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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why businesses aren't moving to Florida

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

From Skoopsblog

by Tim Skubick

Starting next January when the state's latest version of a business tax takes effect, they will be knocking down the doors to create jobs in Michigan.

Or will they?

Asked the other day to promise that the state's jobless rate would go down with a new 6% corporate income tax, Lt. Governor Brian Calley refused to promise but would only say Michigan will now do better compared to surrounding states.

Here's the dirty little secret in all this chit chat about lowering taxes and standing back and waiting for the job flood gates to open. If you are a biz executive thinking about moving to Michigan, the first question you asked is not about the tax rate.

You may find that hard to believe, but according to researcher Lou Glazer, it's true. If fact the tax rate questions doesn't come up until much later in the conversation.

Turns out the first question on a CEO's mind concerns the quality of life in a state and more importantly what kind of school system will the CEO be getting his or her kids into.

And there's the real ironic twist in what just happened in this town. The Snyder administration indirectly siphoned money from education to help underwrite the $1.7 billion business tax cut.

So if you believe Mr. Glazer is right, that means the new governor got it wrong. The money should have gone into the schools with less money for the biz tax cut.

Glazer has found that the state's that are really doing well actually have higher taxes with Minnesota being the best example.

So while it sounds great that two-thirds of the businesses in Michigan won't pay any taxes, the school aid fund with lose even more money next year because of that.

Hence the Snyder critics claim the governor got this one bass ackwards

Do we really want public money to go to private schools?


by Lilly Rockwell

Lawmakers are poised to expand the state’s school voucher programs instituted more than 10 years ago that enable more students to attend private schools.

Under three bills advancing in the Legislature, all of Florida’s existing voucher programs would be affected in some way. But unlike when these major school reforms were proposed over 10 years ago, protests have been muted. Some Democrats, who were once ardently opposed to voucher programs, have even begun to support vouchers.

Even the Florida Education Association, which is opposed to vouchers, is reluctant to spend its energies fighting it. “There are only so many battles one can fight in a legislative session,” said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow.

Though the voucher expansion bills will have relatively minor impact on public schools, critics see them as part of a larger chipping away at traditional public schools through a series of reforms. Those changes include major expansions of virtual and charter schools and reforming how public school teachers and school board members are paid.

Among the bills that expand vouchers are:

-A measure (SB 1656, HB 1329) that expands the definition of students who can receive John McKay scholarships for disabled students, funneling more taxpayer dollars into private schools

-A bill (SB 1822, HB 1331) that permits students who are in public schools rated “D” or “F” to transfer to a better-rated public school anywhere in the state through the Opportunity Scholarship program.

- A bill (SB 1388, HB 965) that gives corporate tax scholarship programs access to data on Florida’s top taxpayers to solicit them for donations and expands how much of a tax discount a business could get.

The McKay scholarship bill has the most potential to funnel more students into private schools. It expands the definition of eligible students from students who are primarily learning disabled, or have vision or hearing impairments, to students who have physical impairments, ranging from paraplegia to allergies.

By allowing students with “504″ accommodations, the scholarship could be available to as many as 50,000 students. That’s the number of students that currently have that type of accommodation at a Florida public school.

To get a “504″ designation, a student must have a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” according to the bill analysis. Lobbyist Bob Cerra, who represents the Coalition for the Education of Exceptional Students, said this can be applied to a student who has a peanut allergy.

“Why would a peanut allergy entitle my child to a voucher?” Cerra said in an interview Friday.

The McKay scholarship bill passed its second committee stop in the House on Friday. Groups such as Foundation for Florida’s Future, which was founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush to promote education reform, support it. Bush was a big champion of private school vouchers and pushed for the first voucher programs beginning in 1999.

Ron Meyer, a lobbyist for FEA, said the problem with expanding the McKay scholarship is it opens the door to legal challenges.

The Opportunity Scholarship, which used to provide vouchers for students in low-ranking schools to attend private schools, was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court after it was deemed unconstitutional. Now it just exists as a voucher for students to attend different public schools.

Many fear the McKay scholarship would face the same fate if expanded.

“From a legal standpoint you saw a narrow incursion into what the Supreme Court has said is a prohibition of creating a dual system of public schools,” Meyer said of the McKay scholarship. “The passage of (the bill) threatens the very existence of the McKay scholarship program.”

Meyer said the FEA was slow to support the McKay scholarship, but has “seen the good” the scholarship provides students. Vouchers in general are also gaining more support from Democrats. Four Democrats in the House have voted for the McKay bill so far, and three have supported a bill that would help the corporate tax vouchers.

Tampa-based Step Up For Students gives vouchers to low-income students funded by donations from companies. Those companies then receive a nearly equal tax credit.

Backers say the once controversial program is gaining support.

“This program has managed over the years to attract genuine bipartisan support,” said Step Up For Students spokesman Jon East. A bill passed by last year’s Legislature that expanded the voucher award amount and allowed more students to participate was backed by “almost half of the Democrats in the Legislature and a majority of the black caucus,” he said.

Many black Democrats have long supported vouchers – because they’re often trapped in bad neighborhood schools.

Some Democrats remain staunchly opposed to vouchers.

“We have to be exceptionally careful when we talk about expansion of voucher programs,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who has voted “no” on the voucher bills that have come through committees he sits on.

“The question we have to keep in mind with any of the voucher programs is what the negative impact is on the school districts,” said Montford, a former school superintendent.

“It’s very hard to argue against parental choice…at the same time we have to make sure we are cognizant of the negative impact on the programs and public schools where the voucher students are leaving,” Montford said.

School lobbyists say they are resigned to their fate.

“It is acceptance of reality,” said Vernon Pickup-Crawford, a lobbyist for several school districts.

He said the Republican-controlled Legislature and conservative governor support allowing parents the choice between public and private schools, a legacy that began with Bush in 1999.

The main complaint from public schools, Pickup-Crawford said, is that private schools receive state funding but aren’t held to the same accountability standards. Not to mention that schools continue to lose state funding.

“It’s siphoning money away from public schools,” he said.

The sad, sad truth about education

From Deborah Meier's blog on education

by Deborah Meier

I want to look at the truth without flinching. Some days it exhausts me. My brother Paul insists there is a silver-lining. For example, we did elect a man of color as President—unthinkable in the Golden Age (1945-70). Women are breaking new barriers everyday. Gay men and women are safer than they have been for centuries.

But we are also in the midst of a bold maneuver by wealthy ideological foes to roll back as much if not all of the New Deal/Fair Deal victories: enough so that even if they lose badly two years from now it will have been worth it. We would at best have to spend fulltime just undoing damages. They are prepared, I am convinced, to lose the "independents" and more. They are probably right—so to speak. It is a strategy that in my more revolutionary socialist youth I was in favor of too. They have essentially created a new rightwing political party with a revolutionary agenda led by a wealthy vanguard. Curtailing democracy and misinformation are often essential parts of revolutionary ideology as they intend to undertake reforms that would not be possible under ordinary democratic procedures.

In short: Public schooling may not in my lifetime be preservable. Something I was sure was untouchable, at the core of our nation. I am prone to short-term thinking these days. It is hard not to at 80. While I am not sure I will live long enough to see the undoing of 80 years of progress I do not regret having been on the other side of the barricades (so to speak). But… it hurts. Of course, actually the reform era I am remembering lasted "merely" 50 years.

Was I as certain of the true path to utopia as the Right is now?

They have distracted us by a fight over school reform in the name of equity and civil rights while they have destroyed the playing field that might over time have produced such equity. For example, "Chicago's unemployment rate for African Americas is triple the rate for whites—at 21.4%, and for every dollar the employed black Chicagoan earns, an African American makes 45 cents (Don Rose, Post Racial or Racially Dead Last? The Observer, 3/22/11). The financial bust we lived through has undermined, above all, the last Americans who made it into the middle class: Black Americans.

"If New York City were a nation it's level of income concentration would rank 13th worst among 134 countries, between Chile and Honduras." Lower than Egypt. Nor do we rank high regarding social class mobility anymore. Odd, isn't it, that what we all have nostalgia for is the America we knew between the 40s and 70s—"when the upper strata did just fine, enjoying a robust 10 percent of the pot" Versus 50% today (quotes from Tom Robbins, Village Voice, 2/02/11). And I used to think 10% of the pot was an outrage.

Then I look at the larger scene and realize that our flaws are built into some unwise structures and maybe we were just plain lucky to have done as well as we have. Example: I could put together eight of the most Republican states in the nation with a population smaller than NY State—but that they have 16 senators to our 2. How did we get as far as we did?

In 20 years we have tripled the number of people behind bars at a cost of billions—mostly non-Whites for non-violent crimes; a rise not due to more crime, but a policy shift.

Despite Brown vs the Board of Education, we have more segregated schools in the North (at least) than we did in 1954! And if there ever was a reform designed to segregate schools—and not just by race—the charter school movement has the patent on niche schools for aspiring poor non-Whites—note that in NYC at least they may take a lot of the poor—but the target audience are the "reduced" not the "free" lunchers. We are seeing a flourishing new K-12 market for the smart/gifted/mostly White kids in the public sector. (Data from NYC and NYS "Separate and Unequal," from the UFT.)

