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Senate math class in session

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The Florida Senate began debate Thursday on a controversial plan to end teacher tenure and introduce merit pay based heavily on student performance.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a similar measure last year following a major campaign against SB 6 by the state’s teachers’ union. But fast-forward a few months and the new, slightly modified bill (CS/SB 736) — dubbed ‘son of 6′ — is on a fast-track.

Critics still abound. But they’re clearly outnumbered.

“I’m an old math teacher. I can count,” said Democratic Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee, a longtime educator who has a middle-school named after him in Leon County. “I know this is going to pass.”

Scott says pension contribution phase-in a no-go

Monday, February 14th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott rejected some GOP lawmakers proposal to phase-in a revamp of the state’s pension system.

Scott’s proposed having state workers kick in 5 percent of their salaries to their pension plans, splitting the 10 percent the state now pays for. That would amount to a 5 percent salary cut for the state’s public school employees, who make up nearly half of the Florida Retirement System.

Senate Education Appropriations Committee Chairman David Simmons said he wants to see the pension reform eased in over more than one year so that beginning teachers won’t get a pay cut while the state’s still struggling to come out of a recession.

Scott says nope.

“It’s only fair. The private sector, they fund their retirement benefits so the public sector ought to be doing the same thing,” Scott said. Asked if he was willing to negotiate on the phase-in, Scott’s response was terse: “No.”

First committee week offers fundraising grab bag

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Fresh from the elections last month, a brand-new crop of lawmakers and their more experienced colleagues swarmed the Capitol this week for their first round of committee meetings, some popcorn and, for some, a little campaign swag.

As usual, committee weeks offer an opportunity for candidates – however recently elected to their current posts – to raise money for future campaigns.

Rep. Dorothy Hukill, reelected to her final two-years in the House last month, is holding a fundraiser for her 2012 state Senate run at the Governor’s Club tomorrow evening. Hukill, a Port Orange lawyer, is chairwoman of the Economic Affairs Committee, where she’ll likely be taking up much of the House’s pro-business proposals.

Later today, the GOP-dominated legislature will head to a local movie theater for a viewing of “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary that sings the praises of charter schools.

Class size amendment stays on ballot

Thursday, October 7th, 2010 by Dara Kam

A proposed constitutional amendment that would water down class size limits will remain on the ballot, the Florida Supreme Court ruled today.

Lawmakers placed the measure, Amendment 8, on the ballot to give school districts more flexibility meeting the constitutional restrictions on class sizes approved by voters in 2002. The proposal would keep class size limits at the school average level rather than require each class to comply with the limits.

The Florida teachers’ union argued that the measure is really intended to decrease the amount of money lawmakers must spend on public education.

Today’s unanimous decision upheld a lower court ruling.

Florida finalist in Race to the Top education grant

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Florida made the final cut in the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top grant, now competing with 18 other states for $3.4 billion in federal funds for education reforms.

Florida failed to get any of the money in the first round of competition in which Delaware and Tennessee received a total of about $600 million.

Part of the reason for that was that Florida’s plan lacked support from the teachers’ unions and the state’s 67 school boards, who this time around have contributed to the state’s plan.

Governor Charlie Crist will lead a delegation to Washington, D.C., in August to present Florida’s Race to the Top proposal. He’ll be accompanied by Education Commissioner Eric Smith and Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association.

Florida schools is now in the running for up to $700 million in federal funds for education reforms.

“Florida has worked diligently to bring together diverse support from superintendents, school board members, teachers and teacher associations for our Race to the Top application,” Crist said in a press release. “I am confident our team will clearly communicate why Florida’s past and present success will ensure bold education reforms that are critical to Florida’s future.”

The final winners are expected to be named by the end of September.

Teacher union files lawsuit to keep class size amendment off ballot

Friday, July 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida teachers’ union filed a lawsuit today to keep a constitutional amendment watering down class size restrictions off the ballot in November.

The GOP-dominated legislature put Amendment 8 on the ballot to allow school districts flexibility with constitutionally-mandated class size restrictions voters approved in 2002.

