HB 7069 Archives - Florida Politics

High-profile Florida Supreme Court cases still hanging fire at year’s end

Partly because they came late to the court this year, some high-profile cases before the Florida Supreme Court will remain unresolved by the close of 2017.

As of this writing, the court’s weekly opinion release was going to be on holiday hiatus until Jan. 11, though “out-of-calendar releases” are still possible, a spokesman said.

Here are a few of those pending matters, starting with the court’s official summary:

— Herssein & Herssein v. United Services Automobile Association: “This case asks whether judges commit an ethical violation if they are Facebook ‘friends’ with litigants in cases pending before them.”

The justices decided to weigh in after an August ruling by the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeal that rejected a request to disqualify Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko.

The dispute stems from Butchko being a Facebook friend of attorney Israel Reyes, who was hired to represent an insurance-company executive in a case before her.

The Herssein Law Group is seeking the disqualification; it sued a former client, United Services Automobile Association, for alleged breach of contract and fraud.

— School Board of Alachua County v. Richard Corcoran: “This case involves a challenge to an education bill passed by the 2017 Legislature.”

A group of school boards is asking the court to block a wide-ranging education law passed this May. The boards filed a constitutional challenge to the bill, known by its number, HB 7069.

The 274-page bill, backed by House Speaker Corcoran, deals with controversial subjects such as charter schools and teacher bonuses. The challenge contends that the law violates part of the Florida Constitution that requires legislation to deal with single subjects.

Those named in the case are the school boards of Alachua, Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties.

(Ed. Note: The Supreme Court has since transferred the case to a Tallahassee trial court to handle.)

— International Association of Firefighters v. State of Florida: “This case involves a challenge to the Governor’s 2015 veto of firefighter pay raises.”

The union wants the court to strike down Gov. Rick Scott‘s 2015 veto of pay raises for the state’s firefighters.

The 1st District Court of Appeal previously ruled that Scott’s veto of $2,000 pay raises did not violate collective-bargaining rights. That court said Scott acted within his authority to veto spending items in the state budget, and that lawmakers could have overridden the veto but did not.

The Legislature included the $2,000 raises for firefighters in budget fine print known as “proviso” language, which Scott subsequently vetoed.

Attorneys for the state say the appeals court “merely applied a clearly articulated constitutional right” of the governor to veto spending items.

— Dante Martin v. State of Florida: “This case challenges criminal convictions related to a college hazing incident.”

Martin is appealing his convictions in the 2011 hazing death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion. Oral argument is set for Feb. 7.

Martin and Champion were both members of the school’s famed “Marching 100” band. Champion, 26, succumbed to internal injuries after a brutal beating ritual with fists, mallets and drumsticks in a band bus that was parked outside a game in Orlando.

According to an Associated Press story, “the case brought into focus the culture of hazing in the band, which was suspended for more than a year while officials tried to clean up the program.”

Martin, now 30, was sentenced in 2015 to 6 years and 5 months in prison on felony manslaughter and hazing charges, according to the Department of Corrections website. He is currently serving his time in the Wakulla Work Camp, with a release date of April 2020.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this post, republished with permission.

Jim Rosica’s review of top state government stories of 2017

Spoiler alert: If you’re a regular of this site, and reading this story, you can guess what the #1 pick is.

Otherwise, 2017 still offered a bounty of material to Tallahassee’s reporting ranks. We still chuckle at the uninitiated who ask, “What do you write about when the Legislature isn’t in session?”

Without further ado, here’s the admittedly subjective list of the Top 10 (and a half) stories to come out of the Capitol in the Year That Was:

#10 — State finally passes ride-sharing legislation: After years of trying, lawmakers OK’d, and Gov. Rick Scott signed, a bill (HB 221) creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft. In fact, lawmakers had considered such legislation for four years before passing a bill this year.

The legislation, among other things, requires Uber, Lyft and similar “transportation network companies” to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged into the app, but hasn’t yet secured a passenger. When a driver gets a ride, they need to have $1 million in coverage.

The bill also requires companies to have third parties run criminal background checks on drivers. It also pre-empts local ordinances and other rules on transportation network companies, or TNCs.

The losers? Local governments, whose attempts to regulate or rein in ride-share got pre-empted, and, well, taxi companies.

#9 — Rick Scott, Aramis Ayala and the debate over the death penalty: Ayala, a Democrat and the Orlando area’s top prosecutor, enraged Scott and conservative lawmakers when she announced in March she would not seek capital punishment in any murder cases.

Scott, a Naples Republican, began unilaterally reassigning death penalty-eligible cases to another state attorney. Republican Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs called for Ayala to be removed from office for dereliction of duty.

The controversy made it to the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled Scott has the authority to transfer murder cases away because she refuses to pursue death. Ayala, elected in 2016, responded by announcing she would set up a special panel to review the death penalty’s appropriateness of each case.

But as of this month, Ayala and Scott were still sniping, with the governor accusing her of missing a deadline and blowing a capital punishment prosecution. Ayala denied that but did cut a plea deal with Emerita Mapp, in which she pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence for a Kissimmee slaying.

#8 — Puerto Rico migration could remake Central Florida: With many still without power after Hurricane Maria slammed the island in September, more than 250,000 residents of Puerto Rico have now decamped to Florida, most to the Central Florida region, with one advocate calling it a “migration of biblical proportions.”

Curbed said the “sudden influx will also put pressure on housing, social services, and the job market that have yet to be fully addressed by state, local, and federal officials.”