No changes dependent on new habits of heart and mind can succeed over time without persuading the "changees." But with enough money you can skip slow persuasion and fairly rapidly overwhelm what were once the norms of middle class American ideology. And it can last for longer than I would like to think given the lopsided media, and the enormous cost of running for "public" office.

Had we been able and willing to take fuller advantage of the reform climate that flourished twenty or thirty years ago, with their staunch assumption that the nation's wealth should be more fairly distributed, we might have averted this counter-revolution. Had we been able to continue to grow the progressive reforms initiated in the 70s and 80s, and had we anywhere near the financial support that the new deformers have, we would have begun to see how much further schooling could take us. It is more than 20 years since the States began ramping up top-down pressure for testing and "our way – or no way" plans. The shift has been lightening swift. The absence of success—in virtually every state for virtually every one of the Rights favorite reforms—has not made a dent; and in fact such reforms now lead the way ideologically to the bashing not only of teachers, or public workers, but of all those who are not smart or skillful enough to be members of the organized rich. Thus meeting a subsidiary goal of the "deformers"—destroying public unions.

The promise that charter schools offered us at their start was quickly abandoned as they morphed into large undifferentiated chain stores, ruled not by independent-minded "moms and pops" the way we imagined, but by the most powerful billionaires on earth..

By focusing our attention on schools as the lynch-pin we have distracted attention from the forces that truly undermined both America's economy and democracy. America's economy is "recovering" while the people of America and its democracy are sinking. Fear has been restored as the foundation of a "thriving" economic system, and "security" as something only the very rich have a right to value. And leisure is again a sin—for those who cannot pass down huge wealth to their children's grandchildren. Even my friend/foe Jay Matthews (Washington Post), in decrying the lack of sufficient homework, sees leisure as a waste of time. At least for the young. Get them pedaling on the treadmill early—maybe that is a solution to the energy crisis? It is a treadmill for, at best, staying in place because a true ruling class needs leisure and self-confidence, and encouragement to play outside the one right answer out of four. Redefining "achievement" will get harder, not easier to do. But it is a must.

I am not planning to give up. I wake up in a sweat some nights thinking about officially sanctioned torture, multiple undeclared wars, and a Supreme Court that not only thinks corporations are equal to people when it comes to their civil rights, but push comes to shove would put them first, I fear. But I continue to keep my eyes on schools—it is an old-habit by now.

Someday we shall wake up. Maybe even tomorrow. I have often been wrong.

The wrong choices that Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature made

From Sunshine State

by Nancy Smith

Rick Scott isn't the first governor to make a play for Florida's 124 trust funds. But he joins the state's most egregious abusers of them. It's one of the things this rookie outsider has in common with the 2011 Legislature.

Trust funds are the Rodney Dangerfield of Florida's fiscal structure.

You always know when elected officials are planning a raid. You hear trust funds disparagingly, even sneeringly called names like earmarks, turkeys, pork, even slush funds. That's to cover up the fact that they know full well they should keep their sticky fingers off.

Trust fund proceeds don't come from ad valorem taxes, they come from the likes of doc stamps and license fees and the 12 cents-a-gallon add-on at the gas pump. The Florida Lottery, for instance, that's a trust fund.

In the late 1980s, voters approved the lottery for Florida primarily because those who sponsored the ballot initiative promised the proceeds would go to bolster education, not replace money the state held back.

It didn't happen. Year after year the Legislature was saying, great, let's pay for education first with lottery money, then we'll have plenty of the education money left over for something else. In fact, that broken lottery promise was a bone that stuck in the craw of voters for 10 years -- until 1997, when former Senate President Ken Pruitt, then in the House, and Don Sullivan in the Senate, crafted and sponsored Bright Futures scholarships. It was Bright Futures, a ringing enhancement, a trust fund promise, that now represents one of Florida education's biggest success stories.

Sadly, even Bright Futures has been raided -- and now it has been altered almost beyond recognition. Lawmakers who pulled off the raid would tell you -- and, please, don't believe it for a minute -- that their changes "saved" the program.

All trust funds consist of money set aside to build and maintain and improve or enhance literally hundreds of things that give Florida the quality of life the governor touts when he's out selling the state to far-flung businesses and foreign investors.

Nevertheless, Scott wants to kill all 124 trust funds. He's made no secret of it. Curtains for trust funds was part of the budget he presented in February. He didn't get his way, but he'll be back. What he wants to do is to fold all of the remaining $8.5 billion in trust fund money into general revenue -- the here-today-gone-tomorrow pot.

Taking this long-term investment for a short-term gain is going to do nothing but crush Florida's economic recovery and dim its future.

Trust funds are do-good money. Many citizens have never heard of them but they see and feel their impact every day. These funds attract federal matching dollars. They attract a host of private grants. They are arguably the most effective job creators in the Sunshine State.

Want to create a flood of unfunded mandates for our local governments? Take trust funds out of the mix. City councils and county commissions will be left looking for trust-fund-replacement cash to help build roads, protect the environment, provide green spaces and public parks for Florida's children and families. In today's economy, municipalities are unlikely to find that money. Many worthy projects will be shelved.

During the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers snatched a total of $524 million from 31 different accounts. They said they had to do it. They said they couldn't balance the budget if they didn't hit the trust funds. Included in the sweep was $150 million from the State Transportation Trust Fund. To veto-proof it, they attached it to education -- meaning, if Scott vetoes the raid, the transportation money goes straight to education, not to roads. Thousands of jobs and a ton of vital projects are not going to happen. We can thank the Legislature for that debacle.

Scott has plenty to answer for himself, and here's one of it: He claims he vetoed $305 million in "spending authority" from Florida Forever. It's entirely meaningless. It's creative accounting at best. Fuzzy math. You can't save $305 million that isn't there. And it's not there. Florida Forever has the land to sell, it doesn't have the cash in hand.

What Scott actually vetoed in real money is $310 million -- a figure right in line with past governors, even Charlie Crist. Scott worked hard, spent long hours with the veto pen, but when all was said and done, he didn't break any budget-slimming records. The Legislature already had balanced the budget -- did he really need to go shopping in trust funds?

The scary part is this: the governor, lawmakers -- and there are so many new legislators trying to learn -- allow themselves to be part of the ear-splitting, 24-7 campaign rhetoric. It still goes on, 10 months later. They haven't learned that when the chamber door closes, the rhetoric ends and the governing begins.

Meanwhile, we keep rumbling toward budgeting California-style. That's where we're headed. We've lost all fiscal discipline, we've lost the voters' confidence, we do our budget planning with a trust fund broom. California, here we come.

Can't the Legislature and Gov. Scott preserve Florida's proven investments? The Senate was always at the forefront of protecting trust funds, where are those stalwarts now? Let's see the Legislature and the governor reset their priorities to stop or reduce government programs and agencies that don't provide a long-term benefit to the state. Now, there's a goal.

In a state with double-digit unemployment, it doesn't make sense to gut trust funds without engaging in a dialogue that includes the citizens of Florida.

"Tough choices" this session? The ones I saw mostly were the easy choices, if not the out-and-out wrong ones.

Columnist Nancy Smith can be reached at nsmith@sunshinestatenews, or at (850) 727-0859.

Medicare more efficient than private health care

From Politifact

Amid a fierce debate over the future of Medicare, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., recently compared the administrative costs for the government-run program with the costs for private insurers.

"There's a 1.5 percent to 2 percent overhead in Medicare," Boxer said during an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on May 24, 2011. "The insurance companies have a 20 percent to 30 percent overhead."

The issue is timely because Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has proposed reducing the government role in Medicare for people now younger than 55. They would receive financial support to buy coverage on the private market. Supporters say such a plan is needed to keep the program fiscally solvent, while detractors say it would gut longstanding protections and promises to seniors.

Boxer’s comment cuts to the core of whether a government-run program like Medicare has advantages over one in which private insurers take a primary role.

First, we should define "overhead." People may think of it as things such as rent and electricity. But in health care, the term typically refers more broadly to administrative costs, including expenses that are not strictly medical, such as marketing, customer service, billing, claims review, quality assurance, information technology and profits.

To measure the administrative costs for Medicare, we first turned to the 2011 Annual Report of the Boards of Trustees of the Federal Hospital Insurance and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds -- the document prepared by Medicare’s fiscal overseers.

The trustees’ summary listed total Medicare expenditures of $522.8 billion for 2010, of which $7 billion was characterized as "administrative expenses." That works out to 1.3 percent -- not far off from what Boxer stated.

For the private insurance market, we turned to a 2008 study by the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan number-crunching arm of Congress. CBO cited data, compiled by the McKinsey Global Institute, that estimated administrative costs for private insurers at 12 percent. That’s quite a bit lower than the 20 percent to 30 percent Boxer cited.

A different measurement by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services pegged the amount for private insurers at 11.1 percent for 2009 -- in the same ballpark.