The class sizes have been eased in over time and this year are set to go from school-level averages to individual classroom pupil/teacher limits.

The proposed amendment, if approved by voters in November, would keep the averages at the school level.

But Ron Meyer, the lawyer representing the Florida Education Association and who filed the lawsuit this morning, contends that the amendment is really about stiffing taxpayers by not adequately funding education as the state constitution requires.

Lawmakers failed to put $354 million needed to comply with the class sizes into the budget this year, Meyer said.

The ballot title and summary don’t tell voters that the real aim of the amendment is to cut back on education spending, he accused.

“The failure of the legislature to be honest with parents – to tell them that Amendment 8 cuts funding to public schools which will result in crowded classrooms once again – is what makes this lawsuit necessary,” Meyer said in a press release.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat running for governor, said she supports the amendment because it gives flexibility to school districts.

Read the lawsuit here.

Senate rules chairman urges Crist to veto ‘unconstitutional mess’ teacher pay bill

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Sen. Alex Villalobos, the Republican Rules Committee chairman, joined a slew of Democratic lawmakers urging Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the contentious teacher pay bill.

But Villalobos used a different tack to persuade the governor, who has until midnight Friday to act on the measure (SB 6): it’s a “constitutional mess.”

Villalobos argued in a letter to Crist sent Tuesday that the bill that virtually eliminates job security for teachers and bases their salary increases on how well their students perform on standardized tests poses a host of potential constitutional problems.


NAACP to hold mansion vigil Thursday for teacher pay veto

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The local chapter of the NAACP is holding a prayer vigil at the governor’s mansion Thursday night to encourage Gov. Charlie Crist to veto a controversial teacher pay bill.

Crist has until midnight Friday to act on the bill, and recently said the tremendous opposition to the measure (SB 6) has made a “fairly significant impression” on him.

State Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, is helping organize the vigil, which is slated to begin at 7 p.m. unless Crist takes action on the measure first.

NAACP Tallahassee chapter president Dale Landry said the bill will force teachers to kick poor-performing students out of their classes because their salaries will be tied to how well the children score on standardized tests.

“You’re talking about a person’s livelihood being tied to children” and factors outside the classroom over which teachers have no control, Landry said.

“To me that’s criminal,” he said.

Senate moves to end separation of church and state

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The separation of church and state has been in Florida’s constitution for more than a century.

But that might this fall under a proposal approved by a Senate committee this morning that could go before voters on the November ballot.

The “Religious Freedom” amendment would delete the 125-year-old provision in the constitution prohibiting state money from being spent directly or indirectly to aid any church, sect or religious denomination. And it would open the door to former Gov. Jeb Bush’s school voucher program allowing public school students to use state money to pay for religious school tuition that the Florida Supreme Court struck down.

Also known as the “Blaine Amendment,” the separation of church and state restriction was an anti-Catholic, anti-immigration measure aimed at keeping Catholics from obtaining government funding for their schools.


‘Sucker-punch to the gut’ of teachers or visionary reform? Crist has seven days to pick a side on teacher tenure

Friday, April 9th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist has a week to decide if the controversial teacher merit pay bill is a “sucker-punch to the gut of the teaching profession” or a visionary reform now that SB 6 has reached his desk.

The “teacher tenure” bill poses a conundrum for the U.S. Senate candidate framed in the old Pete Seeger union song, Which Side Are You On?

The self-described “People’s Governor” is facing mounting pressure from fellow Republicans to sign SB 6 into law and from Democrats demanding that he kill the bill.

Crist originally said he thought the merit-pay proposal was a good idea. But after tens of thousands of teachers, parents and students inundated lawmakers’ offices and his own with phone calls and e-mails blasting the plan, his enthusiasm may be waning.

“The more you listen, the more you learn,” Crist told reporters Thursday morning. “There are things I like and things that give me some concern,” in the bill. “I’m listening to the people of Florida — my boss.”

After the House passed the bill at 2:30 this morning, Speaker Larry Cretul urged the governor to keep his word.