But Scott ordered the opening of “disaster relief centers” providing state services to thousands. Cortes filed a bill to address housing needs for evacuees. Sen. Vic Torres, a Kissimmee Democrat, pressed FEMA to provide more housing relief. U.S. Reps. Darren SotoStephanie Murphy, and Dennis Ross co-signed a letter to the feds for Florida get its full funding as a host state to support the migration.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is working on a plan to allow Puerto Rican high schoolers to receive Puerto Rico diplomas in Florida, in case they can’t meet Florida’s graduation requirements. And those are just a few examples.

#7 — The fight over HB 7069: The wide-ranging education law passed this May — a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran — has been called a “brew of bad policy” and “a textbook example of a failure in government transparency” by opponents.

They say it will benefit charter schools to the detriment of traditional public schools. Supporters counter that it “helps all students” by holding failing public schools to account.

The law offers all kinds of changes, including requiring recess and reducing mandatory testing. It accelerates state tax dollar funding to for-profit and nonprofit charter and private schools, expands parents’ abilities to choose schools, and tightens Tallahassee’s control over what local school boards can and cannot do.

A group of school boards sued in the Supreme Court to block the law; the justices, in a 4-3 decision, have since transferred the case to a Tallahassee trial court to handle. 

#6 — Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA survive a hit: Corcoran went full frontal this year, trying to scuttle Scott’s favored organizations and a multitude of business incentives last Legislative Session.

He derided Enterprise Florida, the state’s jobs-creating organization, as little more than a dispenser of “corporate welfare.” Though a public-private partnership, it doles out mostly public dollars.

He slammed VISIT FLORIDA, the tourism marketing group, for secret deals and an overall lack of transparency. Scott and lawmakers eventually worked out a deal to save the agencies and create an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, focused on promoting public infrastructure and job training.

Meantime, the organizations now are subject to heightened oversight. And Ken Lawson, the former DBPR secretary whom Scott moved to head the tourism agency, toured the state to meet with local tourism leaders. “I want to earn your trust and learn from you first hand. This has been a hard year for all of us,” he said.

#5 — Special elections churn the Legislature: The turnover in legislative seats began with former South Florida Sen. Frank Artiles resigning after an epithet-laden tirade against two black lawmakers was made public, eventually leading to the seat flipping to a Democrat, Annette TaddeoRepublican Jose Felix Diaz lost that race but had to resign the House to run, meaning his House seat is open.

Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson quit the House this year for health reasons; Republican Lawrence McClure won the District 58 seat in a December special election. Republican Alex Miller, just elected in 2016, also resigned her Sarasota-area House seat this summer. She cited a need to “spend more time at home than my service in the Legislature would allow.”

But wait — there’s more. Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens quit after his extramarital affair with a lobbyist came to light. Republican Neil Combee resigned the House to take a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the GOP’s Eric Eisnaugle also left the House to become an appellate judge, and Democrat Rep. Daisy Baez resigned before pleading guilty to perjury in a criminal case over her residency in Coral Gables-based House District 114.

#5(a) — Speaking of Artiles … : He resigned his Senate seat rather than face a hearing that could result in his expulsion. The Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at The Governors Club.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor, but Thurston filed a Senate rules complaint. Artiles, elected to the Senate in 2016 after six years in the House, initially called efforts to remove him politically motivated. (Sound familiar?)

#4 Speaking of Clemens … : The Lake Worth Democrat was the first in the Legislature this year to resign after reports of sexual misconduct. “I have made mistakes I ashamed of, and for the past six months I have been focused on becoming a better person,” he said in a statement to news media. 

“But it is clear to me that task is impossible to finish while in elected office. The process won’t allow it, and the people of Florida deserve better. All women deserve respect, and by my actions, I feel I have failed that standard. I have to do better.”

Clemens, the incoming Senate Democratic Leader, apologized for having an affair with a lobbyist during the last legislative session. That woman “came into possession of Clemens’ laptop, gained access to all his contacts and personal information, then informed his wife of the tryst,” according to POLITICO Florida.

#3 — Jimmy Patronis replaces Jeff Atwater: Patronis had been a Panama City restaurateurstate representative and Public Service Commissioner when Scott tapped him to replace Atwater and become the state’s fourth Chief Financial Officer this June. Atwater quit his term early to become chief financial officer of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

As CFO, Patronis — a Scott loyalist — now is one vote on the Florida Cabinet, in addition to Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. And he has since announced he will seek a full term as CFO in 2018.

The position heads a roughly 2,600-employee agency that includes the state treasury and insurance regulators, as well as being state fire marshal. The CFO also oversees management of the state’s multibillion-dollar financial portfolio. The office was created after the 1997-98 Constitution Revision Commission recommended collapsing several state departments into one, including Insurance, Treasury, State Fire Marshal and Banking and Finance.

#2 — The politics and policy of Hurricane Irma responseIrma’s size and strength put the entire state on notice; thousands of residents and visitors left in advance of catastrophic winds and flooding.

The most significant casualties were in a South Florida nursing home. The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills was evacuated Sept. 13 after the facility lost power to its air conditioning system. Eight elderly residents died, with another six perishing in the weeks that followed. Most died from heat exposure. The deaths were later classified as homicides, with a police spokeswoman saying, “Who gets charged is part of the continuing investigation.”

Scott took his own heat after Democrats charged that he had ignored calls for help from the home’s administrators to his personal mobile phone; he said his staff took the messages and forwarded them to the appropriate state officials.

The governor also ordered an emergency generator rule to “ensur(e) that facilities across Florida are coming into compliance and are installing generators to keep their patients safe during a disaster,” he said. But the facilities themselves challenged that move.

The Florida House formed its own special panel to consider the state’s readiness to deal with monster hurricanes. The Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness has been meeting since October. 

#1 — Jack Latvala quits the SenateIn the face of two damning reports on his alleged serial sexual harassment, Latvala turned in his resignation, not effective till Jan. 5, on Dec. 20.

