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Private school voucher bill scaled back again to woo Senate

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 by John Kennedy

A measure beefing-up the state’s private school voucher program launched under former Gov. Jeb Bush was reworked again Wednesday by the House in a bid to reach accord with a resistent Senate.

The legislation (HB 7167) was amended by House sponsor Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Miami, to eliminate a proposed expansion of the dollar caps that limit the growth of the program.

The bill now maintains the current caps that allow annual 25 percent increases from the current $286 million in tax credits, which pays for almost 60,000 low-income students to attend 1,400, mostly faith-based private schools.

Facing earlier opposition, Diaz has already dropped an initial plan to allow companies to steer a portion of their state sales-tax obligation to the program.

The Tax Credit Scholarship Program, created in 2002, gives corporations dollar-for-dollar tax credits for donations they make to finance private school scholarships for children from low-income households.

While scaled-back, the House proposal does continue to expand the pool of students who could be eligible for taxpayer scholarships. House Republicans also beat back Democratic efforts to require that these private-school students undergo standardized testing like that in public schools.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has said he won’t go along with any expansion for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program without a testing provision — and his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, broke party ranks to join Democrats in those losing votes on the House floor.

The younger Gaetz’s stand may signal that the bill still faces a stern test in the Senate, which earlier dropped any plans to consider an expansion bill unless mandatory testing was included.

Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, defended maintaining a distinction between the taxpayer-funded private school students and those who go to public schools.

“Why would we want to make it look just like the school that didn’t work for these children?” Adkins said.

While close to 60,000 students received scholarships this year, demand is much greater, with almost 94,000 applications made by families, according to Step Up for Students, the Tampa-based nonprofit which administers the program.

The nonprofit also says scholarship students are subject to testing, with most taking Stanford Achievement tests at private schools.

Step Up for Students, this year can collect 3 percent for administrative costs, or $8.6 million. And with the program on pace to spend $873.6 million by 2018, Step Up for Students would be poised to collect $26.2 million that year for office costs and salaries – an amount ridiculed Wednesday by Democrats.

 

Voucher bill strengthens what critics call taxpayer-funded monopoly for GOP-connected nonprofit

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by John Kennedy

A proposal expanding private school vouchers in Florida could pour millions of dollars into a politically connected nonprofit, creating what a rising chorus of Democrats, public school officials and business rivals are condemning as a taxpayer-financed monopoly.

Step Up for Students, which administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program created under former Gov. Jeb Bush, could more than triple the amount of money it collects under voucher legislation that Republican leaders are terming a priority this session.

The bill makes the scholarship program eligible for sales tax money for the first time in its 12-year history. With the new cash, the 60,000 students now getting private-school scholarships could double in four years, rivaling the size of larger public school districts in Florida.

While Republicans are rallying around the expansion, the proposal also is drawing fierce critics.

“The issue is not simply an argument between public schools and private schools and vouchers,” said Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach. “It’s an outrageous amount of taxpayer money that is involved here.”

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Bush-era school voucher plan poised for expansion in House

Thursday, March 6th, 2014 by John Kennedy

A private school voucher program launched under former Gov. Jeb Bush could be dramatically expanded under legislation getting its first review today in a House subcommittee — and facing stiff opposition from Palm Beach and other school districts.

A priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, expansion of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program looms as a sharp political dividing point this election year. Along with another proposal aimed at beefing-up the charter school industry, the push is part of what Weatherford has promised to be a “massive” expansion of school choice options.

The program, created in 2002, gives corporations dollar-for-dollar tax credits for donations they make to a private, non-profit group, which then passes the money to low-income parents for private school tuition.

Under legislation sponsored by Weatherford in 2010, the program’s funding was allowed to grow annually and will reach $357.8 million in scholarship money next year.

Legislation going before the House Finance and Taxation subcommittee today would allow sales tax dollars — the state’s prime source of revenue — to be directed into the program by corporations and expand the eligibility pool of students, setting the program on pace to spend $873.6 million by 2018.

Meanwhile, the Step Up for Students, private non-profit which oversees the program, would see its 3 percent take for administrative costs swell from its current $8.6 million this year to $26.2 million when the scholarship program fills out.

While almost 60,000 students received scholarships this year, almost 94,000 applications were begun by families, who  Step up for Students says earn on average about $25,000 annually.