“I believe we have passed legislation this morning that is important,” Cretul, R-Ocala, said. “It is legislation I believe the governor should want to sign. I take him at his word that he will.”

But even before the measure reached Crist’s desk shortly after noon today, Democrats ramped up demands that Crist to put his red pen to use.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat running to replace Crist, called on the governor to “stand with the people of Florida against this attempt by Tallahassee politicians to take control away from our local schools.”

Her campaign this morning launched an online petition for Floridians to sign to request the veto.

Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson said in a statement “our governor needs to stand his ground” and veto the bill Lawson called a “sucker-punch to the gut of the teaching profession.”

Read the full story here.

Bleary-eyed House sends sweeping education reforms to governor

Friday, April 9th, 2010 by Dara Kam

After pontificating for nearly 12 hours, the Florida House at 2:30 this morning finalized approval of a sweeping package of public school changes that could eventually reach every student and teacher in the state.

The divided House ultimately sent to Gov. Charlie Crist a quartet of bills that could prove to be the most significant education changes passed out of the state legislature in a decade.

The proposals would change the way teachers’ contracts and raises are negotiated, make class sizes larger, high school graduation tougher and send more state money to private schools.

The chamber finished with the most controversial measure of all – SB 6 – that would tie teacher pay and job security with how well students perform on tests. Angry teachers, parents and students overwhelmed lawmakers with telephone calls and e-mails objecting to the bill. House Speaker Larry Cretul forbade Democrats from reading any of the e-mails during debate on the bill that ran on until 2:30 this morning.

Read the full story here.

Angry teachers clog House Speaker phone lines

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by Dara Kam

So many angry teachers called House Speaker Larry Cretul’s office late last week his staff had to add four additional telephone lines and four workers to field the complaints, Cretul spokeswoman Jill Chamberlin said.

The Speaker’s office received more than 5,500 phone calls on Thursday and Friday about SB 6, the measure approved by the Senate last week that would revamp teacher salaries and job security by basing educators’ pay on how well their students perform on standardized tests.

Most of the calls objected to the proposal, Chamberlin said.

“It’s hard to generalize, but many people did not seem to know what the bill does (they thought it would reduce current teacher pay—it won’t) (they thought it would affect current teacher retirement and benefits—it won’t, etc.) and many thought we were taking a poll (which we were not.) It is certainly possible that some people didn’t get through or got voice mail—considering the volume,” Chamberlin said in an e-mail.

McCollum blames teachers for Fla losing out on federal education funds

Monday, March 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bill McCollum blamed the teachers’ union for Florida’s failure to win out on the first round of federal “Race to the Top” education funds.

The Florida Education Association, that opposed the stimulus funds, is “now responsible for the loss of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars for Sunshine State students, teachers and schools,” McCollum campaign manager Matt Williams said in a press release.

“Today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Education that Florida was not selected as a first round winner of the Race to the Top competition is a disappointing reminder the unions will continue to put the interests of bureaucracy over the best interests of Florida’s children,” Williams accuses.

Sen. John Thrasher, who also serves as the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, joined in the teacher-bashing chorus although Gov. Charlie Crist said he remained hopeful that the state could ultimately win some of the $4 billion in federal funds.

Senate does away with teacher tenure after angry debate

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Senate passed a measure that would have a far-reaching impact on teachers’ salaries and job security after a heated debate by Democratic opponents and an angry defense of the bill by Republicans.

Four Republicans – Sens. Charlie Dean of Inverness, Paula Dockery of Lakeland, Dennis Jones of Seminole and Alex Villalobos of Miami – joined Democrats on the losing side of the 21-17 vote.


Should class size limits be watered down?

Monday, February 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Legislative leaders-in-waiting Sen. Don Gaetz and Rep. Will Weatherford are heading up a GOP initiative to water down constitutional class size limits approved by voters.

Gaetz, R-Destin, and Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, sponsored a constitutional amendment lawmakers are expected to put on the ballot this year that would undo some of the class size restrictions voters approved in 2002.

Floridians have already spent $16 billion to shrink class sizes but plummeting property tax collections – which pay for public schools – have sent lawmakers scrambling to foot the $22 billion-a-year tab for education.