The Clearwater Republican said in a statement he “never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.” He first served in the Senate 1994-2002, then returned in 2010. Latvala was term-limited next year.

In his characteristically defiant manner, he said: “Political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.” The 66-year-old Latvala admitted, however, that he “ … perhaps (had not) kept up with political correctness in my comments as well as I should have.”

An investigative report found Latvala “on multiple occasions” offered to trade his vote for sex with an unnamed female lobbyist. That bombshell came toward the end of retired appellate Judge Ronald V. Swanson‘s report into a complaint filed by Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top aide to future Senate President Wilton Simpson.

Perrin Rogers accused Latvala of sexually harassing her and assaulting her on a number of occasions over several years. A second investigation into sexual harassment claims against Latvala, prompted by a POLITICO Florida story, turned up another witness who bolstered an allegation that the senator would offer to trade sex for favorable votes on legislation.

Florida Supreme Court decides to punt away HB 7069 challenge

In a 4-3 decision Tuesday, the Florida Supreme Court handed over a constitutional challenge to a contentious education law to a local court to handle.

Without explanation, the Supreme Court transferred the matter (SC17-1996) to the 2nd Judicial Circuit, headquartered across the street from the Capitol.

School Board of Alachua County v. House Speaker Richard Corcoran “involves a challenge to an education bill (HB 7069) passed by the 2017 Legislature,” the case’s official summary says.

A group of school boards want the court to block the law, championed by Corcoran.

“The 274-page bill makes many changes to state law, ranging from requiring elementary schools to offer daily recess and making it easier for teachers to win bonuses to letting charter schools get a share of school district construction money and making it easier for charters to move into areas with low-performing traditional public schools,” the Palm Beach Post explained.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga joined with conservative Justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson to transfer the case.

Left-leaning Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy A. Quince “would request responses,” the order said.

“The transfer of this case should not be construed as an adjudication or comment on the merits of the petition, nor as a determination that the transferee court has jurisdiction or that the petition has been properly denominated as a petition for writs of quo warranto and writs of mandamus,” said the court’s order.

“The transferee court should not interpret the transfer of this case as an indication that it must or should reach the merits of the petition,” it added. “The transferee court shall treat the petition as if it had been originally filed there … and is instructed to consider expediting the petition as it appears to be time sensitive based upon the allegations.

“However, a determination to expedite consideration is at the discretion of the transferee court,” the order said. “… No motion for rehearing will be entertained.”

Besides Alachua, the school boards of Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties joined the suit.

Its claims are that the law breaks the single-subject requirement in the Florida Constitution, its “title is overly generic and encompasses legislation on a wide variety of subjects,” and is a “prototypical example of logrolled’ legislation.”

Tampa Tiger Bay Club debates charter schools

A debate on traditional public schools vs. charter schools took front and center Friday at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club.

For 68 minutes, a group of education leaders of various backgrounds discussed the issue at the Ferguson Law Center.

Speaking out most prominently for charters was Doug Tuthill, the president of Step Up For Students, the nonprofit group that administers most of the tax credit and Gardiner scholarships in Florida.

He said when it comes to charter schools, the public is voting with its feet, referring to the explosive growth of his program, where there were 28,000 students on Step Up for Student scholarships in 2008, and 115,000 in 2017.

Leading the argument for traditional public schools was Melissa Erickson, the executive director of the Alliance for Public Schools.

She said that she did not fault a single parent for making the choice to attend any school that is available to them. What bothered her, she said, was that the vast majority chose.

“What bothers me is that the majority of parents choose public schools,” she said. “And in these debates and in these conversations, those 86-90 percent of parents’ choice is discounted, and I think that is a problem.”

It’s been a contentious issue for years in Florida, ever since the GOP-led Legislature and former Gov. Jeb Bush put the state on the leading edge of a national movement to offer parents alternatives to their neighborhood schools.

The intense acrimony increased this summer after the Florida Legislature’s passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 7069, which included the controversial ‘Schools of Hope’ provision that allows those charter schools to move into areas where traditional public schools have long records of low state test scores.

Tuthill frequently referred to himself as a progressive Democrat who has broken out of an ideological silo to realize that school choice is the best venue to offer a quality education to students who may live in an area where the public schools are poor. He accused critics of suffering from “confirmation bias” and Erickson specifically of having a “myopic” definition of public education.

“I think we need a more pluralistic understanding of public education,” Tuthill said, adding that someone who works for public radio could still serve the public good, just as someone can work for Academy Prep of Tampa and also serve the public good.

“It’s not a criticism of public schools,” he said. “We need to develop a public education system that embraces diversity.”

“We should be partners, not opponents, because we all want the same thing,” said Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively, trying to defuse the animosity between the two camps. “The public schools need to get their game on, and we can do that. Competition is in the educational marketplace.”

Snively told the audience that when advocates for a new charter school apply to the Hillsborough County School District, they need to go through a rigorous process.

“Once it comes to the board for approval or not, we know that it’s been vetted and every ‘t’ has been crossed and every ‘i’ has been dotted,” she said, adding that if the board rejects the application, they can go to Tallahassee to appeal.

Erickson disputed how much local control school boards have in making that determination, saying as long as the ” ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed, they have to say yes.” She went on to say that charter schools don’t need to show a certificate of need to be built, but public schools do in order to get capital outlay dollars.

There were two people on the dais directly linked to charter schools: Lincoln Tamayo, head of school at Academy Prep of Tampa, and Monika Perez, principal of Pepin Academy in Tampa, both critically acclaimed institutions.

Tamayo boasted about the fact that his school is made up completely of students of color—82 percent black and 18 percent Latino, with all of them having qualified for the federal free and reduced meals.