However, the administrative burden for private plans get more complicated the deeper you dig. There are large variations between different types of insurance plans. The data cited by CBO found that administrative costs were about 7 percent for employers with at least 1,000 employees, but 26 percent for firms with 25 or fewer employees. Meanwhile, in the individual insurance market -- that is, plans secured by individuals on their own, rather than through an employer -- the rate was nearly 30 percent, CBO said.

A big reason for this variation, CBO and others have concluded, is that bigger plans can spread costs over a larger number of people.

When we asked Boxer’s office for their source for the 20 percent-to-30 percent statistic, spokesman Andy Stone told us that prior to passage of the Democratic health care bill in 2010, health plans in California were only required to spend 70 percent of premiums on medical care, with insurers able to spend up to 30 percent on profits and administrative costs. He also cited some opinion and news articles that cited figures in the 20 percent to 30 percent range, and even higher.

We don’t doubt that there are cases in which overhead reaches or exceeds 30 percent, but those cases are both anecdotal and at the high end of the range. The averages cited by CBO and CMS are significantly lower -- 11 percent to 12 percent -- and many of the bigger plans undercut even that level.

There are a few other factors to consider:

Is Medicare’s administrative cost really that low?

A lively academic debate has broken out over whether Medicare’s administrative costs are really as low as 1 percent or 2 percent.

The difference stems from whether Medicare essentially freeloads off other parts of the federal government for services that private insurers have to pay for on their own. Adjusted estimates for Medicare’s administrative costs cited by the Urban Institute, a think tank that does research on issues such as poverty and economics, range from 3.6 percent to 5 percent, rather than the 1.3 percent using the data in the trustees’ report.

But Edwin Park, a health policy specialist at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the differences are overblown, since Medicare’s administrative cost total already includes payments to other agencies for such services.

We won’t settle this question, but we will point out evidence that even when you control for the differences, Medicare is still considerably more cost-efficient. In one study, CBO found that privately run Medicare plans had 11 percent overhead, compared to 2 percent for traditional Medicare.

Are "overhead" costs a useful way to measure the efficiency of a health plan?

Not necessarily. As the insurance industry often says -- and independent experts generally agree -- the right kind of administrative expenses may actually lead to cost savings and improved outcomes. These include disease management, wellness programs and quality improvement programs. CBO notes that a heavily managed insurance plan may spend more on overhead but may end up with lower premiums and better outcomes, whereas a lightly managed program may spend less on overhead but end up charging its policyholders more, with less positive results. By this logic, a higher-overhead plan might actually be preferable.

In addition, Henry Aaron, a health care specialist at the centrist-to-liberal Brookings Institution, suggested that over the long run, Medicare could benefit financially from having higher administrative costs in at least one area -- anti-fraud enforcement.

In other words, measuring overhead is worthwhile, but it has its limitations.

Our ruling

There is some disagreement over how much Medicare pays in overhead. It could be a few percentage points higher than the 1 to 2 percent that Boxer cites. But Boxer’s numbers are defensible since they come straight from the Medicare trustees’ report.

Meanwhile, Boxer’s 20 percent-to-30 percent figure for the private sector is more squishy. Some plans have overhead rates that high, but only a fraction do, and the industry-wide average is quite a bit lower -- 11 to 12 percent.

We’re convinced that Boxer’s underlying point -- that private plans have higher overhead than government plans -- is correct, if for no other reason than that profits matter only for private insurers. But for most plans and patients, the difference between Medicare overhead and private-sector overhead is not as great as she suggests. So we rate her statement Half True.

The Stunning Hypocrisy of Rick Scott

From the Florida Ledger

by Julie Delegal

As a long-time advocate for public education causes, I have never been as outraged by the Florida Legislature’s complete and utter disregard for our children as I am this year. Our lawmakers’ callousness is exceeded only by their post-session hypocrisy.

Governor Rick Scott, who originally wanted a ten percent cut to public education, now cries crocodile tears over the legislature’s failure to hold education harmless. Not to be upstaged, Speaker of the House Dean Cannon outs the governor for his “sudden emphasis on K-12 education.”

Cannon told the St. Petersburg Times, “The Governor communicated numerous priorities during session, and we did our best to accommodate him. It would have been helpful if the Governor had shared this new-found emphasis with us before the budget was finalized.”

With all due respect, Speaker Cannon, it would have been “helpful” if our elected lawmakers followed the law of the land as written in the Florida Constitution, specifically Article IX, Section 1. The key passage there tells you the peoples’ priority. “The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” Lawmakers, your first priority is not playing footsie with the governor over what appears in the budget. The law says you’re to fund education first. Period!

You didn’t, and that hurts our children. Locally, our Duval County School Board is deliberating over whether to cut off its arms or its legs. Elementary art and music? Transportation? Varsity sports? Mondays? Or will they go with furloughs? Voters should remember that these cuts come on top of three years of previous cuts, and that Florida is still 50th in the nation when it comes to per capita funding for public schools. As for the ubiquitous excuse—recessionary times—they’re good times for priority setting. Indeed, Speaker Cannon implies in his statement that his budget priorities might have looked different if only he’d known how badly education cuts were bound to be received by the body politic. In Jacksonville, exit pollsters say that the number one issue for voters in the mayoral race was education, an issue gaining municipal attention as the state continues to ignore its paramount duty.

Two local school board members have seized on the miniscule crumb that Governor Scott threw out in his budget speech—a 0.6% “savings” that could be re-allocated to education.

Voters should absolutely be encouraged to shame their lawmakers into restoring that measly six-tenths of one percent to the education budget. But more important than begging for crumbs on the ground will be scrutinizing the upcoming redistricting process that begins in January. If we want to elect different people with different priorities to represent us in Tallahassee, we’re going to have to watch that those in power don’t keep gerrymandering the districts to their continued advantage. The foxes are guarding the henhouse, voters, and the crumbs they’re throwing us now are nothing but bait.

Julie Delegal is an education advocate and contributing writer for Folio Weekly and The Jacksonville Ledger online.

Florida's public workers take it on the chin... hard...

by Scott Maddox

Recently the chairman of the Florida Republican Party wrote a My View ("Scott and GOP legislators got it done," May 19) touting the accomplishments of the legislative session — and the governor just signed the budget into law, touting its perceived effectiveness.

The picture, however, is not so rosy. Simply put, I am distressed by the changing attitude toward public employees.

In full disclosure, I am certainly biased. My wife was a Leon County teacher, and both of my parents worked for government; my father was a police officer, and my mother spent three decades in the classroom.

I am also biased because I seem to recall that public service was once an honored profession in which dedicated public servants gave up dreams of riches in exchange for a lifetime of service. I also recall that teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and public servants of all stripes were universally respected for the lives they led and the professions they chose.

But those were different times. And that's what angers me.

Today's teachers are no less dedicated than they were when my mother first entered a classroom. They give so much to the future of our community and do so with very little financial gain. No, that has not changed.
Nor has the life of a police officer changed since my father first wore the badge. Bullets are still bullets, and dangerous people still see officers as targets.

And for that matter, nor has the work done by all public employees, regardless of the profession — from the state employee to the firefighter to the electric line worker, government employees are still made up of our dedicated, hard-working neighbors.

But what has changed is that some elected "leaders" — who are themselves, ironically, government employees — have tried to make these hardworking folks the scapegoats for what ails our nation and our state.

At a time when the word "tax" is toxic, they feel it is somehow okay to tax public employees. Those who championed this outrageous act somehow claim, "It is not a tax."

You take 3 percent of a state employees' pay, send it to general revenue — and brag how it helped balance our budget — that is a tax. Remember the adage: "If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck —it must be a duck."

The 3-percent payroll deduction taken from all state employees that is going into general revenue is walking and quacking a lot like a tax.
The governor and every state leader profess to be creating jobs, yet their actions show a different story.

This year's budget will result in the loss of 4,500 government jobs, and the $150 million raid on the transportation trust fund is expected to cost more than 8,000 private-sector jobs. Thousands of jobs will be lost on the city, county and school district level.

While I am grateful that local legislative leaders like Sen. Bill Montford, Rep. Alan Williams and Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda stood strong on behalf of government employees, I am truly sickened to see a new crop of lawmakers who treat hardworking public employees with disdain.
If anyone has any doubt that this issue transcends the 3-percent pay cut, look at the bevy of bills that were crawling through the system (but thankfully did not pass).

From drug testing, to loss of payroll deduction, to retirement reductions, state and local employees were under fire.

While public servants unfairly took it on the chin, here is the remarkable thing. Our teachers will still find a way to do a great job for our children, our first responders will still risk their lives, and every other government employee will still approach each day with same exceptional professionalism as they did before the lashings began.

A famous coach once said, "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up." I know that our public servants will get back up and continue to serve with distinction.

As a small-business owner, I believe very strongly in private enterprise, but I know that we need an efficient government in order to prosper as a state. If we continue down the path of degrading public employees, we will never achieve this goal.

It's a stark reality. Our state and government employees simply do not get the respect they deserve. It may be a reality, but I don't have to like it.

