Thursday, April 11, 2013

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

Florida's charter school industry "scam"

The Miami Herald's Daniel Shoer Roth writes that the "crusade to privatize public education continues gaining ground in the Florida Legislature, where the controversial bill to have a traditional neighborhood school transformed into a charter school, among other options, sails at full speed under the premise of empowering parents to turn around a school that’s failing their children."

This bill, with great symbolic importance to both sides of the issue, will be heard Thursday by the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee. The Florida House and the Senate Education Committee have already approved it.

Many legislators — some with strong economic ties to the charter school industry — promise the moon when describing the bill known as the Parent Trigger Act. Nonetheless, they present little evidence of its success. Because the fact is that there is none.

Despite the millions of dollars the powerful school-choice lobby and the charter-school industry have spent in seven states where versions of parent-trigger laws have passed, parents in barely three struggling schools in California have chosen a restart model.

"The proposed [Florida] procedures for a petition with a majority of signatures by parents with eligible children to force a major overhaul of an underperforming school are murky. More important, existing laws already give students the right to transfer from low-performing schools, permit charter conversions for any school, require districts to foster parent engagement and to establish advisory councils that include a formal role for parents in every school."
According to Bill Sublette, chairman of the Orange County School Board in Central Florida, once a traditional school is converted to a charter school, the neighborhood children can be evicted from their home school. Charters are open to all students in the district who meet their eligibility preferences and standards. When there are more applicants than student stations, a lottery system prevails.

Some local students will not meet the new strict admission rules. This includes students with learning disabilities and those in ESOL classes, as well as many racial and ethnic minority children. A number of surveys have demonstrated that there is a higher incidence of segregation in charters than in traditional schools. The excluded students will carry to their next school the same unsolved problems that contributed to the failure of the converted school, often related to poverty and a range of health and safety challenges.

The chain reaction from these student migrations subjects yet another school to low ranking and can put it on the conversion chopping block, too. It’s a vicious cycle.

South Florida senators need to speak up, shine the light and defend their communities. Because Florida school choice is no choice at all for the kids who need the most help. It’s a scam.

"The dark side of Parent Trigger".

"Massive potential property insurance rate hikes"

"Lawmakers have largely ignored the massive potential premium property insurance rate hikes included in SB 1770, a bill moving swiftly through the Florida Legislature." "Property insurance rates could go through roof under Senate bill". Meanwhile, "Scott shifts stance on Citizens Insurance".

House District 65

"After the first quarter of 2013, Rep. Carl Zimmerman, D-Dunedin, faces [29 year old] Chris Sprowls, a serious Republican challenger for the District 65 House seat, as they set their eyes on 2014."

While he had run against Peter Nehr before and came close to beating him in 2006 and 2008, Zimmerman finally defeated the Republican incumbent in 2012 after racy photos of Nehr surfaced on the Internet. Despite his win in November, Zimmerman now ranks as one of the Republicans’ top targets for 2014.

On paper, Zimmerman’s Pinellas County district should be a Republican bastion in the Tampa Bay region, with 42 percent of voters registered with the GOP while 32 percent are Democrats. In 2010, Rick Scott took 50 percent of the vote in this district; Alex Sink claimed 45 percent.

But with more than a quarter of voters in the district -- 26 percent -- registered as independents or with other parties, Democrats have a chance to win this seat as Zimmerman’s victory in 2012 clearly shows. He took 53 percent in November while Nehr pulled 47 percent.

"Hot House Contest in the Making: Dem Incumbent Zimmerman vs. GOP Prosecutor Sprowls".

Rubio "recklessly extreme"

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "A reasonable compromise that would keep more guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and others who are already legally barred from owning a firearm could move forward in the Senate as early as today. The legislation, which would expand existing background checks of gun buyers, is hardly the complete answer to increasing public safety. But it is a step that nine in 10 Americans support. Sen. Marco Rubio should reconsider joining other Republican senators in attempting to stall the bipartisan legislation and side with sensible Floridians rather than the National Rifle Association." "Common ground on gun safety".

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., regularly carps that Washington is so broken that it can’t things done. Yet he is intent on making sure that Washington stays broken."

Sen. Rubio is part of a group that vowed to keep the Senate from debating and voting on legislation to reduce gun violence. Families of children and teachers massacred in Newtown, Conn., want the Senate to vote. Fortunately, there is hope that a supermajority of senators disagree with Sen. Rubio. On Wednesday, it appeared that there were at least 60 votes to break the filibuster that Sen. Rubio and others intended to mount.

