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25 posts from May 1, 2013

May 01, 2013

Florida Virtual School: Proposed budget would hurt our funding

School districts, teachers and parents are celebrating the $1 billion addition to the state’s education budget.

But not everyone is happy with their slice of the pie.

Florida Virtual School, the state’s public online school, says it will actually come up about $36 million short due to a proposed change in the state’s education finance formula.

FLVS was expecting to see its $200 million budget increased by $45 million next year to cover the cost of 80,000 new enrollments, CEO Julie Young said. But the increase will be closer to $9 million.

That’s because under the new formula, online providers will receive fewer dollars for every part-time student they enroll. As a result, FLVS will have to increase its teacher-to-student ratio and eliminate part-time graders and curriculum specialists, Young said.

“We like to say that FLVS is a place where every student has a front row seat,” Young said. “But with a budget cut this steep, teachers will have less time with individual students.”

Read the story here.

Florida lawmakers put an end to subsidized tutoring

A last-ditch effort by South Florida lawmakers to keep millions of dollars flowing to private tutoring companies suffered a resounding defeat on Wednesday, giving Florida school districts control over $100 million in federal education money for the first time in a decade.

It happened when a pair of Miami-Dade lawmakers tried to attach funding for subsidized tutoring into a fast-tracked bill that would expand online learning. Their fellow senators cried foul, citing an investigation by The Tampa Bay Times that showed criminals were profiting from the controversial program.

“What’s happening this year is we’re having students that are not being served,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. “I don’t want to go and read some of the newspaper articles on my desk. Remember, there were rapists. There were child abusers. There were thieves. In my hometown, what we call hoodlums and thugs.”

Last year Montford supported a bill that had continued the tutoring through the end of this school year. The measure, which passed late in the session, continued a private tutoring initiative begun by the George W. Bush administration in 2001 — a program meant to help the poorest kids in the nation’s worst schools.

In Florida, supplemental educational services, as it was known, gave rise to a booming for-profit industry that has fought fiercely the past two years to retain its funding.

In a series published in February, the Times revealed that lax state oversight allowed criminals to form companies and earn tax dollars tutoring needy kids. The newspaper also showed that companies repeatedly caught overbilling have continued to operate unchecked by state regulators.

Read the story here.


No compromise in sight, health care deal likely dead

Despite promises they would work toward middle ground, House and Senate leaders have been unable to reach agreement on health care reform and the session has only two days left. Both sides rejected Medicaid expansion but have very different ideas about what should be done instead.

An excerpt from the story in Thursday's paper:

While Gov. Rick Scott early on endorsed a plan to expand Medicaid, and subsequently the federally funded alternative offered by the Senate, House leaders always were an impediment. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, made it clear on Day 1 of the 60-day lawmaking session when he called Medicaid expansion a "social experiment" that is doomed to fail.

"I believe it crossed the line of the proper role of government," Weatherford said in his opening day speech to lawmakers. "Florida should not buy it."

Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said the speech painted Weatherford into a corner. Worse yet, he brought the Republican caucus with him. Fasano was the lone GOP House member to vote to accept federal money.

Now no one wants to cave, even though taking the money should be a no-brainer, Fasano said, noting that the health expansion would be 100 percent federally funded for the first three years.

As a result, the Capitol resembles a dysfunctional family. Depending on who you ask, the older brother Senate is either wiser or unreasonable. The younger brother House is either innovative or unrealistic.

Gov. Rick Scott is the absent father.

Read more here.

Scott details reasons for vetoing alimony bill: unintended, unfair results

Gov. Rick Scott's veto letter for SB 718 relating to alimony:  Download Alimony veto

Fair Districts plotted to "scoop as many Jews" for Wasserman-Schultz, draw partisan districts


A liberal group involved in a lawsuit to make Florida’s congressional districts less partisan engaged in its own partisan efforts by drawing Democratic-heavy Hispanic seats or trying to "scoop" Jewish voters into a district for U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chair, emails show.

The emails between the leaders and consultants of what’s known as the Fair Districts Coalition became a central piece of evidence Wednesday in the Republican-led Legislature’s legal defense of the congressional districts it drew in 2012.

Some coalition members sued the Legislature to have the congressional maps cancelled, saying they violate a new state constitutional amendment forbidding lawmakers from drawing districts that favor or disfavor political parties or incumbents.

To show how unfair the Legislature’s maps were, the plaintiffs submitted their own plan as an alternative.

But Republicans note that the emails involving Fair Districts leader Ellen Freidin and the consultants show that the plaintiffs’ proposals were drawn to strengthen Democrats, in general, and Wasserman Schultz in particular.

“I just got off the phone with Ellen,” consultant Brad Wieneke wrote in a Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011, email to members of the team in discussing Wasserman Schultz’s district.

“They want to scoop as many Jews out of Tamarac and Sunrise as they can,” Wienke said.

Continue reading "Fair Districts plotted to "scoop as many Jews" for Wasserman-Schultz, draw partisan districts" »

After nail-biter of a day in the House, foster care bill passes

For Sen. Nancy Detert and the backers of a bill extending foster care from age 18 to 21, Wednesday’s House session was a nail biter.

Named the Nancy C. Detert Common Sense and Compassion Independent Living Act, House Bill 1036, which is co-sponsored by the entire Senate, was temporarily postponed Wednesday morning as Democrats, protesting inaction on health insurance reform, demanded that all bills be read in their entirety. The House is using a robotic auto reader to speed-read bills.

