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Teachers may not have to wait until 2014 for raises

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Teachers may not have to wait to get performance-based raises included in the state budget, according to Senate President Don Gaetz.

Gov. Rick Scott had wanted $2,500 across-the-board pay raises for teachers. House and Senate budget leaders this weekend agreed to $480 million for raises but with some limitations. Teachers graded “effective” will be eligible for a $2,500 pay raise, beginning in June 2014. Those rated “highly effective” would be eligible for $3,500.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Senate budget conforming bills due out later this week will make it clear that pay raises can be based on a “formative” teacher assessment instead of one based on student performance that won’t go into effect until 2014 and that would have held up the raises.

“In my experience as a school superintendent, we were able to evaluate students and evaluate effective teaching based not just on summative assessments at the end of a school year but based on formative assessments as we go along,” Gaetz, a former Okaloosa County superintendent, told reporters late Tuesday afternoon.

“As far as I’m concerned, teachers who earn their increases in pay ought to be able to get them as soon as school districts develop a plan to do so, collectively bargain that plan with their unions, submit the plan to the commissioner of education and have it confirmed,” he said.

Gaetz blamed Scott for the delay.

“We simply followed the governor’s proposal as to the timing of the pay increase…But I’m sure that the governor didn’t mean to unnecessarily delay the pay increase,” he said. “My hope is we ought to go forward and give Florida teachers the pay increase that they deserve especially because we have a pay increase…which is based on performance.”

Spokeswoman for group pushing ‘parent trigger’ going to work for Obama campaign in California

Friday, April 20th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The spokeswoman of the California-based Parent Revolution group that pushed a controversial “parent trigger” bill in Florida is going to work for President Obama’s reelection campaign as the state spokeswoman.

Linda Serrato sent an e-mail saying she’ll start for Obama’s California campaign next week.

Serrato’s going to work for the Democratic incumbent after Florida Democrats – and some moderate Senate Republicans – excoriated the measure, also backed by former Gov. Jeb Bush. The parent trigger measure quickly evolved into a contentious battle over letting parents take over failing schools, with Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich taking the lead in fighting against it.

The measure died on a tie vote on the final day of the legislative session in March (not a single Senate Democrat voted in favor of the measure and just two Dems gave it a thumbs up in the House) but not before fiery messaging from Parent Revolution and opponents of the bill, including a coalition of Florida parent groups, the PTA among them.

“I feel honored to have worked with this dedicated, energetic and scrappy team. I have been proud to be a part of Parent Revolution’s work empowering parents to organize their communities,” Serrato wrote in an e-mail message announcing her departure.

Senate kills controversial ‘parent trigger’ measure on tie vote

Friday, March 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A split Senate shot down a controversial “parent trigger” bill on a 20-20 tie vote on the final day of the legislative session in a defeat for Senate GOP leaders, including Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

It’s at least the second high-profile measure backed by Haridopolos and his leadership team defeated by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, who also banded together to stop a prison privatization measure earlier this session.

The Senate spent an hour debate the measure (SB 1718), sponsored by Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, and half an hour on questions before taking a vote. The vote was expected to be so close that Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, delayed it for moments until all 40 senators were in the chamber.

The plan, heavily lobbied by California-based “Parent Revolution” and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education foundation, would have given parents the ability to determine whether low-performing schools should become charter schools or be taken over by for-profit management companies if more than 50 percent of parents whose children attend the schools sign petitions.

Critics said the process was riddled with problems and made parents at the failing schools vulnerable to manipulation by for-profit charter companies. A coalition of Florida parent-led groups including the PTA oppose the proposal.

“I’m tired and weary. I’m tired of sound bites and gimmicks that don’t do anything. Parent trigger. Parent revolution. Parent empowerment. Sound bites that mean nothing,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who called the proposal “fraught with risk.”

Three other states – California, Texas and Miss., – have instituted the “Parent Empowerment” process and 20 other states are considering similar legislation this summer.