Read more: Scott Maddox: Attitude toward public employees is distressing | | Tallahassee Democrat

Should Florida's women just be barefoot and pregnant?


by Robin Marty

Florida Governor Rick Scott has been giving Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker a run for the money when it comes to creating fiscal crisis to enable him to enact a right-wing business and social agenda in the state. Scott has finished the year in fine form by adding insult to injury for the women of Florida -- after proposing nearly 20 anti-reproductive health bills and passing a large group, including mandatory ultrasounds before an abortion and slashing family planning funding for the state, Scott is finishing up the work of the anti-women legislators with the help of his veto pen.

The Florida Independent reports:

Gov. Rick Scott yesterday vetoed almost $1.5 million for a handful of community health care clinics in Florida that provide adult and pediatric primary health care services, family planning, immunizations and STD and HIV screening, among other services, to low-income and minority patients.

Scott vetoed $500,000 for the AGAPE Community Health Center in Duval County and another half a million dollars for Apopka Health Center for rural and minority health.

Apopka is a community health center that provides health care to migrant communities in Florida. AGAPE provides a range of women’s health services. Among the many serves listed, the center’s website mentions Pap smears, clinical breast exams, STD testing and treatment, family planning, birth control, pregnancy testing and maternal/prenatal care. Apopka Health Center also lists obstetrical and gynecological care as services it provides.

Together, these two line-item vetoes mean a million dollar loss in preventative care for women in Florida.

Lost among the vetoes? Funding for low income and at risk pregnant women and early childhood health -- the governor chose to eliminate and reduce programs that were set up to help address infant mortality in the state.

But what he left untouched was even more problematic. The governor left intact all funding for state sponsored "crisis pregnancy centers," who's primary function is to talk women who are interested getting abortions out of their choice, claiming they would provide assistance to the women if they will continue their pregnancies.

Cutting programs that prevent pregnancies or assist with prenatal care, and health care for poor women and children, while continuing to fund centers who try to talk women into having babies even if they don't want them, many of which have religious agendas? How can this be seen as anything but trying to force women to have children, then yanking away their resources as soon as they say they will continue their pregnancies?

It's a debate that is happening on the national level and the local levels, and new DNC Chairwoman and Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz is involved in both aspects, condemning the GOP's anti-women stance as an obvious battle in the war on women. And Florida state congresswomen are fighting as well, with one local rep claiming this is all “to make sure that women stay pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen."

With Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and a Republican Governor, Florida is a true example of what would happen to women if Republicans had full control federally. So far we have been lucky enough that nothing the House has proposed has been able to make it through the Senate, and if it did, wouldn't withstand a Presidential veto.

But if it all were under Republican control? Just take a look at Florida to see what that would mean for women.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Rick Scott’s 343 million dollar travesty

When Rick Scott did his budget he requested an additional 343 million for the governors office as you can imagine a dramatic increase. Though if you are a silver lining type, maybe you can find solace in that he was going to use some of this money to create 91 extra jobs. However it got me to thinking what else could we have spent the money on.

The first thing that comes to mind is the raid of the transportation trust fund of 150 million dollars. This will cancel a number of projects that would improve our infrastructure and according to the Orlando Sentinel cost eighty-four hundred jobs. Hmm isn’t that two of the states biggest needs, infrastructure and jobs?

I am a teacher but the cuts to education were to massive to be paid for by Scott’s treasure trove (about 20 thousand education jobs state wide lost and that’s before the ten percent pay cut, pension and benefits increase, that will also take billions more out of the economy and cost more jobs) but I find children important so the next thing that came to mind was the 171 million he cut from the department of Children and Family. This can’t help but decrease the level of care some of our most vulnerable citizens but is also going to cost two thousand workers their jobs.

We’re now up to 321 million dollars which leaves only a little over twenty to spend. So I picked the cuts to our libraries (twenty million) public broadcasting (a little over 500 thousand) and the dental van that served Jacksonville’s indigents without dental care (another 500k). That’s right a nearly seventy billion-dollar budget and we couldn’t find enough change in the couch to help poor people with their teeth. These cuts will only cost the state a few hundred jobs at most but it has the effect of dumbing us down, we need libraries and impartial sources of information, and making us cruel to our less fortunate neighbors. You know who else doesn’t have libraries, public television and dental care for it’s poor; Somalia and dozens of other countries on the fringe of civilization and chaos.

So what did we lose so the governor can have a few more assistants and work on his pet projects? Over ten thousand jobs, needed improvements to our infrastructure, protection of our children, and necessary things that separate us from third world countries. This all cut from a budget that is only about a billion less than last years (don’t forget the 1.7 billion dollar cut to education either). Friend’s social services, education, the environment, the middle class and the poor all just took a very bad beating. Since the amount of government spending only went down by a negligible amount, I hope this isn’t what those who voted for him had in mind.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Florida education majors have few options


by Joe Callahan

"Home's not a bad place," Kat McPadden, 21, said while giving her dad Ed McPadden a hug at her parent's home in Ocklawaha Wednesday afternoon, May 25, 2011 as her mother Gail McPadden pats her on the back. McPadden just graduated from FSU and moved back home with her parents due to the harsh economic climate. "I work as a substitute where ever they need me," McPadden said. McPadden has no idea whether she will have a job next year because of the budget cuts. There were 1 million less summer jobs in 2010, a 50 percent reduction from 1998-2010, for kids 16 to 19 years old. More college graduates than ever before are having to move home after graduation because of the slumping job market.

At a time when Kat McPadden should be thinking about how to decorate her classroom for the new school year, the recent Florida State University graduate instead is spending her days unpacking boxes back in her childhood bedroom.

Troubling signs for young workersSince the recession hit in December 2007, the number of workers ages 65 and older has increased by 15.6 percent, while the number of all workers ages 16 and older has decreased by 4.6 percent.

In 2006, just before the recession, 67 percent of all college graduates said they moved back home with their parents. In 2010, that number ballooned to 85 percent, according to a CNN Money poll conducted last year.

The average age of a fast-food restaurant worker has increased by 7.5 years in the last decade. In 2000, the average age of a fast-food worker was 22. Today it is 29.5, indicating a shift away from younger people.

Summer jobs for workers ages 16 to 19 have plummeted by 41.3 percent since December 2007.

The aspiring English teacher hopes to get a full-time job in August with the financially strapped Marion County School District, but for now she must settle for part-time work as a substitute teacher.

Few teachers will be hired for 2011-12, and district officials will not employ substitute teachers beginning July 1.

So for McPadden, moving back to her Moss Bluff home with her parents in a dismal job market was the only answer.

Like McPadden, Eugenio Torrens, who graduated from the University of Florida with a journalism degree on April 30, will move back in with his mother in Tampa. After jaw surgery over the summer, he will attempt to get a job — or at least some type of freelance position. If job opportunities do not open up, he will go back to school in the fall of 2012.

“If I can't find a (full-time) job by then, I will apply for graduate school,” he said.

McPadden, 21, and Torrens, 22, are among a growing number of recently graduated people who are forced to return home because their job prospects are so poor in this stagnant economy.

In 2006, just before the recession, 67 percent of all college graduates said they moved back home with their parents. In 2010, that number swelled to 85 percent, according to a CNN Money poll conducted last year.

The name for these college graduates: “Boomerang kids.”

McPadden and Torrens are discovering what economists already know — that the bad economy can be the most brutal on the youngest members of the workforce.

And it's not just college graduates who are feeling the pinch.

The job market for workers ages 16 to 19 is the worst it has been since 1949, the year the U.S. Department of Labor first compiled such statistics. Since the summer of 2007, summer jobs nationally have declined by 41.3 percent.

And with more senior citizens re-entering the workforce to make ends meet, jobs that usually went to young people are now being filled by people who, in better times, would be content and financially stable in retirement.

Since the recession hit in December 2007, the number of workers ages 65 and older has increased by 15.6 percent, while the number of all workers ages 16 and older has decreased by 4.6 percent, according to U.S. labor statistics.

With so many seniors remaining in or returning to the workforce, it takes several years longer for workers to be promoted within a company.

Vanguard High School Principal Rick Lankford said his 29-year-old son, Jeff, works part time in food service at a Mount Dora country club. Jeff Lankford wants to move to the next level. But jobs are harder to get, mainly because there are so many people with more experience looking for jobs. His son feels “trapped,” Lankford said.

Even fast-food jobs that once went to teenagers are now going to older employees.

The average age of a fast-food restaurant worker has increased from 22 in 2000 to 29.5 today, illustrating the shift away from younger people.

Brea Nail doesn't need the U.S. Department of Labor to tell her that. A couple of times a week, the North Marion High School senior drives 40 miles round-trip to Ocala to look for work, putting in applications at all types of businesses.

She has been to the mall, restaurants, fast-food chains, anywhere that might be willing to pay for her services. The bottom line: Few businesses are hiring teenagers.

“I'm desperate just to get one interview,” said Brea, who plans to attend College of Central Florida in the fall to complete her associate's degree.