“I was really on pins and needles,” said Christina Spudeas, executive director of Florida’s Children First. “I didn’t know if it would really come back. I got really scared."

Detert said she was “nervous” because under House rules, “if they didn’t read the bill today and pass it out, it wouldn’t pass. And it’s such a long bill, they weren’t getting to it.”

The Venice Republican said she met with House Speaker Will Weatherford and his chief of staff Kathy Mears to discuss the bill Wednesday morning and was told that Weatherford would “see that it gets done even if they have to stay here till midnight. He said we don’t let politics get in the way of children. And he kept his word.

After the auto-reader went through the 54-page bill (which took at least 40 minutes)  the measure passed 116-1 (Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, voted against it).

“We didn’t want to have to lose it because of process,” said Detert, who stood in the back of the House to watch the bill pass. “That would have been a tragedy.”

Continue reading "After nail-biter of a day in the House, foster care bill passes" »

House gives Scott his tax break, but leaves it in legal jeopardy

In a last minute attempt to appease Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida House gave him his long-sought manufacturing tax exemption but left it in legal jeopardy. 

The House passed HB 7007 by a 68-48 vote, and within the hour the governor announced he had signed the House and Senate's campaign finance bill and ethics bill. But because it includes a manufacturing tax break that could have a revenue impact on local governments, opponents say it needed to pass by two-thirds vote of the chamber, or a 79-vote majority.

"We're sure it will be challenged with all due speed,'' said Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, the House Democratic Leader, who later suggested it could be challenged by a city or county government.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his legal advisors reviewed it and disagreed. "We think it is extremely constitutional,'' he said. "We do not believe it does not require a two-thirds vote."

The bill not only includes the manufacturing tax break but a non-profit corporation to shepherd economic development in the home territory of Senate President Don Gaetz using any proceeds from a lawsuit resulting from the gulf oil spill.

“God willing it will help create some more jobs,’’ said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, introducing the bill.

But Democrats immediately pounced on the fact that it was a 96-page bill with language lawmakers had never seen before.

“This is just an abuse of the system,’’ said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek as Republicans jeered. “I don’t really think it’s funny. We invoke the constitutional privilege that’s there for both sides. It’s there to protect against what you are trying to do right now. It is outrageous, improper and, in my opinion borders on unethical.”

Trujillo responded: "Just as you have the right to invoke the constitutional rules to stall democracy, we have the right to invoke the constitutional rules to promote it,'' he said. "To accuse the Speaker and my colleagues of being unethical is very unbecoming of a person for a person of prestige like yourself."

Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, criticized the House for spending less than three minutes on the massive bill.

"I have great concerns that the people of Florida will not know what the impact is on them,'' he said, urging Weatherford to allow legislators to take questions. "At least so that we will know, and the press will report back to our districts." 

Three other Republicans joined Fasano to vote against the bill. Reps. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, Holly Raschein, R-Key West, and Kathleen Peters, R-St. Petersburg also voted against it. 

Alimony bill vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott; Campaign finance, ethics legislation signed

Gov. Rick Scott late Wednesday signed into law changes to state ethics and campaign finance laws and vetoed a bill that would have abolished permanent alimony in Florida divorce cases. Read the veto letter.

The Legislature sent Scott all three measures one week ago, setting in motion a seven-day deadline for the governor. The ethics and campaign finance bills were must-pass priorities for House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Developing story here.

Reps. Darryl Rouson and Matt Gaetz get snappy on the floor


A scene from a very long day in the Florida House:

House Democrats gathered behind closed doors on the floor late Wednesday to talk strategy.

They were interrupted by a bright flash from outside -- from Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz's iPhone.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, left the bubble and confronted Gaetz in the middle aisle of the House floor. He whipped out his own phone and took video of Gaetz. (Rouson sent us the video, which even features a kiss to the camera from Gaetz.)

Gaetz went through with his tweet: "44 democrats huddling in the bubble. Greatest liberal brain trust since Lawton Chiles dined alone."

Rouson didn't know he did it until asked about the incident by a Times reporter. He says he was just teasing Gaetz.

"I didn't like it because we were conducting serious business about people, our constituents, things like that," he said. "I just didn't think it was too cute to take a picture of us and then tweet it."

Last we checked, Gaetz and Rouson were joking with each other on the floor.

Mailer claiming stadium will create 4,000 new local jobs is Half True

As Miami-Dade residents begin to vote on whether to help finance a $350 million stadium for the Miami Dolphins, project boosters distributed mailers promising that the project will deliver thousands of new local jobs.

One mailer stated: "The plan will not only create more than 4,000 new local jobs, it is critical for attracting more sporting and entertainment events to a world class Miami facility which increases tourism, supports local businesses and pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into our community."

The mailer was paid for by the stadium’s political action committee, Friends of Miami First, which has raised $1 million since April 1. The contributions came from the Dolphins and South Florida Stadium LLC, team owner Stephen Ross’ company.

The 4,000 jobs figure has been repeated multiple times in recent months as the Dolphins sought financing from the state and county. A separate mailer states "support over 4,000 new jobs for Miami-Dade" and shows a photo of a construction worker.

Here PolitiFact explores the mailer’s claim that the renovation of the Sun Life stadium will "create more than 4,000 new local jobs." (Read our related Dolphins stadium fact-checks hereand here.)