Step Up for Students Chairman John Kirtley is close to Weatherford and has called him the “poster child” for school choice, with the speaker having been home-schooled until his first year of high school.

Kirtley also is an adept political player on the Republican side. He chairs the Florida Federation for Children, a political committee that spent almost $1.5 million in the 2012 election season.

That political committee has collected contributions from Charter Schools USA, a Fort Lauderdale-based company that operates dozens of charter schools across Florida, including Renaissance Charter School in West Palm Beach.

Hillary Clinton fan Alcee Hastings says Jeb Bush would be ‘formidable’ 2016 foe

Friday, February 7th, 2014 by George Bennett

Rep. Alcee Hastings is among Dems getting early seats on the Hillary Clinton 2016 bandwagon.

Another Clinton-Bush presidential race?

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, thinks it’s a good possibility.

Hastings, who backed Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries, is among at least 42 House Democrats who have already declared their support for Clinton if she runs for president in 2016. Chatting with PostOnPolitics.com this morning, the 12-term Democrat said a 2016 race between Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would be decided by a “razor-thin” margin. He didn’t predict who’d win.

“The Democrats’ nightmare can be Jeb Bush. And the reason that I say that is that Jeb would appeal to a large set of the fastest growing demographic in America, and that is those who share the Spanish language,” Hastings said.

“Jeb, in addition to being formidable in the Hispanic community, would also be formidable in Florida and Florida is one of those states that is in that must-win category,” Hastings said.

A Bush or Clinton has run for president in seven of the last nine elections, including the 1992 race in which Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush.

“To dispense with the notion of, ‘Oh, well, we’ve had too much of the Bushes and too much of the Clintons,’ I say experience counts,” Hastings said. “We don’t need anybody that is going to have to learn on the job.”

Bush-era voucher program could gain more cash with sales tax jolt, Weatherford says

Thursday, February 6th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Already calling for a “massive expansion” of school choice, House Speaker Will Weatherford shed more light Thursday on his plans for beefing-up the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship program, a controversial voucher program begun under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

As much as $286 million will be spent this year to send 59,674 low-income students, mostly black or Hispanic, to more than 1,400 private schools across the state, three-fourths of them faith-based.

The program, created in 2002, gives corporations dollar-for-dollar tax credits in exchange for donations they make to a private, non-profit group, which then passes the money to low-income parents for private school tuition.

Under legislation sponsored by Weatherford in 2010, the program’s funding was allowed to grow annually and will reach $357.8 million in scholarship money next year.

But Weatherford doesn’t think that’s enough.

“One of the components will be the revenue streams that come into the program,” Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said of this year’s proposal.

He added, “We’re looking at adding sales tax as a component, which would allow for a revenue stream that would let it grow into the forseeable future.”

Allowing companies to direct their state sales tax revenues to the program could prove a major boost. The program originally gave companies credits only for the corporate income tax obligations, but now applies to income, insurance premium, alcoholic beverage, excise and other state taxes.

Adding sales tax represents a redirection of the state’s biggest single tax source. But Weatherford said he didn’t think that would kick the door open for unlimited funding of private scholarships.

“I don’t think you’ll see a massive jump in the cap,” Weatherford said.

The program is opposed by the Florida Education Association and many school boards, including Palm Beach County, which say it directs tax dollars that should go to public schools into private schools and the companies that run them.

The program has flourished under the direction of Tampa equity fund manager John Kirtley, chairman of Step Up for Students, the non-profit that administers the scholarships.

Step Up for Students receives 3 percent of the program’s money – about $8.6 million this year — for administrative costs, including salaries and office space.

The program’s defenders say it doesn’t drain public school dollars. Instead, they say it saves state money because the scholarships are less than the normal cost of sending kids to public schools.

Step Up for Students says almost 35,000 more students may be interested in drawing scholarships, which could demand an additional $150 million for the program. But Weatherford said Thursday he doesn’t have a dollar amount in mind.

“There’s a finite demand,” he said. “There’s not a million kids that are going to participate in the program.”

In Florida, Hillary Clinton tops Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in 2016 presidential poll

Friday, January 31st, 2014 by George Bennett

Florida voters prefer Democrat Hillary Clinton over any hypothetical Republican presidential candidate — even Floridians Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio — in the 2016 presidential race, a new Quinnipiac University poll says.