For the few jobs that are available, students must calculate whether they can even afford to work now that gas prices have soared, hitting nearly $4 per gallon just a few weeks ago.

“They have to weigh the cost of the job,” said Colleen Wade, International Baccalaureate coordinator at Vanguard High School, a magnet school. “Can they really afford the job? It really is tough times for kids right now. It is scary during a time when the economy is as uncertain as it is.”

Career experts say there are hopeful signs amid the gloomy employment landscape, however.

Heather White, the interim director of the University of Florida's Career Resource Center, said more employers are recruiting on campus this year.

She said the National Association of College and Employers (NACE) projects that employers nationwide are expected to hire about 19 percent more graduates in 2010-11 than in 2009-10.

The NACE — — is a nonprofit agency that brings together human resource staffing professionals who help new college graduates find employment.

Many of those who can't find work choose to return to school to get graduate degrees, she said. But those students are finding it harder to get into programs because of the sheer number of people vying for a limited number of seats.

Overall, White believes students are learning valuable lessons.

“I do think the job market is more challenging than in recent years,” she said. “But I think students can learn how to navigate in this type of job market.”

The lesson is that once the students get a job and the economy bounces back, they can apply what they have learned today to find new jobs if there is another downturn in the future.

Deborah Jenkins, director of Marion County Community Technical & Adult Education, known as CTAE, said although the job situation does not seem very good for workers in their 20s, there is hope.

CTAE graduates are finding work in some vocational fields. In fact, 74 percent of graduates are being placed. The jobs showing positive signs of growth are health care and welding. However, these jobs are not always available locally, and students may have to move to find work.

The age range of students attending CTAE is 28 to 55. Jenkins has seen more students with bachelor's degrees attending CTAE to learn a new trade to make ends meet.

A bad job market typically attracts more people to CTAE.

“And not just the job market, but life itself,” Jenkins said, adding that some people have had to quit CTAE because they can't afford gas and other expenses. Jenkins said they do have programs to help students financially and there are “all kinds of financial aid available for students.”

CF President Charles “Chick” Dassance said that students in some careers, such as nursing, do have options after graduation.

And while more and more students head to community colleges to get degrees, Dassance said he is “very concerned about the slow job growth.”

“We can do the education part,” he said, “but we can't create the jobs.”

Contact Joe Callahan at 867-4113 or at Follow him on Twitter at JoeOcalaNews.

The Corporate Dream, teachers as temps

From Common

by Glen Ford

As Democrats hustle to shovel a billion dollars into President Obama’s campaign coffers – making promises to rich people and their corporations every step of the way – America’s billionaires are spending even more money to seize control of the nation’s public schools. Although super-wealthy capitalists like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, fellow computer mogul Michael Dell, real estate magnate Eli Broad, and the rapacious owners of Wal-Mart, the Walton Family, would like people to think of them as philanthropists, they are nothing more than down-and-dirty investors who hope to reap much more than they sow. This mega-buck mafia's goal is to gain access to the $600 billion per year that taxpayers pump into public schools, and then to profit in perpetuity by shaping the nation’s educational system to their corporate needs. The corporate education project has nothing to do with growing new generations of smarter, socially aware, independent-thinking citizens, but is designed to raid public treasuries through wholesale contracting-out of public schooling.

Teachers are the biggest obstacle in the way of the corporate educational coup, which is why the billionaires, eagerly assisted by their servants in the Obama administration, have made demonization and eventual destruction of teachers unions their top priority. Corporations hate collective bargaining, or working people’s power of any kind, but their vision goes way beyond simply neutralizing teachers unions. The billionaires, and the politicians they have purchased, want nothing less than to destroy teaching as a profession. Plutocrats like Bill Gates and politicians like Barack Obama may make noises about respecting teachers' life-long commitment to learning, but their actions prove the opposite. At every opportunity, whenever a real or manufactured educational crisis presents itself, the corporate gang champions charter schools and imports platoons of young, mostly white, inexperienced rookies from programs like Teach for America. Most of these neophytes have no intention of making teaching a career, so they accept low wages, turnover is high, and they have no long term interest in any particular school, or school system, or the profession in general. They are temporary teachers – which is precisely the point.

Just as corporations have revamped the private white collar workforce, replacing full-time, salaried personnel with “temporary” workers – a system in which some managers are officially temps – such are the prospects for teachers in the brave new corporate world of education “reform.”

The billionaires' propaganda machinery claims the corporatization of American education is necessary to make the United States “competitive,” internationally. But teachers in most of the countries that lead the U.S. in learning are highly respected, if not revered, and relatively well compensated. Under the guise of “reform,” the United States is moving in exactly the opposite direction as the rest of the world. The American people are being conned by billionaire hustlers who are stealing the public schools – and the national future – right in front of our eyes.

Why Art Education is Important

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Scott Maxwell

Judging solely by the statistics, students at Fern Creek Elementary School should be struggling.

Twenty percent of them are homeless. More than 80 percent receive free or reduced–price lunches.

Yet when FCAT scores came back last week, they were sky-high — with 84 percent of third-graders scoring at grade level or higher on reading and 86 percent for math.

Though some schools have cut arts and music programs in the face of budget woes, Principal Patrick Galatowitsch has kept his cultural offerings at full strength.

And the result of mixing violins and water colors with multiplication tables and vocabulary lists speaks for itself.

Young minds, you see, are like sponges. And when you wet them with just a bit of knowledge, they become thirsty for more.

"There's very scientific evidence behind all this," said Mary Beth Perkins, the art teacher at Fern Creek who has children sculpting with old tire pieces and creating mosaics with unused stickers."It hits a part of their brain that just connects. And things come alive."

Sometimes the sparks are obvious.

Patterns in an arpeggio have similarities to sequences in math. Unique color names enhance vocabulary. A student moved by the music of "Les Miserables" suddenly wants to know more about the French Revolution.

But the arts can also improve a student's entire outlook on life.

Just ask Kara Herbert. Her music class at Fern Creek is a vibrant and happy place, full of steel drums, xylophones and conga drums. Third-graders play violins. First-graders dance.

And Herbert has seen students' confidence skyrocket after they master an instrument they had previously eyed from afar.

"Learning music helps them in so many ways," she said. "In general, it makes them more well-rounded students."

National studies say students involved in the arts have higher self-esteem, are more involved in their communities and often do better on everything from SAT scores to critical analysis … as Fern Creek's FCAT scores reflect.

Galatowitsch beamed when he looked down at the scores he had just received Thursday morning. But he stressed that educating kids is about more than teaching them to pencil in the right bubbles.

"We're preparing children for life," he said. "And to prepare them for life, we need to expose them to all that is wonderful about the world."

It's not always easy.

Florida schools are already funded below the national average. So the teachers at Fern Creek work hard to provide their 320 students many of the things that lawmakers in Tallahassee do not.

They work with nonprofits such as A Gift for Teaching. They coordinate with students at the University of Central Florida and artistic scholars at Rollins. Local dance troupes, such as Voci Dance, introduce the kids to movement classes they might never otherwise experience.

"The community support we have for the arts is incredible," Galatowitsch said. "And our school staff and teachers work above and beyond, uncompensated, to ensure that our students have these opportunities."

That's why it galls this overachieving principal when he hears politicians poor-mouthing teachers — and trying to further gut the state's underfunded school system.

This year, Gov. Rick Scott proposed a record-breaking $3 billion hit to Florida schools.

The Republican-led Legislature wanted to take $1.35 billion.

They settled on the latter, slicing an additional $542 per student from an already strapped system.

After approving the cuts, Scott then had the gall to stage a media event Thursday where he unveiled a new slogan: "Less waste. More for education."

Galatowitsch simply couldn't comprehend.

But by Tuesday, he and the rest of the staff at Fern Creek won't be fretting about Tallahassee. They'll be back on their tiny campus just north of downtown Orlando focused on their needy students … and budding artists.

The kids may even get back the pieces of art they recently displayed at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum.

"These kids were just so excited," Perkins recalled of the night their museum show opened. "They felt like real artists."

Because they were. or 407-420-6141,0,444668,full.column

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Andy Ford Speaks out about Govenor Scotts Massive Education Cuts

When Gov. Rick Scott announced his budget proposal in February, the word "education" was notably absent from the political event. And when he did roll out his education budget proposal, it called for slashing already underfunded public schools by more than 10 percent.

The education budget approved by the Legislature did not cut schools as deeply as the governor recommended, but it was almost as irresponsible. Teachers and other school employees will lose their jobs, programs will be drastically cut, and in some places school days shortened and schools closed.

On Thursday, at his political event announcing what items he would veto out of the state budget, the governor made a big show of saying he was putting money back in the schools budget. That would be a laughable statement if it were not so frustrating. It is meaningless to suggest putting the money back into education, since it would require the unlikely occurrence of another session and a new appropriations bill. It was a politically expedient message for a governor with plummeting poll numbers but a cruel suggestion for school employees who face layoffs and furloughs, and for schoolchildren who attend Florida's inadequately funded schools.