But Venice Repubican Nancy Detert, a former Sarasota County school board member, said Florida has already enacted education reforms, many of them promoted by Bush, including a major overhaul just last year.

“We’ve been changing everything year after year after year. And we never give it time to gel,” Detert said. “Why do we want to keep throwing everybody in the bag and shaking it up…I feel so sorry for our teachers and students. They are on an island in a sea of chaos.”

But Benacquisto said the bill would empower parents who might feel helpless when their children are forced to go to school each day in a school with an “F” grade.

“What this bill does at its core is look at a system that already exists to address failing schools in our community and say that we acknowledge the legiimatecy of a parent’s voice when it comes to choosing what is already destined to be chosen,” she said.

Session likely to end on a sour note – again

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A testy Senate Special Order Committee meeting over a controversial “parent trigger” measure late Tuesday night set the stage for what will likely be an ugly end to the legislative session for the second year in a row.

But in a departure from the more typical animosity between the House and Senate, Senators can expect intra-cameral hard feelings before Friday’s sine die.

Intense bipartisan wrangling over the parent trigger measure peaked Tuesday night when Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, and Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich tried to remove the proposal (SB 1718) from a list of more than 50 measures being sent to the floor on special order on Thursday.

But committee chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, backed up by Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner and Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, refused to grant the pair the option of voting solely against the “Parent Empowerment” measure, which they both oppose.

Near the end of the meeting, Lynn repeatedly tried to ask Thrasher to allow her to vote no on the bill. An increasingly angry Thrasher finally cut Lynn off and, speaking over her, ordered the vote on the entire package, which passed by an unusual 4-3 vote, setting the “special order” calendar for Thursday. Lynn, Rich and Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, rejected the entire list rather than sign off on the parent trigger bill.

Lynn called the block vote a “political maneuver” that was “inappropriate and incorrect.”

But Gardiner, R-Orlando, chimed in, reminding Lynn that it was a procedural maneuver on the part of a bipartisan coalition led by Rich and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, that kept the measure from being withdrawn from a committee and sent to the Senate floor and instead required a special – and very rare – Saturday morning budget meeting to move the bill along. (Thrasher and Gardiner are an odd coalition, considering they are locked in a fight over the 2014-2016 Senate presidency.)

Gaetz, R-Niceville, agreed, accusing the bipartisan group of an “effort to stymie the process so the bill could not get to the floor.”

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Parents, Democrats bash ‘parent trigger’ proposal

Monday, March 5th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A coalition of parent-led groups, including the Florida PTA, and Democrats bashed a fast-tracked “parent trigger” proposal that would let parents at failing schools determine their fate.

The bill “has everything with laying the groundwork for the hostile, corporate takeover of public schools throughout Florida, a direct attack on public education,” Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston said at a press conference this morning.

Before the event began, Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution lobbyists handed out press releases asserting that national Democrats support the controversial measure. The California group called opponents “defenders of the status quo” and accused the Florida Education Association of invoking “new boogeymen” in “an attempt to confuse parents and political observers.” The “parent trigger” is now in place in first-in-the-nation California, Texas and Mississippi.

In those states, Democrats including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have favored the plan. The at-time unctuous, election-year parent trigger debate is pitting teachers’ unions and parent groups against charter schools and for-profit management companies throughout the nation.

At least 20 states, including Florida, are now considering “Parent Empowerment” legislation. The business-backed, conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has crafted model bills similar to the one (SB 1718, HB 1191) now on its way to the Senate floor in Florida; the House approved an identical measure last week along partisan lines. The Florida proposal is being pushed by former Gov. Jeb Bush and his education foundation, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and other GOP leaders.

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‘Parent trigger’ bill triggers passion, procedural maneuvering

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012 by Dara Kam

A controversial “parent trigger” bill backed by powerful GOP leaders and education reform icon Jeb Bush is headed to the Senate floor for a vote in the final week of the legislative session over the objections of the measure’s critics over the way it is being handled.

