has the resources to graduate students who are equipped to compete and lead in a global economy. However, if Florida is going to be home to several national elite destination universities, we still have much work to do."

Committee work can take the process only so far, Negron suggested. So he wants to get out in the field and hear from students, faculty and staff.

The tour, scheduled for the week of April 18, will include discussions about programs, goals and student experiences. Its stops are:

University of West Florida (Pensacola)
9:00-10:30am CDT

Florida State University (Tallahassee)
3:00-4:30pm EDT

Florida A&M University (Tallahassee)
5:00-6:30pm EDT

University of North Florida (Jacksonville)

University of Florida (Gainesville)

University of Central Florida (Orlando)

Florida Polytechnic University (Lakeland)

University of South Florida (Tampa)

New College of Florida (Sarasota)

Florida Gulf Coast University (Ft. Myers)

Florida International University (Miami)

Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton)

April 01, 2016

Former state Rep. Phillip Brutus announces bid for Florida Senate


Former North Miami state Rep. Phillip Brutus is making another go at returning to the Florida Capitol.

He's running in a crowded Democratic primary for the new District 38 Senate seat. The coastal district includes parts of northeastern Miami-Dade County -- including Aventura and Miami Beach -- areas currently represented by longtime Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Hollywood.

Brutus, who filed in the race in February, officially announced his campaign today.

"We need to send a senator with an intimate knowledge of the Legislative process, good rapport with other legislators and a commitment to improving the lives of District 38 citizens and businesses," Brutus said in a statement.

Margolis -- a former state Senate president who has represented Miami-Dade County in the Legislature for much of the past four decades -- is seeking re-election to the chamber in the new District 38.

Brutus served in the state House from 2000 to 2006 and has been a lawyer in Miami-Dade County for nearly 30 years. He also is a longtime weekly news show host on WLQY 1320 AM.

In 2014, he campaigned to return to the state House but lost in the primary against Democratic incumbent and current state Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens. He also previously ran unsuccessfully for County Commission, Florida Senate and Congress since 2006.

Three other Democrats have also filed to run in the August primary for District 38, including current state Rep. Daphne Campbell, Anis Blemur, and Don Festge.

No Republicans have filed to run. The district is heavily Democratic.

Mail fraud in South Florida Senate race? Andrew Korge thinks so — and accuses Anitere Flores


A Democrat running for a state Senate seat in South Florida alleges someone has -- perhaps illegally -- sent out fraudulent campaign letters to his donors, and Andrew Korge believes his Republican opponent, current state Sen. Anitere Flores, or her supporters are responsible.

Flores, R-Miami, denies the allegations, but Korge said "whether it’s her or her people, it’s irrelevant to me."

Korge and Flores are running for a hotly contested Senate seat that spans western and southern Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, including the Florida Keys.

Thanks to the recent redistricting of the state's 40 Senate seats, several Senate candidates have had to re-file their campaigns with the Florida Department of State to run for the correct newly renumbered district.

As part of that switch, candidates are required to notify their past donors and give them the opportunity to get a refund, because the money won't be used for the race it was intended for.

Korge said his campaign sent out such letters after he switched to run against Flores for the new District 39 seat, but he became alarmed when he started to receive response forms that were vastly different than the ones he sent out.

The suspicious letters -- copies of which Korge provided to the Herald/Times -- purport to be from Korge's campaign and are vaguely worded to suggest that Korge isn't running for Senate anymore at all.

They include no identifying marks nor a campaign disclaimer, so it's not possible to know from where they originated or who is responsible for sending them.

But Korge alleges it was Flores or her political backers.

"I think we all know who did this. I only have one opponent here. This is the type of corruption that people are sick of and a big part of what we’re running for," Korge said. "Do I have definitive proof that she did it? No, but I have common sense."

Flores told a Herald/Times reporter "no way, no how" was she involved with sending out the suspicious letters.

"Why in the universe would I spend any resources on doing something that you just told me he’s legally required to do?" she said.