Clinton is the clear favorite to win a Democratic primary in the Sunshine State, getting 64 percent to 9 percent for Vice President Joe Biden.

Bush, who was Florida’s governor from 1999 to 2007, is the top pick among Floria Republican voters. Bush is favored by 25 percent of GOP voters, with 16 percent supporting Sen. Rubio, 11 percent backing Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz getting 9 percent apiece.

The controversy over closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge has taken a toll on Christie in Florida. In November, Florida voters said by a 45-to-35 percent margin that Christie would make a good president. Those numbers are flipped in the new poll, conducted Jan. 22-27, with only 35 percent saying Christie would make a good president and 45 percent saying he wouldn’t.

In hypothetical 2016 general election match-ups, Bush would be the strongest Republican challenger to Clinton in Florida, losing to her by a 49-to-43 percent margin. Clinton leads Rubio by 10 points, Paul by 13 points, Ryan by 13 points, Christie by 16 points and Cruz by 20.

President Barack Obama‘s approval rating remains under water with Florida voters in the new poll. Only 42 percent approve of the job he’s doing, with 53 percent disapproving. That’s an improvement from November, when 40 percent approved and 57 percent disapproved.

The poll of 1,565 registered voters has a 2.5 percent margin of error. The Republican sample has a 4.1 percent margin of error and the Democratic sample has a 4.3 percent margin of error.

Overriding new chair’s call for delay, Palm Beach County GOP votes to condemn Common Core

Thursday, December 12th, 2013 by George Bennett

Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee members hold up green cards to vote against delaying consideration of a resolution opposing Common Core.

Disregarding new Chairwoman Anita Mitchell‘s concerns about spooking donors, members of the Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee voted Wednesday night for a resolution opposing the Common Core education standards championed by former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

In her first test of strength as party leader since winning a special election last month, Mitchell told REC members she wanted the anti-Common Core resolution delayed “until we can get some people in here to educate us a little better.” She also said some potential contributors would prefer that the local party not take positions on hot-button issues

“I’m getting also outside feedback from people that we are soliciting to be contributors and they are – it isn’t that they’re for or against – they’re very hesitant with us taking on resolutions like this,” Mitchell said.

“So I have a double role here. One is to make sure that everybody’s heard and it’s fair. But I also have the incredible job of getting our financial health back. So I’m being a little cautious trying to just not quite stir up things that are controversial to people who can give us money.”

That argument didn’t carry much weight with party activists.

“Yours are financial interests. Mine are the future of this country,” said an REC member who said she has four kids and wants to combat “this insanity that comes home in my children’s backpacks.”

After voting to defeat a motion to delay the Common Core vote until February, REC members voted for the resolution expressing the party’s opposition to the national educational standards.

Common Core standards have been championed by Bush and by the National Governor’s Association and are supported by President Barack Obama‘s administration. Some conservatives see the standards as a step toward a federal takeover of education.

Jeb tops Rubio, Hillary tops everyone in early 2016 Florida poll; Obama disapproval at 57%

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 by George Bennett

Florida Republican voters favor former Gov. Jeb Bush over Sen. Marco Rubio in an early poll of potential 2016 presidential candidates released today by Quinnipiac University.

Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming presidential favorite among Florida Democrats and has an advantage in the state over any potential GOP candidate, the new poll says.

The poll also finds that disapproval for President Barack Obama has hit 57 percent in the state, with 40 percent of Florida voters approving. The president’s signature health care law gets similarly dismal reviews, with only 39 percent supporting it and 54 percent opposed. By a 51-to-44 percent margin, Floridians say Obama is not “honest and trustworthy.”

When asked about 2016, Bush gets 22 percent support among Republicans, Rubio 18 percent, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie 14 percent and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz 12 percent.

Clinton tops Vice President Joe Biden by a 70-to-9 percent margin in a Democratic ballot test.

Clinton also tops any hypothetical Republican challenger, though her 47-to-45 percent edge over Bush falls within the poll’s 2.4 percent margin of error. Clinton holds a 50-43 edge over Rubio, a 45-41 edge over Christie, tops Cruz 52-36, Rand Paul 51-41 and Paul Ryan 50-42.

Bush endorses Scott, saying he “has delivered”

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Former Gov. Jeb Bush endorsed the man currently holding the job Tuesday –praising Rick Scott for his leadership “when Florida needed it most.”