The Senate Budget Committee signed off on the bill (SB 1718), already passed by the Florida House, largely along partisan lines with a single Republican – Sen. Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach – joining Democrats in opposition.

Lynn and Democrats on the committee complained that GOP leaders were railroading the bill after Democrats and a cadre of Republicans led by Jack Latvala blocked the it from being yanked from the committee and sped to the Senate floor. Read about the Latvala-Thrasher leadership struggle – leaving its imprint on the final days of the legislative session – here, here and here.

Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St.Augustine, set two hours for the rare Saturday morning meeting to hear the bill. No one objected then, but that was before another measure was added to the agenda, eating up nearly 45 minutes this morning.

After Thrasher ordered a 9:59 “time certain” vote on the bill, the grumbling began.

Sen. Gwen Margolis, a former Senate president, asked that the time be extended to hear from audience members. The “Parent Empowerment” legislation is being pushed in 20 states by the Los Angeles-based “Parent Revolution” organization but is opposed in Florida by a coalition of parent-led groups including the PTA.

Thrasher said that was impossible because Senate rules prevented the meeting from being extended except on the Senate floor.

The irascible Lynn piped up, reminding Thrasher, a former House speaker close to Bush, of a questionable 4-3 committee vote she intended to challenge because she believed the vote came after another “time certain” vote by the Senate Education Committee this week. She did not fight the vote, and Thrasher ruled that it was legit.

This morning’s vote came after heated debate and after less than five minutes of public testimony during which a parent from Gainesville voiced her opposition.

After the votes were cast and he adjourned the meeting, Senate budget chief JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, allowed members of the audience to continue the dialogue.

Shirley Ford, a Los Angeles parent and one of the founders of Parent Revolution who still works for the group, told the panel why Florida needs the process, approved in California by voters two years ago.

Lynn didn’t buy it. She pointed out that Florida has a variety of measures to help turn around failing schools, including vouchers that allow students to attend any school their parents choose. And, she said, Florida just last year launched a sweeping education reform that among other things did away with teacher tenure. It’s too early to know what the impact of those changes will have on low-performing schools, she argued.

In addition, the state Board of Education this week approved a new school grading system that will nearly triple the number of failing schools.

“For somebody from California to come here and tell us what we should be doing is a laugh and a half,” Lynn said after the meeting.

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich and her caucus will hold a press conference Monday morning before the floor session begins to voice their objections to the proposal, also opposed by the state teachers’ union.

House approves tuition hikes for UF and FSU

Friday, March 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida House signed off on a plan to allow Florida State University and the University of Florida to set higher tuition than the state’s nine other public universities in a move to boost the two institutions’ national prominence.

The passage of the bill (HB 7129) is the latest effort in a decades-long attempt to create a tiered university system, something GOP leaders say is necessary for Florida’s higher ed system to compete with other states’ universities.

The bill allows research universities that meet certain standards – right now, UF and FSU – to charge higher tuition and fees than the other universities and also authorizes those universities to establish required courses for certain students.

Critics of the plan, which the House passed 85-28, say the hikes impose too much of a financial burden on already cash-strapped poor students.

California has seven Association of American Universities “pre-eminent” research universities, while Florida has just one, the bill sponsor Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, said.

“That’s shameful,” Proctor, the chancellor of the private Flagler College and a former member of the state Board of Education. Proctor said his plan will help Florida compete for businesses who want to relocate to regions with premiere research universities.

“Nothing is as important to economic recovery to this state as what you do to the state universities,” Proctor said.

Tuition at UF, FSU and three other universities has climbed 60 percent over the past four years, and 45 percent at five other schools, including Florida Atlantic University. Universities can seek as much as a 15 percent tuition hike each year but require approval for the increases from the universities’ Board of Governors, which has not rejected any university’s tuition request.

Rep. Dwight Bullard, a teacher, called the measure irresponsible.

“If we’re supposed to be up here looking out for the best interests of our constituents, we can’t go about doing tuition increases that large,” Bullard, D-Miami, said.