Nearly all the students live miles away from the Ybor City located campus where parents have to find transportation for the kids, yet the 98 percent attendance rate is the greatest of any middle school in Hillsborough County.

Erickson said Academy Prep’s success illustrated part of the perception problem that public schools face in 2017.

“We hold up a few shining examples of charter schools and use them to justify the entire system, and then we hold up a few failing examples of public schools and use them to condemn an entire system,” she said.

The Orange County School Board on Monday joined 12 others in Florida in a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of HB 7069.

The suit argues that the bill unconstitutionally forces local school districts to share some local property taxes with charter schools, which are sometimes run by private, for-profit firms, and allows “schools of hope” charter schools to open without oversight from local school boards, among other issues.

Duval Schools move toward litigation on ‘unconstitutional’ Schools of Hope bill

A rainy Monday morning saw the often fractious Duval County School Board move forward in suing the state of Florida.

At issue: HB 7069, the Schools of Hope” bill, which would divert capital dollars to charter schools from local schools.

Multiple urban districts — Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach — are already in the mix on a joint lawsuit encompassing nine counties and counting.

The Duval County School Board moved forward toward initiating litigation, with an initial allocation of $25,000 toward the $400,000 estimated costs of the action.

The motion passed 4-2, with board members Scott Shine and Ashley Smith-Juarez in opposition.


A representative of the Jacksonville Office of General Counsel discussed an memorandum regarding HB 7069, noting that ten other school boards around the state have identified “items of concern.”

“The main arguments essentially are this explicitly infringes with a school board’s Constitutional right” to control schools in its district, handle taxing authority, and other issues that are “vulnerable to a legal challenge.”

The Schools of Hope concept and millage sharing are among those issues that render the bill open to a challenge, as is the standard charter contract and the charter structure writ large.

HB 7069 reduces school boards to a “ministerial function” relative to charter contracts, opined OGC representative Karen Chastain in a pre-vote workshop, presenting a memo that said the bill would “negatively impact” functions of local boards.


Chair Paula Wright posited that the bill strips prerogatives of the School Board as an “elected body.”

The OGC representative again echoed that the school board would not have ability to negotiate charter contracts, and that “any change to the standard is presumed … to be an infringement.”

Appeals, meanwhile, are difficult.

“If it doesn’t fit in that scope, you really have no teeth,” board member Becki Couch observed.

Another issue: if a charter school closes and stiffs the landlord on the rent, the school board can be on the hook for costs — in part because the school board has to maintain permanent records.

“It’s a real life example that I’ve seen over and over and over,” the OGC representative said.

Couch described the board as a local “representative democracy” example, saying the action of the State Legislature “took away … decision-making at a local level.”

“When they challenge us on a contract, this HB 7069 says we have to pay their attorney’s fees,” Couch said, with the OGC rep saying those costs could be “easily six figures, times two.”

Another wrinkle: capital funds. Mortgages on charter school buildings can often lead the school board to abandon its interest in the building.

Essentially, the thinking is that the board absorbs the risks of private investment on the public dime, and forfeits power to negotiate contracts and other home rule functions in the bargain.

Board member Couch noted that while “we have great charter schools here in Duval County, we also have people who pay taxes and trust us to make decisions on their behalf.”

Couch noted that many charter providers won’t even do business in Duval, because of stringent accountability standards.

“We are an elected body by the people. Representative government,” Couch said. “When you have an outside group that can now begin deciding how to spend outside dollars, it raises the question ‘who’s in charge’?”

“Charter schools can open up across the street from a public school and demonstrate no need whatsoever,” Couch noted.”

“There’s no accountability … it’s a free for all … an experiment,” Couch said, noting that charters have no requirement to show capital needs in the way districts do.

Couch added that charter schools may even be able to operate in public school buildings, further eroding the district’s ability to “protect the taxpayers.”

Chairwoman Paula Wright also suggested that HB 7069 would cut into federal Title I funds, which could abrogate the School Board’s ability to determine the most efficient use of funds.

“This goes against the oath that we took as constitutional officers,” Wright said.

Regarding charter schools, Wright emphasized that DCPS is “one of the most choice-rich districts in the state of Florida.”

“Do we allow HB 7069 to infringe on our local, state, and federal opportunities … for the benefit of our students in Duval County?”

Even Shine realized there’s “a lot of problems with the bill” and a “lot of truth around this table.”

However, Shine thinks pushback will lead to “more to disempower school boards” from Tallahassee.

“If we litigate, we lose the ability to have good faith negotiation,” Shine added.

Shine’s position was in the minority, with multiple board members waxing poetic about the Constitutional obligation to function as an independent board.

“As watchmen of public education,” said Board Member Lori Hershey, “we have an obligation.”

This is a chance, Hershey said, to “stand up for students” against this “unconstitutional” legislation.

Former board chair Ashley Smith-Juarez held forth against this “destructive … beyond problematic” bill, noting that litigation is part of the design of the government.

That said, Smith-Juarez doesn’t feel “litigation is the next step,” with “other tools in the toolbox” being available before “swinging the litigation hammer.”

Board member Warren Jones suggested the bill was passed in Tallahassee despite “conflicts of interest,” noting that “we have to litigate to get their attention” regarding disproportionate impacts.

“We’ve got 10 counties, we’re going to be the 11th one … we are at a point where we have to live with this law or hope it’s repealed,” Jones said, if a lawsuit doesn’t happen.

Chairwoman Wright credited herself with “laying everything on the line” ahead of litigation.

“This is a difficult decision, yet to me it’s not difficult,” Wright said.


There are caveats: there could be a negotiated solution. The case could be thrown out. The district could withdraw.

