Florida Board of Education members want another look at class size rules

August 26, 2015 by


by: Jeffery S. Solochek|Tampa Bay Times

August 26, 2015

Discussing legislative priorities for the coming session, some Florida Board of Education members renewed their desire to see the 2002 class size amendment scaled back in its application.

Calling the law “foolish,” board member Gary Chartrand said he would urge lawmakers to take steps to make it easier for schools to measure class size as a school-wide average rather than a classroom count. He suggested a measure to apply penalties at the school average level — simiilar to a bill that did not make its way through the spring 2015 session.

“I’ve been talking about this since I came on the board four years ago,” Chartrand said. “I want to make sure I’m vocal on my issue.”

He said the board could add the idea to its legislative priority list, or deal with the item individually. Other board members said they would like more information.

“I want to be very clear, at this moment we are all in agreement that we’d like to hear more,” chairwoman Marva Johnson said.

The board asked staff to bring more details to its next meeting in September.

Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg said in a telephone interview that he fully expected a class size bill to be filed. He said he would not stand in its way, but “I will consistently vote no. … That’s what the voters wanted.”

Sumter County superintendent Richard Shirley told the board that the Florida Association of District School Superintendents supports changing the amendment. He noted that when schools in his small district must reorganize classes to cope with new students who push classrooms out of compliance, it disrupts education in a way that’s “counterintuitive to what we wanted.”

“The parents of the 21 children we moved weren’t that happy with the class size amendment,” Shirley said after giving an example.

No class size bills have yet been filed for the 2016 session. Committees are set to begin meeting in September.

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Florida taxpayers pay up: June special session cost $651,000

August 26, 2015 by



August 24, 2015| Miami Herald

by: Gary Fineout|Associated Press


A messy budget fight that forced Florida’s legislators to hold an unusual June special session cost taxpayers more than $651,000, according to figures released Monday by the Florida Senate.

The nine-day special session turned out to be the costliest special session in the last 15 years, and the most expensive one since Republicans took full control over state government with the election of Jeb Bush as governor.

Lawmakers last Friday wrapped up a 12-day special session where they failed to draw up a new congressional map despite a court ruling ordering them to do so. Those totals are not yet finalized.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, pointed out the higher cost for the June special session was largely due to the length of the session. Most special sessions since 2000 have lasted less than a week. Betta noted that the average daily cost for the June session was slightly more than $72,000, which was a lower daily cost than three other sessions including one held during the summer of 2014.

Legislators were forced to hold a June special session because the House and Senate had a bitter disagreement over health care spending and Medicaid expansion during the regular session held in the spring. The House abruptly adjourned three and a half days early due to the standoff.

The Legislature is scheduled to hold its third special session of the year in October when lawmakers are scheduled to adopt new districts for the state Senate. Lawmakers will then return in January for their annual session. The 2016 date was moved up from the normal March starting date.

Senate records show that the second costliest special session in the last 15 years occurred in October 2007. Then House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt called a special session to deal with property taxes. Taxpayers spent nearly $309,000 for a session which last five days long.

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House passes baseline map, reigniting tension with Senate

August 19, 2015 by


by: Matt Dixon|Politico Florida

August 18, 2015

The full House on Tuesday passed baseline congressional maps impacting a handful of incumbents and, in the process, re-ignited a tension with the Senate that dominated much of last spring’s legislative session.

Lawmakers are in the final week of a special session needed to redraw congressional lines after the Florida Supreme Court ruled the current lawmaker-drawn districts were drawn to favor Republicans, something at odds with state anti-gerrymandering provisions.

To begin the special session, the Legislature used maps drawn by staff—without any input from members—to insulate the new maps from partisan influences.

The House passage of that baseline map came on a 76-35 vote, with nine Republican voting against the plan and nine Democrats joining with the GOP majority.

Many of the Republicans opposing the plan resented what they deemed judicial overreach.

“I am not going to agree with the Supreme Court that I broke my oath,” said state Rep. Doug Broxson of Gulf Breeze.

In the wake of justices tossing the lawmaker-drawn maps, some Republican members have called for legislation during the 2016 session that takes aim at the court.

“Whatever ideas that are out there, I think we should listen and hear what they are,” Charles McBurney, a Jacksonville Republican who chairs the chamber’s judiciary committee, said after the House grudgingly approved the baseline maps.