“It’s simple why I’m supporting Rick Scott,” Bush said in a statement. “He campaigned on a platform of getting Florida’s economy back on track, and has delivered on that promise.”

Bush also included in the endorsement a dig at congressional Democrats and President Obama — who is expected to eventually weigh-in with support for the man sandwiched between Bush and Scott in the governor’s office, Charlie Crist, a Republican turned Democratic who is now that party’s frontrunner for his old job.

“While President Obama and Democrats in Congress are fixated on penalizing success, Governor Scott is pursuing policies to restore prosperity for more Floridians while prioritizing core state responsibilities, including increasing the state’s investment in education,” Bush said.

“Rick Scott demonstrated leadership when Florida needed it most, and he is the best candidate to lead our state for four more years,” Bush concluded.

The timing of the Bush endorsement is difficult to gauge. Speculation has been mounting for weeks that Bush plans to name Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, as his choice for lieutenant governor for the election ahead, and that the selection was at least partially designed to cement the overall support of the Bush network for Scott’s re-election bid.

Thrasher was House Speaker when Bush first took office, and steered the new governor’s education, tax cut and lawsuit-limiting policies through the Legislature. Thrasher likened his relationship with Bush as that which existed between Col. Tom Parker and Elvis Presley.

Thrasher, though, continues to deny being talked to about the job. And Tuesday Scott also said he was still in search of someone to fill the lieutenant governor slot, now vacant since Jennifer Carroll resigned in the spring.

Crist formally announced his campaign last week and has since been vigorously fund-raising. Although Crist does not have to file his first campaign finance report until next month, Scott reported Tuesday that he raised $824,835 last month — bringing his cash-on-hand to $17 million.

 

 

Activists say Jeb’s foundation a “dating service” for corps seeking education dollars

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 by John Kennedy

As former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush prepared to open his nonprofit’s annual education summit, a New Mexico advocacy organization is calling for federal officials to investigate spending by his Foundation for Excellence in Education.

The foundation’s two-day summit, which begins Thursday in Boston,features lawmakers and education officials from several states, including Florida’s Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity. But Progress Now New Mexico sent a complaint to the IRS asking it to look into the nonprofit foundation’s spending on travel, hotel and other expenses for government officials.

Progress Now maintains that IRS regulations prohibit nonprofits from paying officials or using tax-exempt money to benefit private companies. Sponsors of Bush’s annual summit have included Charter Schools USA, Pearson, the big testing firm that ran Florida’s FCAT, and other for-profit education interests.

“This tax-exempt organization is serving as a dating service for corporations selling educational products — including virtual schools — to school chiefs responsible for making policies and cutting the checks,” said Patrick Davis of Progress Now.

Foundation spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof dismissed the complaint.

“We fully comply with IRS rules when providing policy research and expertise and will continue to do so,” Emhof said. “This is nothing more than a politically motivated complaint by opponents of education reform.”

She added, “It’s not surprising that Progress Now New Mexico, a partisan organization that has a history of opposing education reforms that put students first, would attack efforts to improve the quality of education for children across America.

 

Radio ads supporting Common Core draw static for Jeb

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

With the Florida Department of Education scheduling three public hearings this month on the new Common Core Standards and test that accompanies it, former Gov. Jeb Bush is stepping up his defense of a system caught in a crossfire between the political left and right.

Radio spots have begun airing this week on Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh programs across Florida supporting Common Core. The ads are sponsored by a group called Conservatives for Higher Standards.

The organization was founded by Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, both of which have received millions of dollars in financing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also big supporters of Common Core.

The radio spots mention Bush, former U.S. Education Secretary Bill Bennett and tea party hero Mike Huckabee as among the backers of Common Core. And, the ads seek to deflect lingering criticism from conservatives by emphasizing that “there is no Washington, D.C., curriculum. That’s done on the local level.”

But Laura Zorc, a leader of Florida Parents Against Common Core, said Thursday that the radio spots are backfiring on Bush. Conservatives tuning into Glenn Beck, who has ridiculed Common Core, don’t want to hear ads supporting the system, she said.

Zorc also pointed out that many Republican Party county committees have endorsed resolutions opposing the standards.

“He is going against his own party,” Zorc said of Bush. “He is disrespecting the party by pushing his personal agenda.”