Senate passes school prayer bill

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

After a heartfelt debate from both sides, the Florida Senate approved a measure authorizing student-led prayers at schools as long as adults are not involved.

The “inspirational messages” proposal (SB 98), proposed by Orlando Democratic Sen. Gary Siplin and approved by a 31-8 vote, would allow school boards to adopt policies granting students the right to have prayers at any school assembly but school administrators, teachers, coaches or other personnel from scrutinizing or participating in the prayers.

A handful of Democrats argued against the bill, saying students already have the opportunity to pray privately objecting that the measure could create divisiveness.

“We don’t have an issue in the state of Florida with the lack of ability of public school students to pray openly.
What we want to do is keep our public school kids with the one inspirational message they all need: study, study, study.
When they come to the school they can park their religious beliefs at home,” said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, who is Catholic.

But Sen. Joe Negron argued that schools have gone too far in limiting students’ speech.

“We’ve gone from one extreme now to the other extreme. We’ve gone from neutrality toward religion to hostility to religion,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.

Some senators of both parties who previoulsy voted against school prayer bills spoke in favor of the measure, including a warning from that the bill may backfire.

Inspirational messages are OK, Sen. Nancy Detert said.

“And when it becomes not OK, when you get little smart-alecky kids who are going to proselytize the Koran…That’s when your school board should shut it down,” Detert, R-Venice, said.

School bus ads traveling through House

Thursday, January 26th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Yellow school buses could be emblazoned with ads promoting sneakers, power drinks or television shows under a proposal making its way through the Florida legislature.

The House Education Committee gave the thumbs-up to the proposal, already in place in 15 other states, that could raise up to $100 million statewide for cash-strapped school districts struggling to cover transportation costs for students, according to bill co-sponsor Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.

The proposal (HB 19) would give school boards the ability to contract for ads on school buses but would ban advertisements for pari-mutuel or Internet gambling or political or religious promotions.

Half of the money generated by the ads would have to be spent on transportation costs and 10 percent would go for drivers education classes if the districts offer them.

“Obviously the state of Florida, we’re in a tough spot,” Slosberg told the panel before the 14-3 vote in favor of his measure. “There’s no money. So what do we do? Do we let the kids walk to school? Do we lay off teachers? This is a creative way to raise revenue and not increase our taxes and not increase our fees.”

But critics of the measure questioned whether children, especially kindergartners, already bombarded by advertisements should be subjected to even more propaganda with the tacit endorsement of their school.

Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, said the bill gave him an “uneasy feeling” although schools already have advertisements in place on football fields or in gymnasiums.

“It has to do with this concept of endorsement,” Bileca, who voted against the measure, said. “It’s the idea that a trusted source…is saying that this is ok.”

The Florida PTA opposes the measure.

Two advertisements up to two by six feet in size could be posted on the buses, which some opponents said could create a distraction for drivers and endanger students’ safety.

“We’re dealing with children, three, four five years old,” Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami, objected. “That’s an early age to be bombarded with advertisements…I don’t think it’s fair.”

Slosberg, whose daughter died in an automobile accident, bristled at safety concerns.

“My daughter died in a car crash. I’d be the last guy in the world to want to endanger anyone’s life, especially our children, by putting advertising on our buses,” Slosberg said. “If I thought that…I would never have brought this bill forward.”

Scott enlists aid of public school chiefs to get his budget passed

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011 by Dara Kam

After slashing education spending by $1.3 billion earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott is now asking school superintendents to help get his $1 billion budget boost for public schools passed. And he reiterated his vow to veto any budget that “does not significantly increase state funding for education” in a letter to school superintendents sent today.

Scott included the $1 billion education increase in his $66.4 billion election-year budget proposal after hearing from Floridians that they want more spent on schools, he said. Scott also said that education is the cornerstone of his plan to bring more jobs to the state.

