Sunday, December 13, 2015

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

Defunct Charter Schools squander $70 million in taxpayer funds

Gary Fineout and Terry Spencer write that, "Charter schools, which are public schools run by private groups, have received more than $760 million from state taxpayers since 2000, according to an Associated Press analysis of state Department of Education records. Schools can use the money for construction costs, rent payments, buses and even property insurance."

Yet charter schools in 30 districts have wound up closing after receiving as much as $70 million combined in such funding, the AP’s analysis showed.

Taxpayers usually can’t recover the capital money invested in those schools because most of it has been spent on rent or leasing costs. The Department of Education reported it has taken back just $133,000 in the last three years from schools that closed.

"Democratic lawmakers have criticized the expenditures, especially since Florida legislators have curtailed construction money for traditional public schools in recent years."
The AP’s analysis was derived from department data that lists charter schools that received money set aside in the annual state budget. That data was compared with schools that the state listed as closed. The state listed as closed some schools that had merged with others; the AP did not count money that went to those schools in tallying the total spent on now-defunct schools.

The list of schools that got money includes Miami’s Liberty City Charter, set up with great fanfare by Jeb Bush shortly before he ran for governor in 1998. Liberty City closed after eight years because of severe financial problems but not before receiving $1.1 million in state capital funds.

Bush, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, has remained a champion of charter schools and vouchers. His campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Charter schools, which proponents see as a way for some families to move their children into schools better suited to their needs, have grown in popularity since they were authorized in the ’90s. There are currently more than 650 charter schools statewide, teaching more than 250,000 students. These schools receive money from school districts to pay for day-to-day expenses like salaries.

But the growth of charter schools has trigged a tug of war in the Legislature over how much money should also be given them to pay for capital needs such as classrooms and transportation. The capital money directed to charter schools reached a high of $90 million two years ago but dropped to just under $48 million for the current budget year.

"State gave charter schools millions before they closed but recovered little."

"A typical Tallahassee ploy"

Tampa Trib editors argue that "Floridians should be alarmed by fracking legislation that would rob local elected officials of any say over whether the practice could take place in their communities. It is a typical Tallahassee ploy: seize control of such decisions at the urging of industry lobbyists, who know they are unlikely to get their way with the local elected officials who would have to live with the consequences." "Fracking unbound."

Floridians collapsing in latest Iowa poll

"Iowa Poll: The inside skinny on each GOP candidate."

"What's hot, crazy or shady about politics in the Sunshine State"

Marc Caputo: "Rubio misleads on Iran deal – Jeb’s Mitt Problem -- Gunshine State gun linked to Paris terror – Lopez-Cantera goes Star Wars -- OJ’s hurting and marijuana wants in FL –DEEP COVER: Cuba-stripper influx." "Florida Playbook."

Scott’s plan deserves skepticism

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "The state Senate is wise to be asking questions about Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to cut taxes overall by $1 billion — including a $770 million plan to permanently eliminate the corporate income tax on manufacturers and retailers." "Gov. Scott’s $1B corporate tax cut plan deserves skepticism."

Latvala agin' Crist?

"Will Jack Latvala run for Congress? Against Charlie Crist?."

Rubio's Obamacare boasts are "overheated, misleading and spectacularly cynical"

Michael Hiltzik writes that Marco Rubio's Obamacare "claims are a little overheated, wholly misleading and spectacularly cynical. Let's set the record straight." "No, Marco Rubio didn't score a blow against Obamacare -- he merely hurt patients."

Former Jebbites jump ship

Ballard ditches Jeb! "Full Deflection."

Fracking fight

"A bipartisan group of nearly three dozen members of the United States Congress [including Republican Ron Desantis] wrote to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management last week asking the agency to rescind its decision allowing companies to explore for energy resources off the country’s southeastern coast." "Proposed seismic testing off Florida coast raises concerns."

Is a judgeship on the horizon for Scott's "corporate welfare" shill?

"As Jesse Panuccio’s nearly three-year term as Gov. Rick Scott’s jobs chief comes to an end, his tenure is cast in two very different lights."

Supporters of Panuccio, who has been one of Scott’s staunchest allies, point to the fact that nearly 700,000 jobs have been created since he took over as executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity in 2013. Opponents — mostly Democrats — color his term as one marked by “corporate welfare” at the expense of other government services.
"Panuccio’s tenure marked by job growth, Democratic critics."

"9,000 sick kids have been purged from the state’s health-care program"

Joe Henderson: "Forget for a moment that most of [Rick Scott's] newly created jobs don’t pay much and look at the real effect of the proposal."

When the state reduces its income through tax breaks, something else has to be cut. Recently, the Miami Herald presented a different slant on what those reductions mean to Florida.

The newspaper reported that more than 9,000 sick kids have been purged from the state’s health-care program under a so-called screening tool to establish need.

The Herald told of a 6-year-old boy who is nearly blind, can read only in Braille, and walks with a cane. He was able to receive specialized care under the state’s Children’s Medical Services program for the last two years to preserve what little remains of his eyesight. The state, however, kicked him out of the program, deciding he was “not clinically eligible.”

If Scott gets all the corporate breaks he wants, he would help pay for it by eliminating more than 700 medical positions beyond what already has been cut. How many more kids on an overburdened system will be declared not clinically eligible?

The argument goes that reducing the burden on business is good because it creates jobs, and Florida’s unemployment rate in October was 5.1 percent, down six points from when Scott was first elected.

However, it doesn’t appear that many of those new jobs carry benefits; 16.57 percent of Florida residents have no health insurance. Only Texas and Alaska have higher rates. The state ranks 46th in the country for the number of uninsured children at 9.34 percent.

What’s the governor doing about that?

From all appearances, nothing.

Even worse, he doesn’t seem to care.

"Being governor should be about more than just creating jobs."

Finance records disclose biggest political battles

"With less than a year until the November 2016 elections, campaign finance records released Thursday already show where the biggest battles for Florida Legislature seats are developing." "Finance reports reveal biggest election battles brewing in Florida Legislature."

"NRA stooges like Rubio"

Carl Hiaasen: "A strange thing happened the other day in Washington, D.C.:"

Marco Rubio actually showed up for work.

Without needing Mapquest he found his way to the Senate floor. He even remembered where his seat was.

These days a Rubio sighting in the Capitol is rare, the birdwatcher’s equivalent of spotting a blue-footed booby. Like all senators who’ve run for president, Marco’s been away a lot.

The reason for his recent detour to Washington was to cast a very important vote affecting the security of this country, and of all the Floridians he’s supposed to represent.

The Senate was considering a law to prevent persons on the FBI’s terror watch list from buying explosives or guns. To most Americans, that’s a no-brainer.

Rubio showed up to vote against the bill. Went out of his way to vote against it.

"Political cowards can always find an argument. Rubio and others, including Jeb Bush, say they’re concerned about the accuracy of the government’s no-fly list, which is a part of the FBI’s consolidated watch list."
If the day ever comes when one of those watch-list suspects uses that legally purchased weapon for mass murder, part of the blame will fall on those in Washington who made it so easy.

Just try to find Marco then.

"Bulletin — Rubio sighting in the Capitol."