Some Democrats came to the defense of the courts, saying the Republican-led Legislature, not the courts, violated the constitution.

“We’re not here because of the courts. We’re here because of the former leadership of this chamber,” said House Minority Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach.

Whether or not to pass the baseline maps is where the newest rift between the two chambers emerges. The House decided to pass the map unchanged, while the Senate has passed at least one amendment to the baseline map and could consider more.

In a vocal jab at the Senate, Republican state Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach said the Senate should not have changed the map, and was also critical of its decision to settle a separate lawsuit that challenged the state Senate maps.

As part of the settlement, the Senate acknowledged its maps were drawn at odds with the state anti-gerrymandering provisions. Because of this, Gaetz said, the Senate has no leverage to redraw the maps or be critical of the judiciary.

“When you have legislators confessing to unconstitutional conduct … I don’t know if that’s the time to be critical of another branch of government,” he said. “They are tinkering with the maps … the nerve.”

Gaetz was specifically angered that, as part of the settlement, the Legislature gives up its “constitutional presumption of correctness,” which assumes legislation passed by the Legislature is legal until proven otherwise. It means when lawmakers return to Tallahassee in October for a special session to redraw the state Senate maps, lawmakers will have the burden of proving any changes they make are legal.

“The House made a mistake by not objecting to that position, in my opinion,” Gaetz said.

The relationship between the two chambers has been acrimonious after a political slugfest during the regular legislative session over health care funding led to very vocal feud. That, in part, derailed the regular session and forced lawmakers into legislative overtime to pass a state budget.

The fight was most fierce over Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. The Senate wanted to draw down nearly $50 billion in federal money over eight years, while the House refused to pass a plan that used additional federal funds for coverage.

Until this point of the special session, any residual tension has been rendered moot because each chamber had been working on its own plan. In fact, members have been reluctant to discuss the process with anyone out of fear it could prompt another rejection by the courts.

“I don’t think anyone is talking to anyone right now,” state Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon said Monday.

For the House and Senate to work out differences in their plans, however, the map-drawers in both chambers must now work together.

So, will tension rule during the final days of special session?

“I hope not,” said Senate redistricting chairman Bill Galvano of Bradenton. “That is certainly not the perspective I bring to the table, and don’t have any indication other member of the Senate, including the president, have that perspective.”

He said the state Supreme Court’s ruling faulted both chambers for allowing political consultants to impact the map-drawing process.

“Whether you agree with that or not, we are in this together,” Galvano said.

The unchanged baseline map impacts a handful of incumbent members of Congress from both parties.

It puts Republican Rep. Dan Webster of Orlando in a seat that becomes much more Democratic-leaning. His 10th Congressional District is now nearly impossible for a Republican to win, and has already prompted high-profile Democrat Val Demings, the former Orlando police chief, to get in the race.

The new map also forced Republican Rep. David Jolly to run for U.S. Senate. His Pinellas County seat gets an influx of Democratic voters under the new plan, which makes the swing seat a likely easy pickup for Democrats.

In North Florida, Democrat Gwen Graham of Tallahassee is now left in a seat that picks up large swaths of conservative North-Central Florida, a change that has stoked rumors she will either move or run for U.S. Senate.

The political realities for those members are not altered greatly in the Senate’s plan, which will be considered for the first time by the full chamber on Wednesday.

Its version’s biggest change removes Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key from Hillsborough County, decreasing that county’s splits from three to two. It was a top priority of Lee, who authored the amendment that was passed Monday by the Senate redistricting committee.

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Is Florida’s new test valid? Study due Sept. 1 should give answers

August 19, 2015 by


by: Leslie Postal|Orlando Sentinel

August 19, 2015

The study to determine whether Florida’s new standardized test is a valid one is due in Tallahassee on Sept. 1. The study of the Florida Standards Assessments is being run by two outside testing companies that have filed detailed reports on what they’ve done — but provided few clues on what, if anything, they’ve determined so far.

The study, required by the Florida Legislature, has held up the release of scores from the new FSA, a series of standardized tests in language arts and math. The scores were due out in early June

The study was mandated after the FSA’s roll out was marred by technology problems, and some educators questioned whether it had been properly vetted and field tested. The FSA replaced most of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or FCAT.