“If you support the budget I am proposing, please let your legislators know. Now that I have presented my budget recommendations, it’s their turn to listen, just as I have done. Please join me in advocating for the children of our state and Florida’s economic future,” Scott wrote.

More than 30,000 new students will enroll in Florida public schools, requiring an additional $200 million over current spending, Scott wrote. And school districts are facing a $220 million reduction in ad valorem taxes, meaning lawmakers will have to pump nearly $500 million more into education to break even.

His plan would bring average per-pupil spending in Florida to $6,372, a $142 increase over the current year but still well below the $7,126 high in 2008.

“As I have listened to the challenges described by teachers, parents and administrators during the past few months, all have urged me to increase the state’s commitment to education. That is my plan, and I ask for your help in making that plan a reality for Florida’s students,” Scott wrote.

The governor once again threw down the gauntlet to lawmakers, many of whom have balked at his plan to beef up education spending by squeezing $2 billion out of Medicaid payments to hospitals.

“Every educator, student, parent and business leader should know: I will not sign a budget from the Legislature that does not significantly increase state funding for education,” Scott wrote.

Do away with PE? Senate prez: ‘Who said that? I love PE!’

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A push in the Florida House to do away with physical education in middle schools will be a heavy lift across the hall.

A House committee on Tuesday approved a measure (HB 4057) by a 9-6 vote that would strike the requirements that middle school students take P.E. The American Heart Association is trying to beat back the proposal, saying that more than 30 percent of Florida children are obese and more than 62 percent of all Floridians are fat.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos hadn’t heard about the bill when we asked him this afternoon what he thought about doing away with PE in public schools.

“Who said that? Who filed that one? I love P.E.!” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said.

The bill doesn’t have a Senate sponsor, and, judging by the president’s comments, may not get one.

“That’s not on my to-do list at this point. My wife’s a doctor and I was a high school and college athlete. I believe P.E.’s a good thing,” he said.

Immigration tops Rick Scott’s legislative priority list

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Immigration is at the top of Gov. Rick Scott’s legislative priorities when lawmakers reconvene in January, the first-term governor told Northwest Florida conservative radio talk show host Burnie Thompson today.

Lawmakers failed to reach agreement on any immigration proposals during the session that ended in May.

“We should have done an immigration bill. The federal government should be securing our borders. They should have a logical, national immigration policy, a good work visa program policy. But if people are in our state illegally we should be able to ask them if they’re legal or not if they’re doing something wrong and violating our laws. That’s one thing we ought to be doing,” Scott told Thompson, a talk show host on Panama City Beach’s WYOO 101.1 FM.

Other Scott priorities include property and auto insurance reform and restricting how school districts spend money, he said.

Scott, who spends part of his days reaching out to corporate leaders and encouraging them to set up shop in the Sunshine State, challenged all Floridians to follow his lead. Scott has pledged to create 700,000 in seven years.

“I want everybody in this state to call somebody and say, ‘Look why don’t you move your company here?’ Any feelers they get give my office a call because I’ll make the phone call with them to make it happen. We have 19 million people in our state. If all of us get active on economic development, everybody in this state will have an opportunity for a job,” he said.

Read what Scott said about insurance and education after the jump.
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Progressives protest Rick Scott in St. Pete

Friday, July 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Chanting “Pink Slip Rick,” dozens of left-leaning activists staged a protest as Gov. Rick Scott addressed a gathering of the media in St. Petersburg.

Florida Watch Action, Progress Florida and Awake the State organized the protest to coincide with Scott’s speech and more than a hundred new laws went into effect today.

As of today, teachers, firemen, police officers and other state workers will have to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to their pensions. And more than 4,500 state workers will lose their jobs under the new $69.1 billion budget that also goes into effect today. Lawmakers also slashed education spending, all part of an effort to fill a $3.62 billion budget gap.

Wearing a “Governor Scott Enemy of the State” T-shirt, Madeira Beach teacher Mary Niemeyer held a sign decrying the state’s education cuts. “Our future is at stake,” she said.