But at this point, the board will move forward, investing $25,000 in a suit, with the eye of protecting at least $16M in capital dollars over the next five years.

“There needs to be accountability. We either believe in accountability or we don’t.”


Support litigation 4-2, Shine and Smith-Juarez opposed.

State legislators press for Duval School District audit, as district resists

Last fiscal year, the Duval County School District spent $21 million over budget — leading to requests for a “deeper dive” into the numbers, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

Also seeking a “deeper dive” — current State Rep. Jason Fischer, a former member of the Duval County School Board.

However, that deeper dive is not welcomed by the board chair herself.


Fischer, in a letter to Joint Legislative Auditing Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Mayfield dated Jul. 24, requests an operational audit into Duval’s budgetary and spending practices.

“As a past Duval County School Board Member,” Fischer writes, “I understand the complexity of their local budget.”

“I’m deeply concerned that the school district is taking their eye off the ball by considering frivolous lawsuits against the State rather than getting their financial house in order,” Fischer adds, referring to Duval’s consideration of suing over HB 7069, the “Schools of Hope” bill for which Fischer was a staunch advocate.

Fischer has “major concerns” about what he calls “$21 million in overspending,” and hopes “this special audit brings clarity and reconciliation to the school district’s poor financial practices.”

“Recently, the district’s questionable budgetary practices have surfaced in the press, triggering pushback from the community and the philanthropic sector,” Fischer adds, continuing to decry this alleged “significant overspending.”

Board member Scott Shine supports Fischer’s request, but that’s not a view shared by the whole board.


In a letter sent Tuesday to Duval Delegation chair Rep. Jay Fant, Board Chair Paula Wright asserted that an audit is not necessary. [Chair’s Response to Fischer’s Audit Request]

“Factually and emphatically, the Duval County School Board is not ‘indulging in irresponsible budget practices’, as claimed by our former colleague,” Chairwoman Wright wrote.

Wright, purportedly on behalf of the full board, goes on to “respectfully ask that Representative Fisher’s [SIC] request” for “another operational audit be withdrawn.”

Unknown: when the full board met to discuss the matter.

Fischer, for his part, wonders why board members don’t welcome a state audit in the interest of transparency.

“Why don’t they all welcome a state audit of this? Why don’t they want to be more transparent? What are they hiding?”


Fischer’s position is shared by Rep. Joe Gruters, who asserted Wednesday that an audit was “urgent and cannot wait for the next legislative cycle.”

Gruters noted that the resignation of the school district’s CFO is a strong indication that “something is amiss,” in a letter to JLAC Chair Mayfield.

Furthermore, House Speaker Richard Corcoran offered support for Fischer’s position, via Twitter.

That said, the Duval County School District — in the form of spokesman Mark Sherwood — said the proposed audit is unnecessary, given that the School Board has already authorized an independent third party audit.

Sherwood asserted that the money was not deficit spending; rather, was just a dip into reserves, driven by a revenue deficit from a dip in enrollment late in the year, transportation settlements, and regulatory adjustments.

Duval School Board member welcomes state financial audit

On Monday, State Rep. Jason Fischer proposed a state financial audit of the Duval County School Board on which he served until last year.

Fischer’s take: the district is more concerned about potentially suing over the controversial “Schools of Hope” bill he advocated than it is with getting its “financial house in order,” after recent revelations of spending $21M beyond its budget.

Fischer has backup on the board: fellow Republican Scott Shine, who already has amassed $30,000 for his own re-election bid to the body, “welcomes” such an audit.

In an open letter released Tuesday, Shine wrote that he is “not concerned with the possibility of a Legislative Audit.”

“As I suggested to the board [on July 18, we need to institute additional peer review and a Legislative audit can be a part of that review process,” Shine wrote.

Shine also noted that the CFO responsible for the budget imbalance was “removed,” in light of the “considerable mistake” made by the budget office.

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran did more than change Florida education, whipped teachers union too

Alex Sink made a point to Mitch Perry on FloridaPolitics.com that Democrats may finally have a cause to rally around in this state.

She referred to HB 7069 (or, as I like to call it, “The Let’s Bust The Teachers’ Union Act”) pushed through by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. It is the biggest push yet by the Legislature to expand private charter schools with money from the public education budget.

“Do we care about public education in this state or not?” she told Perry. “Ninety percent of our kids go to public school, so 90 percent of our money plus should be supporting public schools.”

I won’t say Corcoran doesn’t care about public education. I won’t even say charter schools don’t have some benefit.

But I will say that if you peel back the layers of how we got here, the Republican victory dance is as much about the whipping they inflicted on the state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, as it was the expansion of charters.

This was Corcoran showing the union who is boss.

That was spelled out plainly last November when he began pushing his charter plan. When the union opposed it, Corcoran declared war.

As the Miami Herald reported, he called the union “downright evil” and accused it of trying to “destroy the lives of 100,000 children, mostly minority, and all of them poor.”

He called union leaders “disgusting” and “repugnant.” He called them “crazy people” who fight tooth and nail to protect the status quo at the expense of innovation.

FEA President Joanne McCall responded with a statement that read in part, “Legislation like this makes it clear that the real goal of some of our political leaders is not to provide a high-quality education to our children, it’s to dismantle public schools and profit off our students.”

HB 7069 is now law because Corcoran played his hand better than his opponents. Just because he won doesn’t make him right, though.

Unions like the FEA exist because teachers can’t trust Tallahassee to play fair. Lawmakers have used teachers as a political prop for decades, but it took on new life when Jeb Bush as governor pushed through “reforms” that have helped create the mess we have today.

That’s not saying local school districts don’t need reshaping because, folks, their house isn’t in order either. The large ones have layers of bureaucrats who are well paid for doing, well, I’m not exactly sure what. They also can be extremely condescending toward anyone who has new ideas. That’s a column for another day.