This Legislature handed out more than $300 million in tax cuts in a year when education was slashed. The governor lobbied hard for these tax cuts, but didn't lift a finger to prevent the real harm that will be caused by cuts in education and health and human services. His sudden interested in education at a campaign-style event won't mask the reality of his priorities.

President, Florida Education Association

How voucher proponenets buy votes

From Flagler

by Lilly Rockwell

When Florida voted in 2001 to create a corporate tax credit voucher program for low-income students, only one Democrat supported the idea.

Ten years later, when it came time to vote on a bill (HB 965) that expanded the amount of tax credit a company gets for making a donation to a school voucher program, 24 Democrats chose to support the bill.

That’s a remarkable policy shift for Democrats, who started out nearly united in their opposition to vouchers.

The votes also coincide with an increasing number of campaign donations and political advertising support of Democrats by individuals or groups that back voucher programs, including the corporate tax credit scholarship program.

Democrats say their support of voucher programs is not connected to contributions but rather an awakening that that private school vouchers help many low-income students receive a good education.

“I support it because this money goes toward scholarships for children of African-Americans in low income areas,” said Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, who received donations from a voucher proponent. Black caucus members especially have embraced some voucher programs and say it reflects demands of their constituents – who are more likely to live in areas with poor-performing public schools.

Since 2004, about $5 million was spent by two “527″ groups, which are political fundraising organizations that spend money advocating for an issue, according to campaign finance records.

These groups – All Children Matter and Florida Federation for Children – specifically support school voucher programs. These groups have ties with national pro-voucher organizations such as the American Federation for Children. Both of these political advocacy groups are run by John Kirtley, who successfully lobbied in 2001 to get the corporate tax credit scholarship program approved by the Legislature.

Kirtley sits on the board of Step Up For Students, one of the groups that provide private school vouchers to low-income students through the corporate tax credit scholarship program.

Through his own personal contributions, Kirtley, his wife, and to a much lesser extent his two daughters, have spent about $125,000 in the last two election cycles on Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

Kirtley said expenditures by his political advocacy group are designed to “inform voters about the records of candidates.” He said candidates are picked “solely on their views on parental choice for low-income families.”

His personal contributions, he said, were made based on the same standards. “I’m a single issue person,” he said. “I don’t care about their position on anything but parental choice for low income families.”

Kirtley’s eagerness to help lawmakers that support vouchers appears to be a family affair.

His wife is a regular contributor to many of the same candidates that Kirtley chooses to donate to. And his two daughters – Peyton and Kendyl – each donated $500 in their name to former Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, and Taylor in 2009. Kirtley declined to provide his daughter’s ages and in an email interview asked that the focus stay on him, so it’s not clear if the daughters’ donations violate a state law that limits contributions by children to $100.

State law limits donations by adults to $500 for each candidate per election. But 527 groups are allowed to spend freely on political advertisements, such as direct mail or television advertising. The only limit on these communications is they cannot explicitly urge the election or defeat of a candidate.

All of the Democrats and Republicans that received funding from Kirtley ended up backing the bill that allowed companies claiming a corporate tax credit for donating to voucher groups to get a larger tax credit.

Last year an even bigger expansion of the corporate tax credit voucher program was approved with about half of the Democratic caucus supporting it and many of the same Democrats voted similarly this year.

Some Democrats that support voucher bills, though, did not receive direct donations from Kirtley, such as Sen. Chris Smith, D-Ft. Lauderdale and Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove.

House Minority Leader Ron Saunders, D-Key West, said he voted for the voucher bill because it saves the state money on education. That’s because students who receive vouchers through the corporate tax credit program only get a percentage of the per-student funding they would receive if they went to a public school.

Saunders also received donations from Kirtley and his wife.

“I generally have supported the tax scholarship program because it relieves pressure (on education spending),” Saunders said. When asked about campaign support, Saunders said “I think I got those contributions after I voted the first time on it. They support the people that support the program.”

Saunders said Democrats have never taken a caucus position on vouchers. “It’s an issue people don’t agree on.”

Indeed, other Democrats and black caucus members contacted for this story say they are against expansions of vouchers. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said she voted against the voucher bill because she believes it harms public schools. “My biggest concern is that there is no data that shows once a student gets a voucher and leaves the public school, it is not proven they perform better in the private school,” Thompson said.

Thompson said she believes voucher supporters have become politically influential. “They are attempting, in terms of their political power, to link their contributions with the votes that members take,” Thompson said.

But other Democrats and Kirtley say there is no “quid pro quo” of votes for political support.

“The idea that Democratic support for parent choice has been bought is absurd,” Kirtley said. He said the reason more Democrats have become supporters of voucher programs is broadening support on the issue from constituents. He pointed out that several Democrats voted for voucher programs without any assistance from him or his fundraising arm.

“It is actually the natural order of things that a majority of the black caucus would support the tax credit program and parental choice for low income families,” Kirtley said. “It would be unnatural if they didn’t.”

Kirtley said the need to become more involved in political donations was driven by a desire to compete against the big dogs in education politics: the teachers union, also known as the Florida Education Association.

“For too long, there was only one main player in education reform political space….teacher’s unions,” Kirtley said. He said nationally teachers unions spent $70 million on political races last year. That figure could not be confirmed.

Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, said comparing political expenditures between the two groups is comparing apples to oranges. The FEA examines a wide range of issues when it considers which candidates to support, Pudlow said, such as the budget, class size, merit pay and voucher programs.

“(Kirtley) is dealing with a single issue,” Pudlow said. “Comparing what we spend to him isn’t exactly fair.”

With Republicans holding large majorities in the House and Senate, and a governor supportive of expanding school options beyond traditional public schools, Kirtley certainly doesn’t need Democratic votes to press his agenda. But he said he donates to Democrats because the issue is non-partisan.

“These legislators are voting to give low income parents more educational opportunity and they deserve support for doing so,” Kirtley said. “The pendulum always swings back.”

Duval County's Superintendent recieves an F too

Superintendent Pratt Dannals gave the Florida Legislature a failing grade for funding. Well friends they aren’t the only ones who should receive a failing grade.

The superintendent has been in charge for over three years now and before that spent a decade near the top of the districts organization chart. During this time he was directly in charge the district have gone through massive budget cuts (nearly 150 million) and at the same time dismissed potential remedies. Years ago when the economy was good I called upon him to propose a one-cent Better Jacksonville plan style sales tax for children and educational issues, similar to what several south Florida cities have done and he ignored the suggestion. He again ignored it last year when I brought it up again at a budget meeting. You would think a superintendent facing such a crisis would be trying everything short of going through the couch cushions in teacher’s lounges.

Now he also seems to be steering the district away from suing the Florida government to uphold the provision in the state constitution, which makes providing a high quality education the paramount duty of the state. New Jersey has a similar clause in their constitution and after some school districts sued their supreme court directed its government to add five hundred million dollars to its education system. Where is our lawsuit Mr. Superintendent? The legislature doesn’t seem to have any desire to do what is right on their own.

Then look at the current issue we are having with cutting sports. Imagine if he would have initiated a pay-for-play program when he first became superintendent? Imagine if the district had charged a modest twenty dollars per sport and put that money in a rainy day account where we would be. I will tell you, fifteen thousand students a year at 20 dollars a pop would have put almost a million dollars away for athletic issues. We could have then used this money to pay for the sports now on the chopping block.

It’s not just the superintendent’s lack of bold moves or foresight that is holding the district back but it is also his vision. The district is all about appearances not about doing what is right for the district and its children.

He touts that all the neighborhood schools now have advanced academic programs well doesn’t this make the need for advanced academic magnet schools redundant? Plus we all know that one for the reasons the neighborhood schools have these programs is because it gives the schools cheap points towards their overall grade. Kids’ taking Advanced Placement tests not passing them is what the state looks for. Finally to show you how ridiculous this is, there are kids at schools all through the district that go from their intensive reading class (remedial reading) to their Advanced Placement classes.

He likes to talk about how discipline is better but what really is better is teacher’s ability to ignore bad behavior and toxic learning environments. What would have gotten me suspended for three days at the high school I went to which is also the high school I teach at is all but ignored now. Kids all the time say, write me up, nothing is going to happen; and you know what? For the most part they are right.

Social promotions are also the policy of the day as the onus for failing a class has been switched from the student to the teacher. You want proof of social promotions just look at the numbers of kids that get to high school and can’t read or do math at grade level or the amount of kids who get to Florida State College and have to take remedial classes, which is about seventy percent in case you are wondering. I had a kid ask me what an elk was the other day.

Then there is the relationship that the district has with teachers and how it has deteriorated. It wasn’t that long ago that teachers and the district worked hand in hand but now the district seems to think that teachers are faceless cogs to be cajoled into passing kids and ignoring bad behavior and to be replaced at a whim. Principals are told to go into schools and shake teachers up and if you have read Pratt-Dannals remarks throughout the years, at least in print, a notable distain for teachers can be detected. Administrators and teachers should be working together not driven apart by those at 1701 Prudential Drive, who reflectively blame teachers for the problems in the district.