Public hearings are slated for Oct. 15 in Tampa, Oct. 16 in Davie and Oct. 17 in Tallahassee on the new standards, scheduled to be fully in place in Florida by next school year.

Gov. Rick Scott last week sought to straddle the political divide by telling federal officials that the state is withdrawing from the national testing system that was to assess how students are meeting the Common Core standards. But while looking to develop a new Florida test, Scott said the state was sticking by Common Core.

 

Scott says feds looking for “entry point for intrusion” with school testing

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday defended his decision to withdraw from a testing system central to evaluating new, nationwide school standards by saying it represented the federal government’s ”entry point for intrusion.”

Scott announced a day earlier that Florida would withdraw from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing program that accompanies the Common Core State Standards, which are poised to be deployed fully in the state next year.

The governor said he remained committed to high standards for students. But he is wary of the federal government.

“It’s their entry point to having more involvement in our education system,” Scott said of the PARCC system, which was developed largely by educators from Florida and other states, not the federal government. “My goal is lets make sure we continue to raise our standards. I want to thank Gov. Bush for his focus on that.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush remains a leading nationwide advocate for PARCC and Common Core. But tea party conservatives and liberal groups critical of student testing have combined to cloud its future in Florida and elsewhere.

“I remain committed to high standards, but we don’t need the federal government intruding in our lives,” Scott said.

At Scott’s urging, the Florida Education Department is planning three public hearings next months to hear from Floridians and interest groups about how to proceed on Common Core. The department also is charged with looking to develop a Florida-only test to replaced PARCC.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Scott again declined to openly endorse Common Core, echoing comments he made a day earlier in letters to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Florida Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand.

“A lot of people want to say, ‘is it yes or no to Common Core?’ and that’s not the right way to be looking at it,” Scott said. “It’s ‘yes’ to high standards…because that’s going to pay off in a global economy, and it’s ‘no’ to federal intrusion.”

 

Scott to announce Florida is abandoning PARCC testing

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott is expected today to tell U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that Florida is withdrawing from the testing system designed to evaluate the new Common Core standards in schools, which rattles former Gov. Jeb Bush’s defense of the nationwide program in his home state.

Scott plans to send a letter to Duncan announcing that Florida will no longer take part in the nationwide Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing, according to those briefed by Scott’s office in the matter.

State legislative leaders earlier this summer also said they wanted to back away from the PARCC and develop a Florida-only testing system.

The Florida Board of Education, meeting in West Palm Beach last week, ordered state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to start looking at what it would take to develop a state-only system in time for 2014-15, when Common Core is set to be fuly implemented in Florida.

Scott will echo this request to Stewart in a second letter today. He also will reiterate his support for Common Core, despite calls from critics for Florida to abandon it.

Scott, who earlier said he supported Common Core and huddled recently with Bush and other backers, has been mostly quiet on the subject in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, opponents from the political right and left have been calling for the state to withdraw, blistering Common Core either as government overreach or another step toward “teaching to the test” in schools.

Scott today also is expected to issue an executive order, setting the framework for state education officials to enact his policy switch.

Common Core opponents airing views to combat Bush effort

Thursday, September 19th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Former Gov. Jeb Bush and his allies are fighting back against those criticizing Common Core, the new nationwide testing standard.

But, like the Bush forces, opponents also are turning to the media to get their message out.

Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, who has introduced aimed at ending the state’s involvement in Common Core and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), testing that would measure how students meet the new standard.

Mayfield this week began distributing an Op-Ed to newspapers in which she writes:

“Any state that adopts this national standard willingly cedes a portion of its educational authority; shifting authority and control from the state to this national scheme.  And what does the state get in return?

“Common Core proponents argue the benefit is increased educational standards and the expectation of improved student achievement.  When I looked into this claim I found it lacking.  In fact, after thoroughly analyzing the standards contained in Common Core it is clear to me that Florida gives up much more than it gains by adopting these national standards.”

Gov. Rick Scott has met with Bush about Common Core, which is on track to be fully implemented in Florida schools during the 2014-15 year. Scott has supported the standard in the past, but has said little publicly in recent weeks about the rising pressure for Florida to back away from Common Core.

This week, Scott covered all bases by saying the state’s path will be decided either by the Legislature, Board of Education, or possibly his own executive order.