The two firms are looking at how the FSA questions were selected and at how well the test matched with the Florida Standards, the state’s version of Common Core, among other questions. The FSA is meant to test whether students met those Common Core academic benchmarks.

The monthly report filed July 31 detailed meetings the testing company officials have held with staff from the Florida Department of Education and with school district administrators, who’ve been asked for their feedback on the 2015 administration of the FSA.

It noted the companies have collected more than 650 documents related to the FSA and looked at more than 200 test items, studying whether they met “best practices in assessment design,” used appropriate language for the grade level, targeted “intended depth of knowledge” and were free of bias.

The firms also have looked at how FSA questions, leased from Utah’s state test, were field tested.

But company officials have given no hint about whether they think the FSA is a well-put together and valid exam – or if they’ve spotted problems.

“Those monthly reports haven’t really said anything about what they’ve been finding but what they’be been doing,” said Brandon McKelvey, the Orange County school district’s senior director of accountability, at a recent school board meeting.

McKelvey said the final report should provide some answers but also likely will be more technical then many educators and parents (and reporters) would like.

After all, it’s an “independent verification of the psychometric validity” of the FSA.

“The first page will not have in giant red letters valid or not valid,” he said.

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Invest in Children, Not Testing. It’s That Simple.

August 17, 2015 by

Originally posted on Creative by Nature:

“The best schools keep their eye on the prize—the kids—not just whether they are pleasing higher civil authorities. They see the job of adults as one of nurturing intelligence and empathy, openness to the world, while cherishing their children’s uniqueness. They stay close to families, and see teachers and parents as allies not adversaries.” ~Deborah Meier

kids drawing

Decades of research has shown that solutions to education problems are not unknown or complicated, they just require a shift of priorities, and a willingness to put money into innovations that have proven themselves to be effective. They require a paradigm shift, providing financial support for educational approaches that will nurture the healthy growth and learning of children in a community.

Here is what the research tells us: We don’t need more money for state testing and national standards, what is needed is greater investment in successful teaching approaches, support services and innovative programs, so that high quality learning opportunities can be provided to all children. Money for teachers, dental and medical…

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Broward could be on hook for $1.8 million charter school debt

August 15, 2015 by


by: Scott Travis|Sun Sentinel

August 14, 2015

Broward County schools may have to repay $1.8 million owed by two closed charter schools.

Obama Academy for Boys and Red Shoe Charter for Girls, both in Fort Lauderdale, agreed to close after frequent disputes with the district. But a recent State Auditor General report found the jointly owned schools could not verify their enrollments for the 2013-14 school year and therefore the state is owed $729,000. The district expects to be on the hook for another $1.1 million because the school also failed to keep proper enrollment records this past school year, said Patrick Reilly, chief auditor for Broward schools.

The state will likely withhold that money from future district allocations, even though the charter schools have closed.

“School districts are accountable for monitoring their charter schools. Therefore, any audit finding affecting a charter school is ultimately the responsibility of the sponsoring school district,” said Claudia Claussen, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

She wouldn’t comment on the actual amount that could be withheld, saying department officials haven’t seen the audit yet.

“There’s no way to recover anything from the schools,” Superintendent Robert Runcie said. “The district is liable for their shortfall. It’s going to impact students in the district who will no longer have those funds available to meet their needs.”

Angry School Board members pledged to lobby to change state laws so charter schools would be required to have surety bonds or other financial means to ensure taxpayers aren’t responsible for school debts.

“We’re paying for their fines, and that’s wrong,” Board member Robin Bartleman said. “They need to put something in place where the schools are personally liable for their own fines. They don’t govern appropriately, they waste money and now the state is withholding money from us? It’s deplorable.”

Charter schools receive public dollars but are independently operated and governed by a volunteer board. A Sun Sentinel investigation last year found state laws not only make it easy to open a charter school but difficult to hold them accountable. Local districts can only immediately close charter schools when they threaten a student’s health or welfare.

The district closed the two schools after three years of financial and academic problems, violations of state law and breaches of contract with the district, records show. District officials say the schools failed to give student report cards, did not disclose how they spent tax dollars and failed to provide adequate services to students with special needs.

Enrollment issues were not specifically part of the district’s decision to terminate the school.