But the ones who seem forgotten in all this are those teachers on the front lines. It is their unfortunate fate to carry out the often-conflicting requirements put in place by lawmakers who don’t understand what teachers actually do.

Worse, they don’t respect teachers.

That brings us back to Alex Sink and what she said about this issue might finally rile Democrats enough to show up for the governor’s race next year. I guess we’ll find out.

But Republicans just fundamentally changed public education in Florida,  and it will be hard to undo. Clobbering the union in the process just made it sweeter for them.

Capitol Reax: Rick Scott signs HB 7069

Gov. Rick Scott signed a sweeping education bill (HB 7069) that, among other things, sends more public money to privately-run charter schools. The legislation, a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, also requires recess in elementary schools, makes changes to the state’s standardized testing system, and includes millions of dollars for teacher bonuses.

The governor’s decision to sign the bill sparked a reaction from both sides of the issue.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran

“Today is a great day for Florida’s students, parents, and teachers. This bill is the most transformative pro-parent, pro-student, pro-teacher, and pro-public education bill in the history of the state of Florida. It ends failure factories. It rewards the best and brightest teachers and principals. It gives bonuses to every highly effective and effective teacher. It puts a focus back on civics education and teaching our students about what made our country great. It provides scholarships to students with disabilities. It mandates recess for our students. It reduces testing. And last, but not least, it forces more money into the classroom by making the money follow the students. In other words, it gives children hope and dignity. It says all children deserve a world-class education.

“Today is a great day for Florida’s students, parents, and teachers. This bill is the most transformative pro-parent, pro-student, pro-teacher, and pro-public education bill in the history of the state of Florida. It ends failure factories. It rewards the best and brightest teachers and principals. It gives bonuses to every highly effective and effective teacher. It puts a focus back on civics education and teaching our students about what made our country great. It provides scholarships to students with disabilities. It mandates recess for our students. It reduces testing. And last, but not least, it forces more money into the classroom by making the money follow the students. In other words, it gives children hope and dignity. It says all children deserve a world-class education.

I want to thank Governor Rick Scott for his courage and commitment to education options for our poorest kids. The Governor has taken on the status quo his entire career and the people of Florida are better off for it. I believe one of the great legacies of this session will be saving school childrens’ futures.”

Sen. Linda Stewart 

“I would like to thank the Governor for visiting Senate District 13, but I’m very disappointed that he used the signing of HB 7069 as the reason to stop by.

 “This bill is an unwise experiment in education policy opposed by our state’s teachers, parents, professional administrators and superintendents. That’s why I urged him to veto it. Many of those that have opposed HB7069 have dedicated their lives to educating the students in Florida’s schools. HB7069 was secretly produced and passed as a 278-page bitter pill that flew in the face of every tradition of transparency and openness required by our state’s laws and constitution.

 “Let’s be clear about what HB7069 actually does: it enriches the for-profit education industry at the expense of Florida’s traditional public schools. The same schools that educated the vast majority of Floridians for generations despite daunting odds and an indifferent legislature for the past two decades.

 “The legislation you signed today gives to the charter school industry a free hand and promises them a bountiful reward. It allows corporations with no track record of success, no obligation to struggling students, and no mandated standards of accountability to flourish, with the sole obligation to their shareholders. Not the public. Not to well-intentioned parents desperate to see their children succeed – but to a group of investors who have made a business decision to add these companies to their portfolios because they are interested in making money.

 “I would remind those who stand to profit personally from this legislation, some of whom hold high office, that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Sen. Gary Farmer

“Today I am saddened by the Governor’s action in signing HB 7069. This devious bill, hatched in secret, and strong-armed through the Legislature will deal a significant blow to our State’s public education system. For the first time, private charter school operators will now have access to local school district tax revenue. This will undoubtedly lead to less money for our already starved-traditional public schools. I fear that a lack of accountability in these charters will result in wasted dollars for untested and redundant facilities, all to prop up private entities that are closing down nearly as fast as they are opening up. I join the thousands of parents, schoolteachers, and education advocates around Florida in bowing my head in shame. Our government can do better.”

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon 

“To no one’s surprise, but to many Floridians’ disappointment, Governor Rick Scott approved HB 7069 today, firmly cementing his legacy of putting campaign politics above sound public policy.

Equally troubling, he signed off on a bill hatched in secrecy which he had openly criticized, but now suddenly agrees that it’s ok to circumvent transparency, it’s ok to negotiate in secret, it’s ok to pull a fast one.

HB 7069 aims an arrow straight at the heart of public education in Florida, a system that is struggling to stay alive despite repeated overhauls, starvation, and mandates under the latest standardized tests-du-jour.

And it sets up a guarantee for the profitability of the charter school industry in this state by delivering public schools we’ve purposely ignored to corporate managers we’ve deliberately positioned for success.

All of these perks we give to this industry under this bill — unregulated expansion, temporary teacher employment, financial self-rewards through cherry picking by principals — none of this is found in traditional public schools. Nor is the amount of state aid we owe to build or maintain the public schools long relegated to second-class status.

 “For all of these reasons, it’s a bill that should have been vetoed, as countless Floridians continuously urged. And it’s a bill that we will not soon forget.”

Rep. Jason Fischer, a Jacksonville Republican

“I want to thank Governor Scott for signing HB 7069 into law. The Governor’s signature marks the start of a bold and innovative plan to reform and strengthen Florida’s K-12 education system. Today is a momentous occasion for Florida’s students and hardworking teachers and I’m excited about what the future holds with this legislation in place. I would also like to thank Speaker Corcoran, Representative (

“I want to thank Governor Scott for signing HB 7069 into law. The Governor’s signature marks the start of a bold and innovative plan to reform and strengthen Florida’s K-12 education system. Today is a momentous occasion for Florida’s students and hardworking teachers and I’m excited about what the future holds with this legislation in place. I would also like to thank Speaker Corcoran, Representative (Michael) Bileca, and Representative (Manny) Diaz for their leadership and for their dedication to helping students and teachers.”