Common Core trouble may be deepening; Bush allies seek help from media

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 by John Kennedy

In a move that may hint at the depth of the trouble in Florida over new nationwide education standards, former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future is seeking help from the state’s media to quell what supporters call “misinformation” about Common Core.

Patricia Levesque, executive director of the foundation, told reporters in a conference call Tuesday that Common Core is the next step in Florida’s education evolution, which began with the changes enacted under Bush in 1999.

Graduation rates have increased, reading and math gains have been met, and the new standards simply will build on those successes, Levesque said.

“We’re not number 1 in the country yet, but we want to be,” Levesque said of education in Florida.

Common Core is set to to take full effect in Florida in 2014-15. But opponents from the political right and left are calling for the state to withdraw, blistering Common Core either as government overreach or another step toward “teaching to the test” in schools.

Gov. Rick Scott earlier supported Common Core, but hasn’t said much lately as criticism rises — especially from the tea party wing of the Republican Party that was so key to his 2010 election.

Bush and his allies see Common Core as part of his legacy in Florida, maybe even part of a springboard heading toward the 2016 presidential race. With his own re-election campaign looming, Scott also isn’t looking to pick a fight with that side of the GOP and is being heavily lobbied to keep the new standards on track.

Palm Beach County’s Limbaugh, Coulter, Ruddy on conservative clout list; Rubio not in top 25

Monday, September 16th, 2013 by George Bennett

Palm Beacher Rush Limbaugh tops conservative Townhall.com’s list of “The 25 Most Influential People On The Right For 2013.”

Four U.S. Senators make the list — but not Florida Sen. and onetime tea party fave Marco Rubio. Rubio is one of 30 people making Townhall’s honorable mention list. Also getting honorable mention are Palm Beacher Ann Coulter and Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy of West Palm Beach.

Senators deemed more influential on the right than Rubio include emerging conservative stars Ted Cruz (#9) and Rand Paul (#14). Sen. John McCain is no favorite of conservatives, but Townhall ranks him #11, explaining that “because of his stature and his shamelessness about betraying the people he represents, McCain is the biggest Republican power player in the Senate.” Sen. Mitch McConnell is called “timid” and a “terrible communicator” but ranks #18 by virtue of his position as Senate Minority Leader.

Other notable Floridians who didn’t make Townhall’s top 25 or one of the 30 honorable mention slots include former Gov. Jeb Bush and former U.S. Rep. Allen West.

State education chair revives call to revamp class-size limit

Friday, September 13th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida’s class-size amendment, blasted by former Gov. Jeb Bush and fellow Republicans even before its inception in 2002, has a newly outspoken, prominent critic:

State Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand, an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott.

“In my opinion, we are wasting money to the tune of half-a-billion dollars a year,” Chartrand said Friday at the Florida Leaders Summit in Orlando.

The amendment, which imposes limits on the number of students in classrooms, withstood a ballot effort in 2010 to revamp it by making it apply only at a school-average. Chartrand said Friday that’s the standard he’d like to see apply in an effort to redirect money into improving teacher performance and other efforts.

Chartrand didn’t offer a path to change. But he made it clear he thinks the limits don’t help student achievement.

Meanwhile, Chartrand said the amendment forces “wasteful spending.”

Former Rep. Clay Shaw remembered with bipartisan tributes

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013 by George Bennett

Republicans and Democrats have paid tribute today to former Rep. Clay Shaw, who died of lung cancer Tuesday night at age 74. Fort Lauderdale Republican Shaw represented a South Florida district from 1981 to 2007 and authored landmark welfare reform and Everglades restoration bills.

Some statements on Rep. Shaw:

Former Gov. Jeb Bush: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Emilie and all of Clay’s family and friends. He was a dedicated public servant with a big heart who loved family, country and his beloved state of Florida. He leaves behind a legacy of service that is an example to many.”

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach: “We have lost a great statesman for South Florida. I will always fondly remember Clay Shaw from my time as Mayor of West Palm Beach, as someone who you could work with in a bipartisan manner and as a true gentleman. My heart goes out to his family at this difficult time.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar: “I have a heavy heart today. Clay was a good friend of mine. My overall feelings turn to the extraordinary work he did on behalf of South Florida…I consider that we’ve lost a great American and a real dynamic congressperson who I would describe as a cross-aisle politician.”

