Sunday, September 16, 2012

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

Not the actions of a governor who believes in the value of public education

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "As Gov. Rick Scott launches a fresh campaign claiming to care as much about improving public education as Florida families do, he needs to offer more than lip service."

Four weeks into the new school year, districts have been unable to complete teacher evaluations from 2011-12 due to the time it has taken the state Department of Education to establish student learning gains based on FCAT scores on a teacher-by-teacher basis. The data affect nearly every teacher evaluation under a 2011 law Scott signed that is entering its second year of implementation. This is precisely the problem anticipated by critics when the 2011 Republican-controlled Legislature rammed through SB 736 without consulting the teachers union, establishing a reasonable time frame or providing more money.
The editors continue:
In a current television ad financed by the Republican Party of Florida, Scott promises to reduce reliance on the FCAT and stop "teaching to the test," without explaining what that actually means. The current state policy he approved actually will increase reliance on standardized testing for students and for teacher evaluations. Scott also boasts about boosting public school funding by $1 billion this year — without mentioning he signed off on cutting it $1.3 billion the year before as he signed into law the costly new teacher evaluation law. Scott hasn't addressed how he will ensure teachers get treated fairly. Scott now talks a lot about improving public schools, but voters will judge him by his actions. So far, those actions are not those of a governor who believes in the value of public education.
"Education overhaul stumbles".

Floridians have their own billionaire Koch brother

"Billionaire William Koch and his coal companies have donated more than $3 million to federal campaigns in the past year, making him the largest individual donor from Florida, according to an analysis by the Herald-Tribune. Koch and two Palm Beach County firms, Oxbow Carbon and Huron Carbon, lead a small group of large donors who have committed millions of dollars to candidates and political action committees this election cycle."

Floridians have donated twice as much to Republicans as they have to Democrats, according to the Herald-Tribune analysis.

Ten individuals contributed 6.5 percent of all donations in Florida, nine of them donating to Republican candidates and conservative “super PACs.”

Of the top 10 Florida donors, only one gave to Democrats: Coral Gables philanthropist Barbara Stiefel gave $1.2 million to liberal groups.

The super PACs have no limit on what they can raise from individuals and are not formally affiliated with a particular candidate.

“This is your 2012 election in a nutshell,” said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political science professor. “The big donors with deep pockets are giving to super PACs because they can give unlimited contributions.

"Lesser-known Koch brother a big Florida donor".

Entrepreneurs in action

"Recruited from the Philippines and other developing nations, the workers were promised jobs that paid $7.50 an hour as servers at the Polo Club of Boca Raton. It was a lie." "Palm Beach County is 'perfect storm' of human trafficking".

The nerve of firemen to expect pensions

"Miami Beach’s mayor and city manager took part in an annual tradition this summer by flying to Switzerland as part of a city-sponsored Art Basel delegation." "Miami Beach mayor’s trip to Switzerland draws ethics complaint — again".

"Political priorities, not good-government priorities"

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "You’d think from the way that state officials are fiddling with voter rolls and election laws — shortening early voting, purging alleged non-citizens, harassing voter-registration groups and antagonizing the federal government — that Florida’s elections figure to be as secure and error-free as the invite list to a White House dinner. If only that were true."

The editors point out that, instead of focusing on

meat-and-potato election improvements, elections officials last week were celebrating judges’ approval of a shorter early-voting period for Florida, which could reduce turnout. These are political priorities, not good-government priorities
"Florida focused on the wrong kind of election problems".

Class size games

"A surge in student enrollment this year has made it tougher for districts to comply with the Class Size Amendment, a state law that limits class sizes. In some cases, school districts are turning to solutions that — while satisfying the law — may not be the best for students." "Schools combine classes to meet class-size law".

"Lawmakers are tempering expectations"

"For each of the past five years, Florida's Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature have found government coffers too drained to meet the ever-growing costs of everything from public schools and universities to health insurance for the poor, unemployment benefits, new roads and environmental programs."

Now they are eyeing a future reservoir of black ink.