Middle school teacher Steve Adams and his wife Mary drove from Lakeland to participate in the protest across the street from the waterfront Renaissance Vinoy Hotel where the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors held their annual meeting.

“I object to the way teachers and public employees have been the ones forced to pay for Florida’s deficit,” Adams, 67, said.

While the protest may have little – if any – impact on Scott, Adams, who said he did not vote for the first-term governor, said it and similar events have worked.

“The tea party made a difference and this is how they started. So we should take a lesson,” Adams said.

Scott calls state ed board members after chairman quits

Thursday, March 24th, 2011 by Dara Kam

After nearly three months on the job, Gov. Rick Scott reached out for the first time yesterday to the members of the state board of education after chairman T. Willard Fair quit over what he called Scott’s heavy-handed handling of Education Commissioner Eric Smith‘s resignation.

During an emergency board meeting by telephone this morning, each of the panel’s five remaining members said they were encouraged that Scott, who on the campaign trail called education one of his top priorities, called them yesterday afternoon.

“I’d never spoken to Gov. Scott before,” said Roberto Martinez, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush. “It was greatly appreciated.”

Martinez said Scott told him “he recognized the record of accomplishment and service” of Smith and “also recognized the record of leadership by Chairman Fair.”

In a letter to the board yesterday, Fair complained Scott forced Smith out of his position, something Smith denied, and refused to participate in the telephone call.

Martinez said Scott gave him his cell phone number during the lengthy call.

“It was a very encouraging call. It was an excellent call and I greatly appreciated it,” Martinez said.

The board agreed to hire a head-hunter firm to conduct a national search for Smith’s replacement. And they unanimously agreed to put into the record their admiration and support for Fair.

The state constitution gives the governor the authority to appoint the seven members to the board, which is responsible for hiring and firing the state education commissioner.

Fair’s term ended in December, but he stayed on until Scott made his own appointments, something he has not yet done.

State Board of Education chairman quits over Scott’s handling of commissioner’s resignation

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

T. Willard Fair, chairman of the state Board of Education, has resigned over Gov. Rick Scott’s handling of the resignation of education commissioner Eric Smith, who announced he was stepping down on Monday.

Fair’s term had already expired in December, but has remained on the board until Scott replaces him.

In a letter to board members sent yesterday, Fair, appointed to the board by Gov. Jeb Bush, criticized the manner in which Scott handled Smith’s resignation. Fair essentially accuses Scott of usurping the board’s authority by forcing Smith to resign. The governor-appointed board is charged with hiring and firing commissioners. Fair said that Scott has not met with Smith since the governor took office in January.

Fair wrote that he is “alarmed by the Governor’s dismissive treatment of this Board, which after all, hired Eric Smith, but which was not consulted, regarding the Governor’s desire to divest the State of his services.”

The board is holding an emergency meeting tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. “relating to discussion and action the announced departures of the Commissioner of Education and Chair of the State Board of Education,” the Department of Education advised in a press release today.

But Fair said the meeting is a farce.

“In fact, the notion that this Board should immediately commence a “national search” for a new Commissioner, flies in the face of the reality that Governor Scott will choose his new Commissioner. This Board, including its new members, will merely provide the votes that affirm the Governor’s choice. Therefore, it seems pointless to put on a public display that gives the impression that the decision will ultimately rest with the Board,” he wrote.

Read Fair’s letter after the jump.
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Senate school cuts not so deep after all

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Cuts to public school funding won’t be nearly as bad as it appeared earlier this week under the Florida Senate plan, budget chief J.D. Alexander said Wednesday morning.

That’s because the spending allocations released this week don’t include about another $1 billion in savings Alexander said he’s making in state employees,’ including teachers’, pay and benefits.

It appears he’s funneling nearly half that to schools, bringing down the cuts to about $300 million from more than $700 proposed earlier this week, Alexander said. That’s the opposite direction the House is headed in with its K-12 spending plan.