(more…)

Teachers union wants to check email between Bennett, ALEC and Jeb

Monday, August 12th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The American Federation of Teachers said Monday it is filing public records requests in Florida for email and other communication between former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, ex-state Education Commissioner Tony Bennett and others.

AFT Randi Weingarten said the move follows a similar request the teachers’ union made last week in Indiana, where Bennett formerly was Education Commissioner. Bennett resigned from his Florida post earlier this month after it became known that he pushed to raise the letter grade given a school run by a top Republican donor in Indiana while he ran that state’s school system.

Before he resigned, Bennett emailed Bush and Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels seeking support.

“Public education is a public good, and taxpayers, parents, teachers and others who rely on our public schools are entitled to full transparency around the decisions and actions made regarding our schools—whether in Indiana or here in
Florida,” Weingarten said.

“We need to reclaim the promise of public education to help all children reach their full potential,” she added. “Tony Bennett betrayed that promise when he put backroom deals and favors for political donors ahead of the children of Indiana. Creating full transparency will ensure continued confidence and trust in our public schools.”

AFT’s public records request also is aimed at trying to get communication between Bush’s foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative policy organization that has been a longtime advocate of charter and online education.

AFT wants to learn more about connections between the organizations the finance Bush’s foundation, including Charter Schools USA, and education policy nationwide.

Charter Schools USA employes Bennett’s wife in Louisiana and also was a major donor to Republican campaigns and an organization backing Florida’s corporate tax-scholarship program that sends low-income students mostly to charter schools.

Charter schools have grown tremendously in Florida over the past decade, helped by a receptive Legislature, which includes several members closedly involved with such schools or the for-profit companies that run them.

Universities chief Frank Brogan to leave for Penn post

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Frank Brogan, head of Florida’s State University System since 2009 and a former president of Florida Atlantic University, said Wednesday that he will be leaving the chancellor’s post for a similar job in Pennsylvania on Oct. 1.

“Florida’s university system is on a clear path toward greater prominence and relevance thanks to the support and dedication of the Board of Governors, university leaders, faculty and staff,” Brogan said. “It’s never easy to leave a place you
love, but it is so much easier knowing that Florida is poised for a bright future.”

Brogan has been a political Zelig in Florida. A former teacher, Martin County schools superintendent, elected to the then-Cabinet post of Education Commissioner as a Republican and lieutenant governor under former Gov. Jeb Bush before leaving for FAU, Brogan’s Florida career spans 35 years.

His service as Florida chancellor was already winding down. He had joined the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) and was expected to step down within the next two years.

Instead, the 59-year-old Brogan looks ready to revive his academic career as chancellor of the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education, overseeing 14 universities and 115,000 students. Florida has 12 public universities and 335,000 students.

“We were looking for a strong administrator and a transformational leader who will collaborate with traditional and non-traditional stakeholders representing divergent views on what is best for our students and their families,” said Pennsylvania
Board of Governors Chairman Guido M. Pichini.

“Frank Brogan will be that leader,” Pichini added. “He has had an impressive record of success throughout his
career. He understands the many complexities and challenges facing public higher education and the vital role public universities play both in preparing students for a lifetime of their own success and in ensuring the economic vitality of the state. We are excited about him becoming our next chancellor.”

In Florida, Brogan managed to be a deft diplomat, balancing the demands of universities seeking higher tuition with a push by Gov. Rick Scott to hold the line on student costs. The struggle played out against the backdrop of a system where taxpayer support has fallen 20 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over the past two decades.

Gov. Rick Scott has made higher education a focus of his administration. He has ridiculed Florida universities for steering students toward undergraduate degrees not easily converted toward careers. Scott appointments now also make up a majority of the State University System’s Board of Governors, Brogan’s bosses.

For Scott, Brogan’s departure represents another top state post in need of filling. In a two-week period, Florida’s social services chief and the state education commissioner both resigned, while the post of lieutenant governor has been empty since Jennifer Carroll quit last spring.

Scott said Wednesday that Brogan will be missed.

“Frank Brogan has had an incredible career in public service – especially in education,” Scott said. “Florida’s education system has benefited from his hard work and his commitment to providing every Florida child with a quality education. His
service will be greatly missed by education leaders throughout the state.

“I have no doubt, however, that he will continue working to provide families with more opportunities, so they can live their version of the American Dream.”

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