Gaetz and Weatherford, who are expected to lead their chambers in 2012, will reveal details of their proposal at a press conference tomorrow morning.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for U.S. Senate, recently said that he supports undoing the class size restrictions, which have been been introduced gradually and which school officials say costs too much and doesn’t benefit student achievement.

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Democrat is also running for the U.S. Senate seat Crist seeks, was the force behind the class size amendment in 2002 while he was in the state Senate.

He isn’t backing down from the limits, which are set to go into full effect by the end of this year.

“Eight years later, Tallahassee officials have not relented in trying to water down hard-fought class size limits while refusing to tackle the special interest bidding that is alive and well in the state capital, ” said Kendrick Meek, who served as Chairman of Florida’s Coalition to Reduce Class Size in 2002.

“Florida families cannot be shortchanged. They simply ask that their children not be packed into overcrowded classrooms. Instead of focusing on misguided priorities, Florida needs a long-term perspective to secure a better future for our children. Implementing the class size limits without delay is critical so our teachers can teach in classrooms where our students can learn. Moreover, it is important to note that our state needs to invest now in its human capital in order to reverse the tide of joblessness for tomorrow’s workers,” Meek said in press release.

Do you think the constitutional limits on class sizes should be lowered?

  • No (71%, 52 Votes)
  • Yes (29%, 21 Votes)

Total Voters: 73

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Senate Prez: Crist education proposal too rosy

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist’s proposed $500 million boost to education spending based on an unlikely gambling agreement is unrealistic, Senate President Jeff Atwater said this morning.

“The numbers that I would see at this moment that were included in that release did seem to be a bit optimistic,” Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said at a meeting of reporters and editors.

Crist’s $22.7 billion public education budget, released Monday, relies on about $433 million from the Seminole Tribe of Florida now sitting in the bank as part of a deal with the state allowing certain types of gambling at the tribe’s casinos.

But the legislature has refused to sign off on a deal inked by Crist and the tribe and early indications show that an agreement this year remains in doubt.

“We worked hard on a gaming compact and we’re not done but to just plug in the numbers that I saw was rather optimistic,” Atwater, who is running for chief financial officer said.

Crist wants to meet with Obama in Tampa tomorrow to give him some advice

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist, apparently recovered from the man-hug he shared with President Barack Obama last year, is trying to meet with the president tomorrow in Tampa.

Obama will be in Florida to announce the winners of about $8 billion in federal grants for high speed rail projects, and it is almost certain that at least part of the state’s $2.5 billion ask will be granted.

Crist, who is scheduled to be in Tampa tomorrow, said his staff is working on a get-together with the president.

“I would like to see him, yes. It looks like it’s possible, yes,” Crist said after a speech to editors and reporters at the Capitol this morning.

Crist said he has three things to discuss with Obama, including some advice on reaching out across the aisle, a practice that has landed Crist in hot water with his fellow Republicans.

“I hope that what he announceas in Tampa brings a lot of jobs to Florida in the form of high speed rail. Number two, I’d like to talk to him about a more bipartisan approach which means, you know, it’s a two-way street, you know, reaching out more to Republicans and have them involved in the important issues of the day.
And then finally, encourage him on Race to the Top and lobby him a little,” Crist said. Race to the Top is a federal education grant program that could bring about $1 billion to Florida.

GOP critics lambasted Crist, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, for cheerleading for Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package last year. Crist appeared with Obama in Florida last year and a photo of the two embracing was used by critics to embarrass Crist in his GOP primary campaign against former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Crist later denied he supported the stimulus, saying he did not have the opportunity to vote for it in Congress.

Crist repeated his “let’s-all-get-along” emphasis when asked what he expected from the president’s state of the union address tonight.

“A common sense approach, more bipartisanship, and I hope he delivers,” he said.

First Lady headed to Miami for education awards gala

Thursday, October 8th, 2009 by Dara Kam

first_lady_michelle_obama_official_portrait_2009_2First Lady Michelle Obama will give out awards at the Florida Campus Compact annual gala in Miami next week.