Continue reading "Mail fraud in South Florida Senate race? Andrew Korge thinks so — and accuses Anitere Flores" »

March 29, 2016

Looking for something to do in Miami? How about a political fundraiser?


Good-bye, spring break. Farewell, Florida's presidential primary. See you soon, legislative session. Now that all that has been taken care of, it's time for Florida House and Senate candidates to begin campaigning in earnest.

Three fundraisers are scheduled to take place in Miami between Tuesday and Wednesday nights alone, and that's just for Republican candidates. (A fourth event is planned in Tallahassee.) Contenders have struggled to get political donors' attention, what with two Miami Republicans running for president until recently, an open U.S. Senate seat and a slew of congressional contests.

Here are invitations to the four GOP events:

Continue reading "Looking for something to do in Miami? How about a political fundraiser?" »

March 23, 2016

National liberal group targets Anitere Flores as 'queen of corruption' in Florida



A national Democratic advocacy group has proclaimed Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores to be "The Queen of Corruption" in Florida because of her past work with the unaccredited Doral College in Miami-Dade County.

In an online video this week -- that declares her "Florida's most corrupt politician" -- Occupy Democrats takes Flores to task for her former job as president of the college and for supporting legislation that benefited Florida's charter school industry.

The group alleges she "takes tax dollars meant for education and pockets them" for her own enrichment and those of her "friends."

Doral College is run by Academica, a for-profit company that's believed to be Florida's largest charter school operator and that a few Miami-Dade Republican lawmakers have connections to. Flores worked as president of Doral College from its inception in 2011 until July 2015.

Occupy Democrats -- which bills itself as a "counterbalance" to the conservative tea party movement -- posted its video Monday on Facebook, sharing it with nearly 2.6 million fans on the site. As of noon today, the video had 250,000 views and counting. It's also been shared more than 7,500 times.

Flores said Occupy Democrats was lobbing "recycled and baseless attacks."


Meet Senator Anitere Flores, a Florida politician who's enriched herself with state funds that were supposed to go...

Posted by Occupy Democrats on Monday, March 21, 2016


"Doral College is an independent non-profit college that I did help establish with the mission of offering college access to low-income students at no cost to them or their families," Flores said in a text message.

"Doral College is regulated by the state and completed a rigorous process to receive a Florida license" and is pursuing accreditation, which takes several years, Flores said. "Every institution of higher education starts off without being accredited." 

The video inaccurately claims that Flores is "still employed" by "Doral College's parent company," but Flores has never worked for Academica. Since leaving Doral College last summer, she now works as development director for The A.C.E. Foundation, a non-profit that supports charter schools that serve at-risk students.

It's unclear why the national political group chose to target Flores specifically -- the group could not be immediately reached for comment -- but it's likely their reasoning has to do with Flores being potentially vulnerable in her bid for re-election in November.

Democrats are looking to pick up more seats in the state Senate under newly redrawn district maps. Flores faces Democrat Andrew Korge -- the son of prominent Hillary Clinton donor Chris Korge -- in what's expected to be a competitive contest for the new District 39 seat, which leans Hispanic and Democratic. (Independent Sheila Lucas George has also filed in the race.)

Korge and Flores both plan to move into the district, which spans western and southern Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, including the Florida Keys. (Flores and Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard worked out a deal where Flores would move to avoid facing Bullard in the new District 40, where both now live.)

Flores isn't the only Florida lawmaker with ties to the charter school industry -- or specifically Doral College and Academica -- but unlike some of the others, she faces a tough contest in November.

State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, is the current chief operating officer and former dean of Doral College. He is seeking re-election to the House in what's expected to be a non-competitive race.

Meanwhile, the sister and brother-in-law of outgoing state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, are executives at Academica. Fresen is a land consultant for a firm that specializes in building charter schools, many for Academica. He faces term limits and won't be on the November ballot.

March 18, 2016

What all was in the Florida Legislature's final "school choice" bill?



In one of their final votes of the 2016 session, Florida lawmakers passed sweeping "school choice" legislation with numerous changes to the state's education policies, affecting schools from pre-K through college and university.