Sen. Rubio portrays his obstructionism as a valiant defense of the Second Amendment. In fact, he is defending a position that could play well in the 2016 Republican primary but is recklessly extreme.

"Senate should not let Rubio and others block vote on background check for firearms sales.".

Budget blues

"The Senate unanimously approved a proposed $74.3 billion budget Wednesday that includes 3 percent pay raises for state employees, $70 million for Everglades restoration and $1.2 billion more in public school funding." "Senate unanimously passes $74.3B state budget". See also "Senate unanimously passes $74.3 billion budget".

"Work in progress"

"The measure would impose stiffer fines and make it easier to revoke a facility's license but its sponsor said it is a work in progress. He plans several amendments when the bill is introduced to the House HHS committee." "ALF bill is one stop from House floor".

"Just a matter of time"

Bill Cotterell: "Gay marriage is just a matter of time".

"Incumbents are doing just fine collecting $500 checks"

"As the House and Senate consider changing Florida's campaign-finance laws this spring, they are debating whether to increase a longstanding $500 cap on contributions to political candidates. But new records show that many incumbents are doing just fine collecting $500 checks." "Lawmakers Pile Up Cash for 2014 Races".

"Lawmakers act shocked — Shocked! — to find there is gambling going on"

"Gov. Scott enacts Internet café ban in Florida". See also "Gov. Rick Scott signs bill banning Internet sweepstakes cafes", "Policy Note: Internet Cafes", "Officials' Postmortem on End of Days for Internet Cafes, Senior Arcades" and "Gov. Rick Scott signs bill banning Internet cafes".

More: "How will Internet cafe ban unfold?"

John Romano: "You can find the historical record for a new bill banning Internet cafes on the state House's website. Look up HB 155 and you will find the bill's original text, more than a dozen amendments, a staff analysis and the vote history. . . . But if you happened to be pressed for time, here is a Cliffs Notes-style time line of how this bill found its way to Gov. Rick Scott's desk:"

1. Entrepreneurs discover they can make hefty profits by simulating casino-style games on computers in neighborhood storefronts.

2. Politicians harrumph.

3. Entrepreneurs donate to political campaigns.

4. The harrumphing stops.

5. A federal investigation of one of the largest Internet cafe corporations results in dozens of high-profile arrests and contributes to the resignation of the lieutenant governor.

6. Lawmakers act shocked — Shocked! — to find there is gambling going on.

"The real story behind the law banning Internet cafes".

Teabaggers in a dither

"Florida residents strongly back laws requiring paid sick time and 'living wages' for workers, but they don't trust state lawmakers to handle such issues, a statewide poll released today finds."

Eighty percent say they strongly (65 percent) or somewhat (15 percent) support a law to ensure "the right to earn a set number of sick days that would allow them to take time off when they are sick or need to take care of a family member — without being fired or losing a day's wages."

Sixteen percent don't support that; the rest were unsure, according to the Public Policy Polling results.

When asked if they back local "living wage" laws now in place, 72 percent said they support them, while 18 percent do not. The rest didn't know.

"Poll: Voters back paid sick days, distrust lawmakers".

Obama takes it on the chin

"President Barack Obama’s proposal to slightly slow down future Social Security benefit increases drew rare praise from Republicans Wednesday and criticism from some Democrats, particularly in senior-heavy Florida." "South Florida Democrats oppose Obama plan to slow Social Security increases".

PIP savings uncertain

"Savings uncertain if PIP is repealed".

Rick Scott crows

"After six consecutive months of ranking first in the nation for foreclosure activity, Florida was bumped to runner-up in March by Nevada, according to a RealtyTrac report released Wednesday." "Florida bumped to No. 2 in foreclosures".

"Protest vote"

"House Democrats plan protest vote on health care".

So much for education reform

"Ethics reform -- once proclaimed a high priority by the leaders of the Florida House and Senate -- appears now to be nothing more than a bargaining chip. That's as good an explanation as any for a troubling series of events that occurred Tuesday in the Legislature. If it's true -- if the standards by which lawmakers conduct the public's business are a commodity to be swapped for political favors -- then the legislators involved should be ashamed." "Ethics on the trading block?".

Education experts in action

"Senate 'lashes' education to the economy". See also "Senate adopts key changes to high-school-graduation rules".