The fundraiser and awards ceremony takes place Oct. 15 at the Landmark Freedom Tower in Miami.

Florida Campus Compact is a coalition of 50 colleges and universities, including Florida Atlantic University, that gets students involved in community service.

“It’s a huge deal for us,” said Florida Campus Compact executive director DeeDee Rasmussen, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

It may be a huge deal for the coalition of 50 colleges and universities throughout the state but one that apparently is top-secret.

There’s no mention of the First Lady’s presence at the annual gala and luncheon on the Florida Campus Compact home page on its website.

But a little persistence and clicking on the “speakers”
tab on the gala’s page reveals that Mrs. Obama will be joined by Palm Beach County home town celebrity: Frank Brogan.

In July, the state Board of Governors Brogan to be the chancellor of the state university system. Prior to that the former Martin County schoolteacher served as president of Florida Atlantic University.

Michelle Obama was involved in similar campus efforts at the University of Chicago, where she developed the university’s first student community service program.

“I couldn’t think of a better person to come and give kudos and congratulations to the people who are in the trenches every day. She used to work in this field in Chicago and I know it’s something near and dear to her heart,” Rasmussen said.

Kids hungry for caterpillars get full

Thursday, October 8th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist will join in a world-wide literacy event starring “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” the classic children’s book published 40 years ago, this morning in Orlando.

Freedom Shores Elementary schoolchildren having caterpillar fun

Freedom Shores Elementary schoolchildren having caterpillar fun

Freedom Shores Elementary schoolchildren in Boynton Beach are some of the 100,000 kids throughout the state participating in the event aimed at introducing low-income youngsters to the joy of reading.

The Pearson Foundation, the charitable organization of the publishing giant, donated the books and is trying to beat last year’s “Read for the Record” world record of 700,000 readers.

“Unbelievably, one in three Pre-K innocents have never had a book read to them and too many lack basic literacy skills that are a must for a chance at achieving early literacy which is the base for their entire education experience,” said Victoria Zepp, a Tallahassee lobbyist and consultant whose clients include Pearson.

Zepp is joining Crist at Vista Lakes Elementary in Orlando where the governor is scheduled to read Eric Carle’s classic children’s tale.

Crist is one of a number of celebrities participating in the event kicked off by NBC Today show host Matt Lauer this morning.

Visiting Crist hails progress of Riviera Beach elementary school

Friday, October 2nd, 2009 by George Bennett

Gov. Charlie Crist and wife Carole at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Riviera Beach. LANNIS WATERS/Staff photographer

Gov. Charlie Crist and wife Carole at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Riviera Beach. LANNIS WATERS/Staff photographer

RIVIERA BEACH — After visiting an elementary school that has improved from a D grade to an A in four years, Gov. Charlie Crist said public schools in Florida and Palm Beach County are “on the rise.”

Crist and his wife, Carole Crist, visited Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School this morning, greeting cafeteria workers, administrators and safety patrols and stopping in on three classes.

Crist is also slated to meet with restaurateurs in Palm Beach County today and to attend a fund-raiser in Manalapan tonight for his U.S. Senate bid.

“I can’t tell you how impressed I am with your school and your accomplishments here and what you’ve been able to do in a short period of time,” Crist said after being shown around by principal Glenda Sheffield.

Bethune Elementary got an F grade in 2002 based on its Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores and was a D school in 2006. After Sheffield became principal, the school got C grades in 2007 and 2008 and an A this year.

“You’re an A school. And it wasn’t that long ago that Bethune Elementary wasn’t an A school. That kind of gain and that kind of accomplishment is exactly what Florida students deserve and what they should have,” Crist said.

Asked about the controversy in Palm Beach County over its use of tests roughly every three weeks to measure whether students are on track, Crist gave a vote of confidence to Superintendent Art Johnson.

“I think we’re getting better every day,” Crist said. “I think that’s the message we want to convey to people that may have concerns. Florida’s on the rise and Palm Beach County clearly is on the rise. The leadership that Art has provided here is exceptional.”

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