“The school district laid out a long list of legal and operational things, and we agreed to voluntarily terminate our contract, but questions or concerns about enrollment never came up, This is the first I ‘m hearing about them,” said Corey Alston, the school’s founder.

Reilly said the state audit came out after the School Board approved the termination agreement.

Ralph Arza, a lobbyist for the Florida Charter School Alliance, said his groups supports reforms that would prevent charter schools from misusing money.

“It’s completely unfair to take from our traditional schools to pay for the mistakes of adults,” Arza said. “We support anything that protects taxpayers.”

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‘Community School’ Concept Takes Root in Florida

August 11, 2015 by
Part of the curriculum at Evans High School


August 10, 2015

Evans High School in Orange County used to be known as a dropout factory. But since 2007, it’s gone from a double-F to a B school – in one of Orlando’s most troubled neighborhoods. Now, the “community school” concept is spreading to other Florida cities.

Evans High School is in a neighborhood called Pine Hills, where homes and businesses have bars at the windows. One student, found carrying a Taser, said it was due to her dangerous route home. The neighborhood has exceptionally high rates of juvenile crime and referrals to the Florida Department of Children and Families.

“We have long said at the Department of Children and Families that if we’re ever going to get our arms around neglect and abuse, it has to be a community-wide effort.”

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll. He says Evans has succeeded by becoming what’s called a “community school” — addressing the barriers to student success in a high-risk neighborhood.

“Everything from getting a child to school when they need to be there to making sure they’re fed when they arrive at school to making sure it’s safe going back and forth to school. If there are issues at home that may impact the child’s ability to learn when they get to school, that there’s assistance to do that…”

And Evans has shown that the strategy works. From a 50-percent graduation rate in 2007, the school now graduates 80 percent. From an enrollment of 1600, it’s now more than 2400. The secret? Evans principal Jenny Gibson-Linkh says it’s understanding what keeps students from arriving at school ready to learn.

Like abscessed teeth.

“We’re talking about diabetes, we’re talking about, you know, students who can’t afford insulin, who aren’t taking insulin on a regular basis, whose sugar is up and down all the time. You’re talking about students who aren’t eating on a regular basis, so they’ve having difficulties with high blood pressure.”

Evans is the first a community school in the state, spear-headed by the University of Central Florida, the Orange County Public Schools and the Children’s Home Society. The school offers health care, dental care and mental-health care. There’s a huge demand for counseling, says Jarvis Wheeler, director of the community school, and the counselors push their caseloads to meet it.

“A lot of times, our mental-health counselors, they’re seeing members in the community that they couldn’t let go of their caseload, or they’re seeing some of the parents, or they even have groups.”

Evans also serves dinner and keeps pantries stocked with healthy snacks. Working with Second Harvest, the school offers classes in preparing nutritious meals — which students can then take home. And Dave Bundy, director of UCF’s Center for Community Schools and Child Welfare Innovation, says food was a big factor in getting the tutoring program off the ground.

“We weren’t getting the attendance we had hoped for, so we asked the kids and the community school counselor. They just looked at us and said, ‘Feed ’em.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ They said, ‘Everyone here is hungry. If you have food, they’re going to come to tutoring.’ So we started feeding ’em, and ten times the number of kids came.”

The University of Central Florida — which has a 25-year commitment to Evans — provides tutors for students and support for faculty. A community school starts with four key partners: a university, a school district, a health-care provider and a lead non-profit. From there, says UCF administrator Nancy Ellis, the partners may differ but the strategy is the same.

“Being very deliberate about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Making sure the partners are on board. Making sure that each step of the way, that what we’re doing is most important and most applicable for the kids, and the families, and the community.”

Members of the Tallahassee City Commission toured Evans in June, with an eye toward starting a community school on the city’s violent south side. Commissioner Gil Ziffer says without seeing Evans, it’s hard to grasp how quickly the school turned around.

“It’s incredible — but it can be done. And it’s not rocket science. Food… mental health… dentistry… and overall health care helps kids learn. We can do that here.”

This year the Legislature allocated $900,000 to encourage the development of community schools. Three new ones are underway: in Brevard, Escambia and Pasco counties.

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Voucher program’s accountability cloudy

August 2, 2015 by


BY: Rich Christie

Palm Beach Post| August 2, 2015


By most measures, one would consider Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program a success.