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz

“Not since the creation of the unconstitutional voucher system has there been an assault on our public schools as flagrant and hurtful as what’s contained in HB 7069.

Rather than providing additional resources for public schools, Republicans have instead chosen to divert $140 million into a slush fund for private charter school corporations. Rather than providing our school districts the resources they need for maintenance and upkeep, Republicans have instead chosen to divert local capital funding districts rely on into buildings the state does not own. And rather than giving our overworked and underpaid teachers the raise they deserve, Republicans have instead chosen to continue to fund an arbitrary bonus system based on test scores from when they were in high school.

“Most disappointingly, Republican leadership, and now Governor Scott, have chosen to ignore the voices of thousands of frustrated parents, teachers, and public school administrators and associations in favor of the AstroTurf efforts of private foundations awash in your tax dollars. It is my hope that next session we can look for ways to repair this misguided legislation in a bipartisan manner. Our parents and teachers deserve to have their voices heard.”

Rep. Shevrin Jones, the ranking Democratic member on the House Education Committee

“HB 7069 exemplifies confronting critical problems in our public education system with unreasonable and impractical solutions. This law will significantly hurt our public education system, rather than providing our teachers and students with the resources they need to succeed. On both sides of the aisle, we have kept education at the forefront of our priorities and though we claim to have a common goal, the outcome of signing this legislation is a step in the wrong direction.

“We cannot continue to place politics over people. It is unbelievable that Governor Scott has ignored the frustration and concerns that were made through phone calls, letters, and emails from parents, teachers, students, and superintendents.

“As a former educator and a believer in our process, this is the one time I can say, the process was violated and the people were ignored. It is my hope that every school district will look at this law and challenge the constitutionality of how it degrades our public school system. I am not against creating new standards for our lowest performing schools, but I am against violating the process of legislating that our constituents sent us to Tallahassee to uphold.”

Rep. Michael Bileca, chairman of the House Education Committee 

“I commend Governor Scott for signing HB 7069 into law. This legislation has the power to transform the lives and futures of poor children across the state of Florida. It puts their future before the agenda of bureaucrats and institutions that have deprived them of the quality education they deserve. This legislation is a direct and targeted approach that will break the cycle of poverty by enabling world class schools to flourish in high poverty areas. I would also like to thank my fellow lawmakers who have worked alongside one another to fight against a system resistant to change, and afford our children the best education we can provide.”

Rep. Manny Diaz, chairman of the House PreK-12 Education Appropriations Committee  “I want to commend the Governor for his continued support of the best educational options for all students in our great state regardless of what ZIP code they reside in. Today marks another transformational step for Florida as a nationwide leader in education reform. I want to thank Speaker Corcoran for his leadership and steadfast support for All kids in our state, it is truly an honor to work side by side with him and Chair Bileca to fight for what is right.”

“I want to commend the Governor for his continued support of the best educational options for all students in our great state regardless of what ZIP code they reside in. Today marks another transformational step for Florida as a nationwide leader in education reform. I want to thank Speaker Corcoran for his leadership and steadfast support for All kids in our state, it is truly an honor to work side by side with him and Chair Bileca to fight for what is right.”

Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee and a Democratic gubernatorial candidate

Public education has made all the difference in my life and so many others. Were it not for the guidance and work poured into me by public school teachers like Linda Awbrey, there would be no Mayor Gillum, and I would never have dreamed I could succeed at a run for Governor. The signing of H.B. 7069 is another deeply painful decision by our state’s leaders giving tax dollars away to for-profit charter school executives — instead of to our students. It’s a stark reminder that we must take back this state in 2018 from the well-heeled special interests, and when I’m Governor, revitalizing public education will be at the top of my list.:’”

Gwen Graham, a former Democratic congresswoman from Tallahassee and a 2018 candidate for governor

“This bill is another massive step toward turning Florida’s public school system into a public school industry designed to benefit corporations and powerful interests at the expense of our kids and schools. Teachers and parents called, wrote and even protested Governor Scott, imploring him not to sign this bill — but yet again, he’s abandoning his responsibility to our children and instead siding with special interests.”

As Governor, I will veto any budget or policy that shortchanges our schools in favor of the education industry. I’ll work with the legislature at every step of the process to build an education policy that puts our public schools and students first. We will end teaching to the test, end the lottery shell game and pay teachers what they deserve.

As a mother, former PTA president, and school district official, nothing is more important to me than our students and public schools. I’ve worked alongside the teachers who will be hurt by this legislation. I’m running for governor to be their advocate.”

— David Bergstein, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

 “Scott is proving once again that he is a typical Tallahassee politician who is only ever looking out for himself — his pathetic and transparent efforts to advance his own political interests at the expense of hardworking Floridians is the kind of toxic baggage that will follow him into any political campaign he mounts. Wherever he goes, Scott will have to explain why he’s draining resources from schools in order to spend tax dollars on a slush fund for his campaign contributors and political cronies. For voters, this bill is just another demonstration that Scott is only ever looking out for one person: himself.”

