Thursday, January 31, 2013

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

Bush's educational foundation shaping education policies to benefit its corporate donors

"Former Gov. Jeb Bush's educational foundation is 'distorting democracy' by shaping state education policies to benefit its private, corporate donors, a public advocacy group charged Wednesday."

In the Public Interest posted thousands of emails on its website that it says show how the Foundation for Excellence in Education, sometimes using its affiliated Chiefs for Change group, wrote or influenced legislation that benefited its "corporate funders."

It said the foundation, for example, helped write a law to increase the use of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which would benefit Pearson, the test contractor -- and a foundation donor.

"Jeb Bush foundation criticized as benefiting corporate donors".

Among Public Interest's findings:

• In New Mexico, [the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), founded and chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush] acted as a broker to organize meetings between their corporate donors and individual Chiefs.

• Maine moved the FEE policy agenda through legislation and executive order that would remove barriers to online education and in some cases would require online classes - including eliminating class size caps and student-teacher ratios, allowing public dollars to flow to online schools and classes, eliminate ability of local school districts to limit access to virtual schools.

• In Florida, FEE helped write legislation that would increase the use of a proprietary test (FCAT) under contract to Pearson, an FEE donor.

• Foundation for Excellence in Education CEO Patricia Levesque urged state officials to introduce SendHub, a communications tool, into their state's schools. News reports indicate that Levesque's boss, Jeb Bush, is an investor in SendHub.

Among the other Florida findings,
• FEE staff sought legislation that would count the state test, known as FCAT, as more than 50% of the state's school accountability measure. FEE staffer Patricia Levesque wrote to a state official that she had negotiated the related language with state legislators, who were now "asking for the following which, the Foundation completely supports: FCAT shall be 'at least 50%, but no more than 60%' of a high school's grade." Pearson, the company that holds the $250 million FCAT contract and sponsors FEE through its foundation, has an obvious financial stake in ensuring that FCAT continues to be at the center of Florida's education system.

• Levesque writes, "I think we need to add a sec onto this bill to give you/the department authority to set a state‐approved list of charter operators or private providers so districts can't pick poor performers to implement turnaround." At least one FEE donor, the for-profit Florida-based Charter Schools USA, could benefit from being placed on such a state-approved list.

• Charter Schools USA also could benefit from a "parent trigger" law, the passage of which, as Nadia Hagberg of FEE wrote, was the goal of a partnership between Bush's Florida-based organization (the Foundation for Florida's Future) and Parent Revolution: "The Foundation for Florida's Future worked closely with [Parent Revolution] throughout the process in Florida and they proved to be an invaluable asset." Parent trigger, which failed to pass during Florida's last legislative session, is a mechanism to convert neighborhood schools to charter schools.

"Bush's Education Nonprofit and Corporate Profits" ("a project similar to the American Legislative Exchange’s (ALEC) pay-for-play operation. Corporate donors rub shoulders with state education policy makers while FEE moves the corporate-friendly policy agenda.")

Scott faces scrutiny about his budget math

"Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday will send the Florida Legislature a $74 billion budget that he says would boost spending in schools by $1.25 billion, but some of that money will not reach students."

As Scott touted the figure on Wednesday, more than one-third of the money, $480 million, would pay for a $2,500 teacher pay raise that must be approved by county school boards and negotiated in union contracts, if it survives a skeptical Legislature.

An additional $297 million of the education increase would shore up an unfunded liability for teachers’ pensions in the Florida Retirement System, and $118 million would keep up with enrollment growth as more than 20,000 new pupils are expected in Florida schools next fall.

Scott, who will release his budget at a 2 p.m. news conference in Tallahassee, will face more scrutiny about his budget math. But in prepared remarks at an Associated Press forum Wednesday, Scott took credit for a rebounding Florida economy and said the “tough choices” he made, such as reducing state debt and shrinking the state work force, make new spending possible.

Read more here:

"Gov. Rick Scott pitches $1.25 billion boost for Florida schools in new budget". See also "Gov. Scott pushes $1B education spending hike".

Privatization madness

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "State officials are pledging reforms at the largest work-release program in the state. But the evidence of lax state oversight should give pause to the continued campaign in Tallahassee to privatize more of the state’s corrections services." "Perils of privatization".

Foreclosure fever

"Miami among top cities to snag foreclosed homes". See also "Ranking: Brevard top spot for buying foreclosures".

"Florida would save money — not lose billions as Scott has argued"

"Florida would save money over the next decade — not lose billions as Gov. Rick Scott has argued — by accepting Medicaid expansion under federal health care reforms, according to a detailed economic study."

Miami-Dade legislators and health care industry leaders, getting together on Monday, heard about the report by Georgetown University — the most positive yet on a highly debated provision of what is often called Obama-care.
"Study: Medicaid expansion may save Florida money". Meanwhile, the latest for what passes for "leadership" in Tallahassee, "Don Gaetz and Will Weatherford: Blame Obama for Obamacare Implementation Delay".

Rich criticizes Scott for prioritizing "right-wing agenda"

"Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich blasted Gov. Rick Scott on several fronts Wednesday, saying she would be best suited to get Florida back on the right track. Rich criticized the first-term governor and Republican Legislature for prioritizing 'a right-wing agenda' she said is harmful to the state." "Democratic gubernatorial hopeful blasts governor".

Not much

Nancy Smith on "What Sets Don Gaetz and Will Weatherford Apart".

Republican laff riot

"A look at Florida's troubled election this past fall prompted some finger-pointing and back-tracking today."

A panel of top party officials, two election supervisors and two legislators had a confrontational discussion about the 2012 election at The Associated Press' 19th annual legislative planning meeting.

It was clear that Democrats and Republicans remain deeply divided over who deserves the blame for the long lines and other problems that delayed Florida's votes from being counted quickly.

Democrats charged that a decision by the GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011 to cut back the number of early voting days was designed to hurt President Barack Obama and it backfired.

"Gov. Scott and the Republican Legislature needed to fix something that wasn't broken," said Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party.

And try not to laff too hard at this:
Republican Party of Florida chairman Lenny Curry insisted that the changes were not partisan even though there have been reports that a lawyer affiliated with the party helped draw up the initial version of the law.
"Lots of finger-pointing over Fla. election woes". See also "Lawmakers prepare to repair elections but differ on extent of problem, on party lines".

Teacher evals on the ropes

"Questions are continuing to mount about the future of Florida's new teacher evaluation system, with Senate President Don Gaetz becoming the latest state official to wonder if the system needs to be overhauled." "Concerns Mounting Over Teacher Evaluations".

The Rubio apologists get to work

Joe Henderson: "Rubio was a hard-liner on immigration in his successful 2010 Senate campaign, "

but a lot of things are changing. Hispanics turned out in large numbers the last two elections for President Barack Obama, and GOP leaders like Rubio seem to finally understand it's time to try Plan B.

That's what Gov. Rick Scott does every time he gives a speech on how we need to put lots of money back into public schools. No less than Rush Limbaugh, who whipped up much of the anti-reform fever with his overheated rhetoric, sounded a less-frenzied tone after Rubio appeared on his show the other day.

"GOP learning that scare tactics are failing".