After about 14 years, some 70,000 mostly low-income and minority students annually take advantage of vouchers that allow them the opportunity to attend any private school of their choice. And according to several studies, the program

— which provides dollar-for-dollar tax credits to companies that donate money to nonprofit entities — also saves the state millions of dollars every year in per-pupil funding for public education.

In the face of unsuccessful lawsuits from statewide education groups like the Florida Education Association, state lawmakers have continued to expand the popular program. This school year, an expansion of the program will allow a family of four earning up to $62,010 a year to be eligible for at least a partial scholarship, a nearly $20,000 boost from the current $43,568 annual income limit.

Proponents argue that it is a natural expansion of offering parents a choice of where they want their kids to attend school, and that helping poor kids will remain the top priority. But critics argue this expansion also raises an important issue: accountability.

The Post Editorial Board recently put these questions to Jon East and Ron Matus, vice president and director of Policy and Public Affairs, respectively, for Step Up for Students (SUFS), the state’s primary administrator of the voucher program.


POST: How do you answer people when they charge that vouchers are siphoning money from public schools?

EAST: This year, there was roughly $330 million in contributions to the program, serving 70,000 students at about 1,500 schools around the state. About 97 percent of the money is used directly for scholarships, and the rest for administrative costs.

Yes, the money does follow the child. But there’ve been about seven different studies since the program began, and all show that the SUFS actually saves taxpayer money.

The amount of the scholarship is so much less than what would normally be paid to educate that student in public school. So while the student is leaving and the money is leaving, it’s costing taxpayers less to fund that student in a private school. We estimate about 60 cents on the public school dollar for per-pupil funding.

POST: Are you comfortable with the change to 260 percent of poverty to qualify for a voucher this academic year?

MATUS: There are several caveats to that. First, these wouldn’t be full scholarships. They will be partial scholarships, and will be graduated until you get to that 260 percent. Second, none of those higher income families will get a scholarship unless all of the qualifying lower-income families get one first.

The demand continues to be huge. We just had to cut off applications in May because the demand is so high for a limited number of scholarships.

POST: Is there any accountability for the quality of the private school the scholarship student attends?

EAST: Accountability in the purest sense, no. Transparency, absolutely. Every year, since 2006, every student has been required under law to take a nationally known reference test that’s approved by the state. Most of them take the Stanford Achievement Test Series, which is pretty much the gold standard.

The state reports the results of those tests every year. And beginning in 2010, they began doing something that I think was even smarter: they began to report the test results per school.

That’s very important for a program like this. It’s indirect, but it is public money. You can’t have a program like this unless you have a way to demonstrate it has value.

POST: If you have a school whose students are consistently under-performing, you keep giving them vouchers anyway?

EAST: That certainly could be the case. Under current law, there is no provision that a school could be removed from the program based on test scores.

POST: Is there anything at all that can cause a school to be removed from the program?

EAST: There’s a variety of things, but they’re not academic. There are compliance issues, i.e. health and safety, fire inspections, etc.

There have been schools that have been removed from the program for compliance types of issues; unsafe buildings, etc. But not academic.

But what you’re getting at is something that will be a debate. This program is still fledgling — after about 14 years — still growing and evolving. And as the data comes in, we will see schools that are repeated low-performers, and then there’s going to be a really interesting debate about what to do.

POST: But should taxpayers be concerned their money is being used to take kid from a well-functioning public school, and put them into a failing private school?

EAST: Here is what we know. Can a school be kicked off the program for poor results under current law? No.

We know from the data gathered every year since 2006 that consistently the students that are choosing to enter the program from a public school are in fact achieving at the lowest academic levels in the school they are leaving behind. And they are coming from the schools that are disproportionately low-performing.

That kid’s behind and just needs another environment, like a small school.

Second thing we know is that every year that they’ve been tested, the kids achieved, statistically (.1 or .2), the same gains in reading and math as all students who take the test. Which is to say, a national sample of all income levels .

POST: Are these kids getting standardized tests on things other than reading and math?

EAST: They are not. They are getting history and science, yes. But not being tested.

POST: Are they being taught evolution versus creationism at the religious schools? Is that being asked by SUFS? Are there standards based on their curriculum?

EAST: There are not. The teachers do not have to be certified. The schools do not have to be accredited.