On his watch we are about to lose one school, North Shore’s FCAT scores dropped and we might be about to lose more. The superintendent has been at or near the top for over a decade and suddenly those schools became a priority to him? He allowed and encouraged a brain drain through the creation of more magnet schools and he ignored the problems they were having namely students walking in on day one without a wok ethic or the basic knowledge they need to be successful. I don’t blame the children for this either. They know what they know because it is what the district taught them and sadly they don’t know much and that is because for about five years now all we have taught them is how to pass the F-CAT.

Furthermore how about the drive to place African American principals and teachers in schools that have large African American student populations? I know some people want black boys to have black mentors but quite frankly and I realize this may be unpopular with some we shouldn’t care if a principal or a teacher is back, white, blue or green. We should be striving to put the best and brightest in our schools regardless of skin color. I know veteran teachers throughout the district who have been told they can’t relate to children of color because they are the wrong color. Subtle racism is alive and well in Duval County and it is being cultivated by the administration at 1701 Prudential Drive.

He also speaks about all the cuts being made: well sir what about your salary, the equivalent of almost sixteen paraprofessional’s salaries. I know after years of cuts you finally gave up your cell phone and car allowances but do you realize you make a hundred thousand more than the mayor and basically the same amount as the superintendents of both Clay and St. Johns counties (considered two of the best districts in the state). Why not take a pay cut so the district doesn’t have to cut its girls tennis teams.

And finally a lack of understanding that not every child is going to college, a disregard for the importance of teaching trades and skills are other problems he doesn’t seem to understand.

A lack of bold leadership and vision and an emphasis on appearing to do well not actually doing well has marked the Superintendents term in office. He is absolutely right though when he gives Tallahassee an F for funding though it might have been nice if he mentioned how the state has badly treated teachers and sped up the privatization of our public schools through vouchers and charter and virtual schools too. I guess those issues weren’t important enough to mention

The thing is I wonder what would have happened had we not had a budget crisis. What would have happened if the state had given us more money than we knew what to do with? I sadly suspect that if we had the same leadership we do now we would be in the same position we are in now. I will let you decide for yourself what position you think that is.

Yes the state for its shortsighted and hurtful cuts on education does get an F, however they are not the only ones who deserve a failing grade.

Florida's education motto: Line the Bush's pockets, close its public schools

From the Reid Report

Anitere Flores is at it again. The Bushite state Senate Judiciary chairwoman from Miami, who’s already on record throwing other women under the bus by seeking to force them to have children (or be subjected to anti-abortion indoctrination by even unwilling doctors), and attacking fellow Hispanics by agreeing to be the Latina face of Florida Republicans’ noxious Arizona-style immigration bill, now has an idea the Bush family will adore: forcing all Florida school children to take online classes.

And what’s not to love? Flores bill, cosponsored by Republican state Rep. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, would:

• Allow full-time, online school for kindergarten through 12th grade;
• Allow home-schooled children to take online classes without previously attending a public school.
• Open the door for private companies to set up virtual schools. That provision would also apply to charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.

And of course, the money provision:

Starting next year, students entering high school would have to take at least one online course to graduate.

Florida already has a state-run virtual school, and Flores and company claim the school supports the idea of private competition, since the private run online schools would have to meet the same standards. Then again, with Florida Republicans slashing through the state payrolls and gutting public employee pensions, what’s the Florida Virtual School spokesman supposed to say?

More from the Herald:

… proponents say the push to grow online education is not fueled by cost-cutting. Instead, their goal is to give students more choices with technology — a longtime goal of former Gov. Jeb Bush, who while in office ushered in aggressive reforms.

Last year, about 21,000 — less than 1 percent — of the state’s 2.6 million public-school students took part in online education. That was an uptick from the previous year, and with enrollment projected to grow, virtual school is one of the only items in the House and Senate education budget proposals with increased funding.

Bush’s education foundation has taken up the mantel for the former governor’s cause in Tallahassee. It took part in a news conference Thursday to promote the legislation, which cleared its first Senate committee earlier this week.

“We’re walking around with BlackBerrys, with cell phones, with iPods, iPads,” Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, told reporters. “The only place, unfortunately, where that technology has not been fully embraced is in our education system.”

Hm… funny thing that … funny, funny, funny … I mean if you could get, say, 100 percent of 2.6 million students to take online school, and a company, like, say, Ignite! Learning, or former Reagan education secretary Bill Bennett’s K12, to get even 10 percent of that market apiece … mo money, mo money, mo money…!

Let’s go to a flashback, shall we?

(Los Angeles Times, Oct. 22, 2006) A company headed by President Bush’s brother and partly owned by his parents is benefiting from Republican connections and federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students under the No Child Left Behind Act.

With investments from his parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and other backers, Neil Bush’s company, Ignite! Learning, has placed its products in 40 U.S. school districts and now plans to market internationally.

At least 13 U.S. school districts have used federal funds available through the president’s signature education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, to buy Ignite’s portable learning centers at $3,800 apiece.

The law provides federal funds to help school districts better serve disadvantaged students and improve their performance, especially in reading and math.

But Ignite does not offer reading instruction, and its math program will not be available until next year.

The federal Department of Education does not monitor individual school district expenditures under the No Child program, but sets guidelines that the states are expected to enforce, spokesman Chad Colby said.

Ignite executive Tom Deliganis said that “some districts seem to feel OK” about using No Child money for the Ignite purchases, “and others do not.”

Neil Bush said in an e-mail to The Times that Ignite’s program had demonstrated success in improving the test scores of economically disadvantaged children. He also said political influence had not played a role in Ignite’s rapid growth.

And how well has Ignite! done in Florida? Very. From 2000 to 2003 alone, Neil (who made a name for himself running Silverado Savings and Loan into the ground during the 1980s S&L crisis) raked in $20 million. Some of the money Neil has made since then has come from Florida’s use of Ignite! test prep software to get kids ready for the corporate-lucrative FCAT standardized tests. And both Neil Bush and Bill Bennett’s politically-connected companies have been the subject of federal scrutiny, over whether their products are selling more because of who the founders are, than because of what they can do.

Now to be fair, Ignite! currently focuses on in-class digital/online learning aids and test prep tutorials. But if the door is opened to private companies like Neil’s opening up full charter schools online, the sky’s the limit. And Neil may not even have to change his business model to make a profit.

A bit of background as to why:

(March 1, 2011) - In December, (Jeb) Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, a Democrat, joined in a national call for digital learning in a report that urged states to open competition for online content that could become as effective and user-friendly as is for shopping. They also urge replacement of textbooks with digital devices that are cheaper for taxpayers and more relevant to today’s students.

Despite Scott’s support, a virtual-learning overhaul faces hurdles, including opposition from textbook companies and the state’s teachers union. Virtual-learning bills sponsored by state Sen. John Thrasher and Rep. Erik Fresen, both Republicans, died in last year’s session.
But it is being ruthlessly resurrected right now.

Since his time in office and now that he’s unencumbered, Jeb Bush has steamrolled the push across the country for school vouchers and digital “virtual” learning instead of textbooks in the classroom.

How nice this must be for brother Neil Bush, and for those who want our kids’ teachers out of the picture permanently.

In the meantime, Jeb Bush hired Tom Vander Ark to infiltrate State Houses, as a bludgeon to push virtual learning onto the unwilling populace.

Dan Popkey writes in the Idaho Statesman:

February 24, 2011 -

A man Newsweek once called America’s most influential baby boomer in education comes to the Idaho Statehouse Thursday to support online education and Idaho schools chief Tom Luna’s reform bills.

Tom Vander Ark, who oversaw $3.5 billion in grants as head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, calls himself a “frustrated independent” unattached to a political party.

He now works on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s “Digital Learning Now” project and is a partner in Learn Capital, a private equity investor concentrating on education innovation worldwide.

He was invited by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank, lobbying group and news outlet, which paid travel expenses. He spoke with the Statesman Wednesday.

Q: How did the Freedom Foundation convince you to come to Idaho?

A: “I spend most of my time advocating for more and better online learning. I was in Tallahassee (Fla.) doing the same thing yesterday.”

Q: You’ve never met or spoken to Tom Luna and weren’t consulted in the drafting of his plan. What prompted you to support his “Students Come First” bills?

So, first you slash teachers’ pay and turn them into 1 year contract employees, void their pensions and tie their salaries to a standardized test. … Next, you simply make them incidental to the learning process, either by automating their jobs via “digital classrooms” like the ones sold by Ignite! — so basically, any low-paid person can do the job, no tenure required — or by driving education out of the classroom and onto the home computer.

It’s a hell of a plan to privatize education in increments.

If, of course, that’s what you want to do…

How the Florida Government wants to keep you deaf, dumb and blind

From the St. Petersburg Times

by Howard Troxler

We have a simple and important principle in Florida:

What the government does is the public's business.

Put another way, the taxpayers of Florida have the right to know what their government is doing.

In our state Constitution, we require our government to operate in the "sunshine," to hold meetings and make decisions in public.

In our state law, we declare that the records of the government are open to public inspection.