The state's top economist told a budget-oversight panel last week that Florida's long-range financial picture had brightened to the point that "fiscal measures" — cutting budgets or raising taxes — likely wouldn't be needed through 2016 to bring the state budget into balance, as the constitution requires. In fact, the state is projected to have $2.7 billion in its three main reserve funds this year.

That brightening fiscal picture could fuel debates over whether to restore education spending to pre-2011 levels, phase in the federal Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid or make good on some of Gov. Rick Scott's campaign pledges to cut corporate taxes.

But lawmakers are tempering expectations and focusing on a smaller number: $71.3 million — the difference between general tax collections that can be spent next year and the anticipated growth in costs of government.

"State 'surplus' not enough to offset previous budget cuts".

"Volusia one of Florida's ultimate bellwether counties"

Adam C. Smith: "What do Rick Scott and Barack Obama have in common? Very little, except that they both carried Volusia County."

Volusia has long been one of Florida's ultimate bellwether counties, probably because, for good or ill, it so mirrors Florida and America: a disorderly mix of cultures, interests and geography. It's a county in search of an identity, still trying to figure out what it wants to be — affordable tourist mecca, manufacturing hub, bedroom community?

Four years ago Obama beat John McCain in this diverse county of half a million people, 52 percent to 47 percent, one point off of the national vote margin of 53 percent to 46 percent. Two years later, gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott beat Alex Sink in Volusia, 49 percent to 47 percent, one point better than his statewide margin.

"Volusia flip-flops,'' said Jim Cameron, vice president of government relations for the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce. "We're a swing county in the I-4 corridor, and you know what they say: As goes the I-4 corridor, so goes Florida."

Obama won Volusia by nearly 14,000 votes four years ago, but he will be hard-pressed to match that margin in 2012.

"Volusia may decide who wins Florida".

"Fear-mongering aided by the tea party crowd"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "While the Pinellas County Commission buckled to an irrational minority and removed fluoride this year from the drinking water, elected officials in Portland, Ore., and Phoenix have sided with science and public health and embraced fluoridated water. That makes two more enlightened communities out West — and one still in the dark on the west coast of the Sunshine State."

Pinellas County now may be at the top of the list of those metro areas without fluoride or trust in established science. Thank the Fluoride Four who voted against the best interests of their constituents and succumbed to fear-mongering aided by the tea party crowd: Commissioners Nancy Bostock, Neil Brickfield, John Morroni and Norm Roche.
"In 2 cities, facts beat fluoride fantasies".

Virtual madness

"Student-teacher ratios at K12, the nation’s largest online educator, are nearly twice as high as Florida’s state-run virtual school, according to internal company documents obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and StateImpact Florida."

Asked whether K12 teachers in Florida have the necessary course certifications for the classes they teach, company spokesman Kwitowski did not provide a direct answer.
"In K12 Courses, 275 Students to a Single Teacher". See also "Brevard Public Schools Verifying K12 Teachers", "What K12 Told Investors About Florida’s Investigation" and "Read K12′s Confidential Student-Teacher Ratio Document". Fred Grimm: "Online classes are virtually overloaded".

FlaGOPers can't get their lies straight

"Mitt Romney’s running mate focused his 20-minute speech largely on the economy, saying Obama 'made things worse' after inheriting a historic recession. He aimed some of his toughest remarks at the Federal Reserve’s new plan to spend $40 billion a month to buy mortgage bonds to try to keep interest rates low."

While Ryan mostly stayed away from foreign policy, speaker after speaker before him went after Obama’s handling of the Middle Eastern protests. U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, R-Indian Shores, even called him the “apologizer in chief.”

“I can tell you when Mitt Romney makes his first trip, it will not be a trip of apology,” Young said.

Young repeated a widespread but misleading attack about Obama’s 2009 tour of Middle Eastern countries. Three weeks ago, Romney earned a Pants on Fire! rating from PolitiFact for saying Obama “began his presidency with an apology tour” during his speech accepting the Republican National Convention nomination in Tampa.

"Ryan in Florida: We need growth, not ‘sugar-high economics’".