POST: Is that a gap or hole in the program that needs to be filled? What about accountability?

EAST: Accountability isn’t just regulation. Accountability also comes with choice. When a parent can decide whether or not he or she wants to leave a school because their kid may or may not be learning, there’s accountability there too.

We don’t yet know how to regulate this. And it may be that we don’t regulate all schools in the same way necessarily because they are different.

Fortunately, so far, they fall into sort of the same bell curve as the public schools fall into. A bunch in the middle, some towards the end. But we haven’t seen a school where the test scores are horrendous.

POST: So how do you help parents shop?

EAST: Not well enough. But that industry is going to spring up. We don’t do that, but at some point, folks will come along to fill that vacuum to help parents look across all spectrums and get what they want: “I will help you shop for a school.”

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Lawmakers in Tallahassee continue to get richer

August 2, 2015 by



Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

August 1, 2015

In the wake of the Great Recession, which left the average Florida family struggling to make ends meet, at least one group of people continues to get richer: It pays to be elected to the state House or Senate.

Of the 160 lawmakers elected to the state Legislature, 114 have increased their own personal wealth while in office, a Herald/Times analysis of officials’ financial statements found.

On average, lawmakers’ net worth has more than doubled from the year of their first campaign through 2014. Their incomes have generally risen, too, by 63 percent on average. For some legislators, years spent in elected office have accompanied multi-million-dollar increases to their net worth.

It’s a stark contrast to the reality most Floridians face.

The average worker’s pay is higher now than in 2010, but it still falls short of the paychecks Floridians brought home before the 2007 downturn, when adjusted for inflation. Many who saw their home values plummet and 401(k)s shredded have never recovered.

“For a lot of people, it seems like they’re running in place just to stay where they are,” said Scott Brown, chief economist for St. Petersburg-based Raymond James. “A lot of that is the nature of the recession … This wasn’t going to be a quick bounce-back.”

An economic rift between many elected officials and their constituents isn’t necessarily new, says Ben Wilcox, research director at Integrity Florida, a state government watchdog. Even through the recession, the vast majority of lawmakers accumulated wealth.

“It’s still a picture of a relatively wealthy group of individuals,” Wilcox said. “And in very few cases does it appear that public service is hurting their ability to earn money.”


When Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, was first elected to the Legislature in 2000, he earned $50,000 a year for his work at the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce. By 2007, he was preparing for a Senate run and earning twice as much between his House salary and his ongoing work at the chamber.

Then came an even bigger bump. Last year, Gardiner reported earning $297,282, mostly from Orlando Health, where he is now vice president of external affairs and community relations.

“I certainly don’t think that my role in the Legislature had anything to do with that,” he said. “My hope is that when my time is done in a year, or less than a year, that I’ll still be there.”

Still, after 14 years as a lawmaker, including through the recession, his net worth has quadrupled and he’s earning almost six times more per year.

He’s not alone.

All told, 13 lawmakers became millionaires after being elected to the House or Senate. The wealthiest member of the Legislature, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, saw his net worth rise from $24 million to nearly $27 million during his eight years in office.

House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa became a millionaire while serving in the House, mostly due to a joint investment valued at almost $3 million.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, the Democratic leader from Tampa, wasn’t a millionaire when she was elected to the House in 2000, but she is now. Joyner hasn’t spent a day out of elected office in that time.

Neither Young nor Joyner responded to requests for comment.

It’s nearly impossible to tell whether these financial successes are directly tied to lawmakers’ role in the Legislature, but Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, says he’s seen some questionable new jobs.

“Individuals end up getting some interesting promotions or what they consider lateral moves in their careers to the tune of significant bumps in salary,” said Bullard, a schoolteacher who earned $54,900 in 2013 and has not yet filed his 2014 financial disclosure. “It should cause people to question. It should make you wonder where those dollars are coming from.”

In South Florida especially, the wealth of sitting legislators has soared. On average, members of the Legislature from Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties have seen their wealth nearly triple and incomes almost double in the time since they were first elected.

Much of this comes from big gains by some of the state’s richest public officials. Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, and Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, crack the top five with personal wealth valued around $14 million each.


Lawmakers earning considerable amounts of money from outside jobs and investments is largely a side effect of having a part-time legislature.