The final, approved version of HB 7029 -- released Thursday, reflecting changes lawmakers made prior to the final vote late last week -- came in at 160 pages. 

We read through it to break down exactly what is in this proposed law, which is still pending Republican Gov. Rick Scott's approval.

There are literally dozens of new policies that would be enacted, so if you want to know every little detail, we suggest reading it for yourself, but here are the major highlights:

Continue reading "What all was in the Florida Legislature's final "school choice" bill?" »

Direct funding for after-school programs intact, despite Senate's push for competitive grant



How Florida gives state money to organizations that provide after-school care, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys & Girls Clubs, won’t change anytime soon.

The 2016-17 budget that Gov. Rick Scott signed Thursday maintains a decades-old funding structure that designates money to a handful of prominent organizations — which means an ambitious, but controversial, reform plan pitched by Republican Senate leaders is on hold for at least another year.

Administrators of affected groups said they are glad lawmakers didn’t embrace the Senate’s idea to create a competitive grant process this year. The proposed program — introduced midway through the nine-week session — would have included several million dollars more in available aid, but it would’ve made many more non-profits eligible for a single pot of money.

Traditional programs opposed creating a competitive grant on such short notice, fearing it would have caused their funding to, at best, be interrupted or, at worst, be cut. The taxpayer aid helps pay for homework assistance, mentoring and gang-prevention services for children and teens often living in Florida’s most vulnerable and impoverished communities.

More here.

Photo credit: House and Senate Appropriations Chairmen Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, talk to the media on Sunday, March 6, 2016, after a budget conference meeting at the Capitol in Tallahassee. SCOTT KEELER / Tampa Bay Times

March 14, 2016

Florida 2016 legislative elections 'our opportunity,' FEA president McCall says

Via @JeffSolochek and The Gradebook:

Florida Education Association president Joanne McCall has big ambitions for the state's 2016 legislative elections.

Many lawmakers who have been unfriendly to the teacher union's view of public education will depart, while others face more realistic challenges than they have in the past. It's a chance, McCall said, to begin changing the complexion of Tallahassee education politics.

"The message I'm sending to all my members is, this is our opportunity," she said. "Fair Districts has given us just that, fairer districts where people can actually compete."

FEA officials are analyzing the newly drawn state Senate map, with an eye toward targeting districts where it sees the possibility of influencing the outcome, supporting "people that can win and won't forget why they came to Tallahassee."

Campaigns can be costly and demanding, McCall acknowledged, and the organization wants to be effective and strategic in its efforts. It isn't likely to jump into races where its type of candidate has no chance, she said, because that's just not worth the effort. The FEA also will have to work to get out the vote, she added.

"We have an opportunity to change the debate in this state," McCall said. "I think we'll see a different kind of Tallahassee each and every year."

Trial challenging Florida's education system gets underway in Tallahassee



A Tallahassee judge heard opening arguments this morning in a month-long civil trial that could up-end Florida's entire education system.

Attorneys representing Citizens for Strong Schools want Leon County Circuit Court Judge George S. Reynolds III to declare that the Florida Department of Education -- and by extension, the Florida Legislature -- has failed to fulfill its constitutionally mandated "paramount duty" to provide a "high quality" education for all public school students.

A constitutional amendment in 1998 requires the state to make "adequate provision(s) ... for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools."

Attorneys for the advocacy group argue the state hasn't done that, citing -- among other complaints -- the lack of parity in student achievement for minority students in Florida public schools.

But attorneys for the Department of Education and the Legislature counter that, while there's still more work to be done, Florida's education system has come a long way in the past 20 years.

The two sides started laying out their arguments today in the non-jury trial, which is expected to last five weeks and include expert witnesses such as current Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

In lambasting Florida's education system, the plaintiff's lead attorney Neil Chonin decried Florida's controversial and high-stakes "accountability" framework, which includes using the results of students' standardized exams to, in part, determine student retention, teacher evaluations and school grades.

Continue reading "Trial challenging Florida's education system gets underway in Tallahassee" »