“It depends on your view of the world, but in terms of what a school board will have to do to adjust to available funds, our proposal has a much lower broad cut. I think the $700 million was too high,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said.

Without being able to raise new revenue through taxes or fees, Alexander said the savings from cutting health care benefits or requiring state employees to contribute to their pensions is the only way to avoid deeper direct cuts to services and education.

Under Alexander’s plan, state workers would have to contribute less to their pensions than the 5% Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida House are asking.

Just how much?

All will be revealed Monday when Alexander releases his budget proposal.

Senate hikes schools cuts

Monday, March 21st, 2011 by Dara Kam

From The Orlando Sentinel’s Aaron Deslatte:

TALLAHASSEE — Last week, Senate PreK-12 Education Budget Chairman David Simmons said the chamber’s classroom spending plan was essentially break-even for school districts.

That is, per-pupil student funding wouldn’t see much of a cut, at all.

But on Monday, Simmons reported back to his committee with fresh marching orders from Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, and the new budget math adds up to a $6.5 percent cut for classrooms, equal to about $1 billion.

That’s much closer to the 10 percent cut recommended by Gov. Rick Scott last month.

Sort of. (more…)

Preliminary Senate education budget: 2.3 percent cut

Thursday, March 17th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Senate’s preliminary allocation for education spending is a 2.3 percent drop from last year’s, far less than Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed 10 percent and the House’s initial 7.7 percent cuts.

Senate Pre-K-12 Education Budget Committee Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, cautioned the committee that today’s figures – a $155.67 drop from last year’s $6,813.14 per-pupil spending – are just a starting point.

“It is subject to change. It is the kind of thing we’re going to have to hope that we can maintain but understand, and I cannot emphasize enough, that these are preliminary numbers,” Simmons said.

Under the Senate plan, public schools could fare even better, Simmons said, by adding back the $554 million in federal funds districts were supposed to have stashed and savings from changes in the state’s pension plan by requiring school district employees to contribute to their retirement.

“Roughly level funding for the Senate proposal – that is under these economic circumstances a significant statement as to the belief int he importance in the investment in education by Senate President Haridopolos and Sen. Alexander,” the senate budget chief, Simmons said.

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Look out, public broadcasting

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida lawmakers have $1.6 billion less to spend on education this year than last, according to a preliminary glimpse of the Senate’s education spending plan.

The shortfall comes from the disappearance of one-time $880 million federal stimulus funds used last year plus a reduction in property tax collections due to a decline in assessed values.

Senate K-12 education budget committee chairman David Simmons handed out spreadsheets to his committee and told them to be ready to do some serious cutting when they meet again on Thursday.

“For anybody who sees this do not have a heart attack yet,” cautioned Simmons, R-Maitland, who pointed out that lawmakers still have $554 million in federal “Education Jobs” grants leftover that school districts were supposed to have held onto from last year.

And the $1.6 billion hold “does not reflect any kind of “beg allocation,” Simmons said. “That’s where we’re going to beg for an additional allocation for education.”

Simmons drew attention to a single item on the $22 billion public education spending spreadsheet: public broadcasting.
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Senate OK’s merit pay for teachers

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The Florida Senate approved legislation Thursday that would end tenure and tie teacher pay to student performance — the latest round in a long clash between Republican lawmakers and the state teachers union.

The 26-12 vote split on party lines, with Democrats opposed.

 Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, was the lone Democrat to crossover and support the measure; Republican Sens. Dennis Jones of Seminole and Paula Dockery of Lakeland joined Democratic opponents.

The measure (CS/SB 736) is similar to legislation that convulsed Florida last spring, before then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it following demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns by the Florida Education Association.

 Crist broke with the Republican Party following his veto; and the FEA endorsed Democrat Alex Sink over the GOP’s Rick Scott in last fall’s governor’s race.

Scott campaigned in favor of the legislation.

“This bill ought to be a teacher’s dream – to be paid for a student’s success,” said Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, sponsor of the bill.

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