That's how it is supposed to work.

Of course, it does not always work that way.

Some people in the government hate the public records law, and drag their feet and try not to obey it.

Every year, our state Legislature writes more and more loopholes into the law.

Our state's new governor, Rick Scott, has shown a contempt for the spirit of the law. Clearly he does not think that what he does is the public's business at all. His underlings fight and stall even the most routine requests for what he is up to, and they have started billing people for asking.

One of Scott's top advisers admitted in a recent e-mail sent from her private e-mail account: "I rarely check and almost never respond to work e-mail because of the open records law."

A Scott spokesman, equally blunt, defended secrecy by saying: "There are things we don't want to broadcast to our opponents."

Their opponents! Who, exactly? The taxpayers?

Here is one of the truest things I know:

Secrecy is a sure sign of bad or dishonest state and local government.

Look, I'll give the feds some of their spy and national-security stuff. But I will not give the governor or the mayor a nickel's worth.

This is true even when — no, especially when — the secrecy is about "economic development" or "trade secrets," the most common excuse. It mostly means that the government is in cahoots with somebody.

We need to do some things differently in Florida. I would start with the newspapers — the folks who are supposed to be finding out what the government is up to and telling people about it.

If I am the editor of the newspaper (Howard Herald? Troxler Tribune?), then every time some so-and-so in Tallahassee refuses the public's right to know, it's a banner headline.

Every day that he keeps refusing, it keeps coming.

The more ridiculous the refusal, the bigger the headline. If Scott runs a secret government, then Scott gets it in 72-point type, day after day, week after week, month after month. I'll give him a whole page every day: "What Rick Scott Does Not Want Us To Know."

Same with the mayor, the School Board, the City Council, the County Commission.

We have gotten too wimpy about this public records law. We are accepting it as an excuse for what the government can keep secret. The law ought to be a floor and not a ceiling. Morally speaking, everything the government does is the public's business. I do not care what the law says.

As a young reporter, I had a real SOB as an editor — a profane, terrifying ex-Marine. I loved the man. And I tell you what, I wish you could have heard his speech about the public's right to know what the government is up to.

Heaven help that young reporter who came back to him saying, weakly, "They told me it wasn't a public record."

I can still see him standing up and swelling to twice the size. "_______________!!!" he would swear. "Go back and make them GIVE IT TO YOU ANYWAY!"

So to my friends in St. Petersburg and Tampa, Miami and Orlando, Palm Beach and Sarasota and Tallahassee and everywhere else:

_____________! Make them give it to you anyway.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Will Rick Scott help Obama when a second term?

From the Broward Beach Palm Times

by Brandon Thorp

What a weird ride it's been for poor Rick Scott! He came into office with hardly any pretense, with his intentions as plainly visible as the veins in his scalp. But nobody noticed, and now everybody hates him.

Which is bad news to the folks manning the bridge on the GOP mothership. Especially if they've noticed the weird trend picked up upon in the Quinnipiac University poll results released Thursday, which showed an inverse correlation between Rick Scott and Barack Obama's job approval ratings.

Dig it: Quinnipiac University pollsters spoke with 1,196 Floridians on Rick Scott's job performance and found that 57 percent of Floridians are now dissatisfied with governor, up from 48 percent on April 6. Back then, 35 percent approved of Scott's performance, and now only 29 percent do. For a first-term governor, the April results were bad. These results are disastrous. Rick Scott is now officially the least popular governor in the country.

During the same period that Scott was alienating a tenth of his electorate, Barack Obama's popularity was growing at an almost exactly equal rate. Back on April 7, 44 percent of Floridians approved of his performance, while 52 percent disapproved. The new numbers are 51 percent approve, 43 percent disapprove.

In other words: If presidential and gubernatorial elections were held in Florida today, no declared Republican presidential candidate could unseat Obama, while Scott would have a hard time beating Raul Castro.

But hell! Why would the Democrats want to beat Scott? Florida's the most important swing state in the country. If the Dems can keep Scott in Tallahassee, they'll never lose a presidential election again! (Though they will have to contend with Florida devolving into a destitute anarcho-capitalist hellpit in which gangs of starving, naked ex-teachers roam the streets in search of human flesh. But oh well. It wasn't that nice a place to live anyway.)

But wait! Is it likely that Scott's helping Obama's numbers? Politicususa thinks so, but it's completely discounting the impact of Osama Bin Laden's death upon Floridian sentiments. It also fails to mention that Florida is full of very old people, who lately have been hearing some very scary things about Republicans' plans for Medicare. And then there's the fact that our state is home to two of the most outspoken, angry Republican congressmen in America. Maybe Floridians are just fed up with the vitriol and are blaming the governor because he's bald and scary-looking.

So it's important not to read too much into the inverse correlation discovered by Quinnipiac. Still, the temptation is there. The numbers are striking. It's hard not to believe that somebody aboard the mothership hasn't examined the figures and taken a long, queasy look at a picture of Rick Scott's cool amphibian eyes, and thought: Holy shit! Is he working for them?

The Democrats have improved medicare, facts don't lie

From Politifact

Ever heard of Medi-scare? It’s political slang that means attacking opponents for their plans to rein in Medicare spending.

Republicans say they’re victims of Medi-scare because Democrats keep distorting their recent proposal, a plan to turn Medicare into a program where seniors buy their own health insurance plans and the federal government pays part of the tab. The plan wouldn’t apply to anyone 55 or older, but would start for new enrollees in 2022. Still, it would be a dramatic change from the current system, where the government pays doctors and hospitals directly. A Democrat won a close special election in upstate

New York on May 24 after campaigning against the plan, prompting Republicans to complain that Democrats were demagoguing the plan.

Boo hoo, say Democrats like Debbie Wasserman Schultz. It was just last year that Republicans tried to scare seniors by telling them the health care law would gut Medicare spending, said Wasserman Schultz, who was recently named head of the Democratic National Committee.

"It's the pot calling the kettle black when it comes to who's engaging in Medi-scare," said Wasserman Schultz in an interview on MSNBC on May 25. "The Republicans leading up to the 2010 election actually fabricated what Democrats did to Medicare. In fact, we added 12 years of solvency to Medicare and ensured that it would be better for seniors overall. And what the Republicans have done under Paul Ryan's plan is actually end Medicare as we know it, turn into it into a voucher program. There's no running from that."

We documented a slew of Mediscare ads against Democrats during the 2010 election cycle. But we were interested in the wonkier question of whether the health care law did indeed add 12 years of solvency to Medicare. Solvency in this case means the money flowing into Medicare covers 100 percent of the bills for patient care.

We started researching the issue, and at first, Wasserman Schultz seemed on solid ground. In August 2010, the Medicare Board of Trustees reported that the health care law did indeed add 12 years of solvency to Medicare Part A, the portion of Medicare that covers hospitalization. It also improved the financial outlook for Part B, which covers physicians’ services and other care. The report specifically credited the Democratic health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed earlier that year.

We should note those estimates come with a few warnings. The report itself says that projecting health care costs into the future includes many uncertainties. Additionally, the report doesn’t include changes that Congress will likely make to current law, especially the predictable increases in payments to physicians known as the doc fix. Also, the independent chief actuary for Medicare questioned whether the projected cost savings were realistic.

But overall, the board of trustees report is an official estimate for the Medicare program, the reports are put together with a consistent, detailed methodology, and its annual reports are usually referred to by both parties.

The bigger problem with Wasserman Schultz's statement is that just a few weeks ago, the board of trustees issued a new report that revised its estimates for the health care law. Instead of adding 12 years of solvency, the board concluded, the law will only add eight years of solvency. Starting in 2024, the program will need either new revenues or reduced expenses to meet all of its obligations. The board said the shortfall was because of the continuing economic slowdown, which has reduced the Medicare program’s income from taxes, and a few other lesser factors.

So Wasserman Schultz’s number is off by about a third.

Nevertheless, her overall point, that the Democrats’ health reform law added to the overall solvency of Medicare, is correct. The 2011 report included the same warnings that estimating health care savings for the future is an uncertain process, but it also concluded that the financial outlook for Medicare is "substantially improved as a result of the changes in the Affordable Care Act."

The law reduced spending and increased revenues in several ways. It slows increases in payments to hospitals and nursing homes. It raises Medicare hospital taxes for high earners. And it introduces several new programs aimed at steering the health system away from paying doctors and hospitals per procedure ("fee for service") and instead paying for good outcomes.

When we contacted her office, a spokesman said that the number may have been off, but the point was still right. "The important thing is that Democrats moved to substantially extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund while also making broad improvements to Medicare," said spokesman Jonathan Beeton.

To summarize, Wasserman Schultz said that the Democratic health care law "added 12 years of solvency to Medicare." She’s off on the number, citing an older, more optimistic report. The latest estimate indicates Medicare will only have eight additional years of solvency, one-third less than the previous estimate. But she’s right that the Affordable Care Act improved the financial outlook for Medicare, and that Democrats have successfully passed legislation to reduce future spending for the program. So we rate her statement Half True.