Johanna Cervone, communications director for the Florida Democratic Party

“There are no words. By signing HB7069, Rick Scott and Tallahassee Republicans have declared war on our public schools. This bill is a national disgrace and was universally regarded by school boards and superintendents to be a death knell for public education. Scott and Corcoran are caricatures of themselves — crooked Tallahassee politicians cutting backroom deals and pilfering dollars from our children to ensure their corporate benefactors get funded. Scott got his slush fund, and Corcoran got millions of dollars for for-profit charter schools, but Florida’s families are left with next to nothing. Voters will remember who was responsible for this legislation — including those who were complicit in its signing, like noteworthy political coward, Adam Putnam, who tiptoes around every issue.”

Mark Ferrulo, executive director of Progress Florida 

“Today, Gov. Rick Scott ignored thousands of parents, teachers and community leaders who have spoken out against this travesty of a bill and embraced a secret and unaccountable process to deal an underhanded sucker punch to public education in our state. Our students — the next generation of Floridians — are the ones who will pay the price.

 “Floridians deserve a strong and well-funded public school system so that a child’s opportunity to learn isn’t dependent on where they live or whether they win a school lottery. We shouldn’t waste precious resources on a parallel system of for-profit private voucher and charter schools that is less accountable to citizens and has produced mixed results at best.”

— Joshua Karp, spokesman for American Bridge

 “Since his first year in office, Rick Scott has fought against public schools on behalf of wealthy corporate special interests. Today’s anti-education bill was crafted in secret by lobbyists and Tallahassee insiders to funnel millions of dollars to corporations that seek to profit off children’s education while diverting precious funding from Florida’s public schools where every dollar is precious. Yet again, Floridians will be worse off because Rick Scott and his friends care more about making money.”

Charly Norton, executive director of FloridaStrong

“For the second time in two days, the Governor has made clear he serves only his own agenda — not the people he was elected to represent. The fact that Scott ignored thousands of veto calls over this past month from parents, school boards, educators and other public school advocates demonstrates his shameful disservice to the state of Florida. Speaker Corcoran and the lawmakers who pushed this ‘scam‘ of a bill are actively dismantling Florida schools and undermining our kids’ chance at success as a result. They can claim they care about the future of this state until they are blue in the face, but their actions prove otherwise.

William Mattox, director of JMI’s Marshall Center for Educational Options

“Education choice is an idea that ought to unite liberals and conservatives because it acknowledges that students are diverse and that they are often ill-served by one-size-fits-all schooling policies that fail to account for each child’s unique learning needs. We commend the legislators in both parties who voted to expand student options in 2017, and we hope legislators will work together in 2018 to move us even closer to the goal of universal education choice for all Florida students.”

J. Robert McClure, president and CEO of The James Madison Institute For 30 years, The James Madison Institute has been on the front lines of the battle of ideas and principles in Florida. We thank Governor Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran for their support of this legislation. They have been steadfast in their efforts to match students with educational opportunities that provide the greatest chance for success in life, and this commitment is reflected in legislation that expands school choice for economically-disadvantaged students and those with unique abilities, while providing more digital education access and allowing successful charter schools to open new schools in areas with chronically failing public schools.”

For 30 years, The James Madison Institute has been on the front lines of the battle of ideas and principles in Florida. We thank Governor Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran for their support of this legislation. They have been steadfast in their efforts to match students with educational opportunities that provide the greatest chance for success in life, and this commitment is reflected in legislation that expands school choice for economically-disadvantaged students and those with unique abilities, while providing more digital education access and allowing successful charter schools to open new schools in areas with chronically failing public schools.”

Blake Williams, communications director for For Florida’s Future

“Last week Rick Scott convinced Tallahassee Republicans to replenish his Enterprise Florida slush fund with taxpayer dollars to pay off his political donors, and in return, he’s giving Republicans millions in taxpayer dollars for a slush fund of their own. HB 7069 is corporate welfare plain and simple, and the opposition to it has been broad and bipartisan. Florida’s largest school districts have publicly opposed it, teachers and parents have opposed it, and nearly every editorial board in the state of Florida has urged a veto. The job of Florida leaders should be to ensure equal access to properly funded education. Rick Scott failed that test miserably today.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permissions.

In new video ahead of HB 7069 signing, Florida House declares ‘hope has arrived’

The Florida House is touting the signing of a wide-sweeping education bill with a new video.

The nearly 3-minute web video, released ahead of a bill signing event at Morning Star Catholic School in Orlando, features news clips showing parents talking about their children and reporters highlighting the 2015 “Failure Factories” series by the Tampa Bay Times.

After the words “failure no more, hope has arrived” flash onto the screen, the video shows footage of Rep. Byron Donalds talking about the bill (HB 7069) during a committee hearing earlier this year.

“We are wasting the educational time and the economic future of the kids who sit in those classrooms,” the Naples Republican is shown saying in the video. “The real conversation is what are we doing to make sure the children who are in the biggest need have the greatest opportunity for success.”

“What we’re doing here is allowing operators who have a demonstrated track record of success in low-performing areas in other parts of the United States of America, and we are giving them the opportunity and the ability to come to Florida and perform for the kids who are at risk the most,” continues Donalds, who was an advocate for the bill. “That’s what we’re doing in this bill.”

The Governor’s Office announced Thursday he planned to sign a major education bill at 3:45 p.m. The governor’s daily schedule listed the event as “HB 7069 Signing and Budget Highlight Event.”

The bill, among other things, creates the “Schools of Hope” program that would offer financial incentives to charter school operators who would agree to take students who now attending chronically failing schools, many of them in poor areas and urban neighborhoods. Additionally, up to 25 failing public schools may receive up to $2,000 per student for additional student services.

It extends the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, expands eligibility for the Gardiner Scholarship Program for disabled students, and requires 20 minutes of recess each day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The bill also requires school districts share capital project tax revenue with charter schools, which Corcoran argued is one of the reasons why some school district officials have come out in opposition to the bill.

The Associated Press contributed to this reported, reprinted with permission.


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