Most years, House and Senate members are expected to be in Tallahassee for just three or four months. They earn nearly $30,000 for the job, which most supplement with other work.

The goal is to ensure that the people writing the laws have experience in the areas they affect, allowing teachers and school administrators to weigh in on education policy and doctors to have a say in health care regulations.

“We want people from diverse backgrounds in the Legislature, whether they have an agricultural background or are a lawyer or a doctor,” Gardiner said.

But Wilcox from Integrity Florida worries some perspectives are shut out because low- and middle-income people cannot afford to run for office, let alone leave their jobs for months.

“You would hope that there would be more schoolteachers and regular working people that would be able to run for office and bring that perspective to public policy discussions,” he said. “But I think we may be self-selecting the type of people that can actually afford to serve.”

This, Wilcox says, could help explain why so many of the people who run for and win seats in the Legislature are wealthy from the get-go.

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‘Charter school district’ proposed – Superintendent wants greater flexibility to improve education

July 31, 2015 by


By Andrew Marra Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

July 30, 2015|

Palm Beach County’s schools chief wants permission from state lawmakers to convert the county’s public school system into a “charter school district,” a designation that could let him end-run state rules and drastically reorganize schools’ schedules, class sizes and instruction time.

Superintendent Robert Avossa’s proposal would require approval from state lawmakers and the support of the county’s School Board. If granted, he said the extra freedom would allow the county’s traditional public schools to better compete with charter schools, which have more flexibility under state law and are attracting thousands of new students each year.

“If we’re going to compete with charter schools, then I think as a district we need to be given the same level of autonomy,” he told School Board members Wednesday.

Avossa unveiled his proposal at Wednesday’s School Board meeting, drawing on his experience in Georgia where he oversaw Fulton County’s conversion into a charter school district.

Despite its shorthand name, the proposal does not entail converting traditional schools into charter schools. Instead, Avossa’s proposal would free district-run schools from some of the regulations that he said make it difficult for them to tailor their educational offerings to students’ particular needs.

Avossa called Florida’s reams of public school regulations well-intended but said they are “creating a maze of barriers” that impede the schools’ ability “to be nimble and react to what the public demands.”

“A one-size-fits-all approach does not work,” he said.

It’s not clear that state lawmakers will take up Avossa’s proposal. For years, Florida had a more narrow provision in place to let county school systems, including Palm Beach County’s, obtain “charter school district” status and avoid certain state regulations. But the program eventually was allowed to expire.

A key state lawmaker expressed skepticism about Avossa’s plan Thursday, saying that state law already permits school systems to get around many regulations by declaring certain schools “schools of innovation.”

“What’s in the existing statute that doesn’t allow you to do those things already?” asked state Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, chairman of the Senate’s education committee and a charter school operator. “When superintendents ask those questions and we probe a little bit, they’re often not asking for what they pretend to be asking for.”

Avossa said one of the greatest benefits of converting to charter school status would be freedom from state rules that require students to spend a minimum number of hours taking certain classes , even if they already have mastered the subject.

Getting around those requirements could let students spend less time on subjects they already know and more time on ones they need more help with, he said.

“We’re essentially (doing) what? Holding back the most advanced kids,” he said.

In Fulton County, Avossa used charter school district status to set up individual boards of directors at each district-run school.

Those boards, composed of parents, teachers and business leaders, had broad authority to decide things like the schools’ schedules and course offerings. Some chose to extend the school year, while others kept the school day running longer into the afternoon.

School Board members said they liked the idea of asking the Legislature for greater flexibility, saying it would help them create more attractive schooling options.

Board members have worried for years about the steady exodus of students to charter schools. Nearly one in nine of the school system’s 186,000 students is expected to attend a charter school next year.

“Just tell them we want a level playing field,” School Board Vice Chairman Frank Barbieri said. “They love charter schools in Tallahassee, so tell them we want to be charter schools.”

Board member Mike Murgio, a former charter school principal, said traditional schools “should operate under the same rules as any charter school can.”

“You get the money and you do what you know is best for your children and meet their needs,” he said.

Board member Karen Brill said she was generally supportive but expressed caution, saying that she needed more information about the proposal before endorsing it.

“There’s a lot of questions out there that people have,” she said.

School district officials say they would bring back a more detailed plan to board members before they finalize their legislative agenda next month.

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