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Rick Scott to sign controversial education policy bill

Gov. Rick Scott will sign a contentious education policy bill that critics fear will hurt traditional public schools in favor of privately-managed charter schools.

The Governor’s Office on Thursday morning announced he will approve “a major education bill” at Morning Star Catholic School in Orlando, “which serves many children who receive the Gardiner Scholarship,” one of the programs affected by the legislation.

The bill signing is slated for 3:45 p.m., a press release said. It did not mention the bill by name or number, however, though the Governor’s daily schedule does list it as “HB 7069 Signing And Budget Highlight Event.”

The bill’s approval is widely believed to be in return for House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s support of Scott’s priorities, including full funding of Visit Florida and money for an economic development fund, passed in the recent Special Session.

But it’s been met with vigorous opposition from Democratic lawmakers, newspaper editorial boards and public schools advocates, including the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union.

Among other things, the bill (HB 7069) steers more money to charter schools through a “Schools of Hope” initiative, requires recess in elementary schools, and tinkers with the state’s oft-criticized standardized testing system.

The legislation—a top priority for Corcoranbarely edged out of the Florida Senate on a 20-18 vote where some Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure.

The Senate vote came after intense debate in which opponents contended the legislation was a give-away to charter schools—public schools run by private organizations and sometimes managed by for-profit companies.

Corcoran has said that the changes are even more dramatic than the A+ plan put in place by former Gov. Jeb Bush nearly two decades ago. It created the state’s first voucher program and created the state’s current school grading system.

“It is the greatest public school bill in the history of Florida,” Corcoran said after the bill was sent to Scott.

The nearly 300-page bill includes a long list of education changes that legislators had been considering. But the final bill was negotiated largely out of public view. Some of the final changes drew the ire of the state’s teacher unions, parent groups as well as superintendents of some of Florida’s largest school districts.

Included in the bill is a requirement that elementary schools must set aside 20 minutes each day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade for “free-play recess,” although at the last minute charter schools were exempted from the mandate. The bill includes more than $200 million for teacher and principal bonuses.

Bowing to criticism about Florida’s testing regimen, the measure eliminates the Algebra 2 end-of-course exam and pushes back the date in the school year when students must take Florida’s main standardized test.

Another major part of the bill 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.

Background from The Associated Press was used in this post.

Rick Scott vetoes higher education bill, priority for Joe Negron

Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a wide-sweeping higher education bill, saying the legislation “impedes the ability of state colleges to meet the needs of the communities and families they serve.”

The bill (SB 374) was a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, who has made improving the State University System a cornerstone of his term as Senate President.

The bill, among other things, enhanced policy and funding options for state universities to “recruit and retain exemplary faculty, enhance the quality of professional and graduate schools, and upgrade facilities and research infrastructure,” according to a May 5 conference report. It also restructured the governance of the Florida College System and modified “the mission of the system and its institutions.”

Scott appeared to take issue with the provisions dealing with the state college system. In a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner explaining his veto, Scott said the legislation “impedes the State College System’s mission.”

“This legislation impedes the State College System’s mission by capping the enrollment level of baccalaureate degrees and unnecessarily increasing red tape. This interference impedes the ability of state colleges to meet the needs of the communities and families they serve,” he wrote. “In addition to this legislation, the total budget of the State College System was cut by $26.7 million during the 2017 Regular Session.”

Scott went on to say that while the bill makes “positive changes to several State University System programs, and there are many provisions I think would be good for students, it does so at the expense of the Florida College System.”

Negron said he fundamentally disagrees with that assessment.

“I fundamentally disagree that SB 374 makes positive changes to our universities at the expense of Florida’s community colleges. Like Governor Scott, many members of the Senate attended our state’s community colleges and we recognize the vital role they play in our public education system,” said Negron. “For that very reason, we crafted SB 374 to further elevate Florida’s nationally-ranked community colleges through a renewed focus on their core mission – on-time completion of vital associate degrees and workforce credentials that prepare students for jobs in communities across our state.”

In addition to changes to the state university and state college systems, the bill also increased student financial aid and tuition assistance by expanding the Florida Bright Futures Academic Scholars award to cover 100 percent of tuition and specified fees, plus $3000 per fall and spring semester for textbooks and other college-related expenses; expanding the Benacquisto Scholarship Program to include eligible students graduating from out-of-state; and establishing the Florida Farmworker Student Scholarship Program.

In his veto letter, Scott said the expansion of Bright Futures will still occur in fiscal 2017-18.

“Because this important expansion currently exists in the budget and proviso language in SB 2500, Florida’s students will still benefit from this critical program,” wrote Scott. “I urge the Legislature to pass legislation that revisits these issues and expands Bright Future Scholarships permanently while recognizing the importance of both our state colleges and universities in the 2018 Legislative Session.”

Negron said his travels across the state have taught him the importance of Bright Futures, and said the governor’s veto makes advance planning “much more difficult.

“As I have traveled the state talking to families, I have learned what an important role Bright Futures plays as students plan their financial investment in a college or university education,” he said. “Students and families deserve certainty when making these important decisions, and today’s veto makes advance planning much more difficult.”

The veto comes just days after the end a Special Session, where Scott saw many of his priorities approved. While the Senate backed Scott throughout the regular Session, there appeared to be some tension between the Senate and the governor during the three-day special session.

The special session also saw a reconciliation between Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who were often at odds with each other throughout the regular session.

Scott and Corcoran embarked on a one-day, multi-city victory tour Tuesday to highlight the legislative victories. A spokeswoman for Negron said Tuesday that Negron had already departed for a prior commitment in California before the events were confirmed, but said he “looks forward to attending future events with the Governor and Speaker Corcoran to discuss the important accomplishments of the 2017 Session.”

Rick Scott: No hard feelings between him and Richard Corcoran

Chalk it up to “passion.” Or politics.

Gov. Rick Scott, speaking to reporters after a Wednesday bill signing, explained away the open tension between him and House Speaker Richard Corcoran after the House this year tried to gut VISIT FLORIDA and do away with economic development organization Enterprise Florida, his two favored state agencies.

By the end of the recent Special Session, however, lawmakers agreed to the creation of an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund to be controlled by Scott, full funding for tourism marketing, and $50 million to help kick-start repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee.

That deal is said to be in return for Scott’s approval of a controversial education funding policy bill (HB 7069), pushed by the House, that critics say slights traditional public schools in favor of privately-managed charter schools. Scott says he’s still “reviewing” that bill.

“What’s great is that people have passion for what they believe in,” he said. “I know the Speaker has passion for what he believes in; I have passion for what I believe in. Both of us went out there and tried to explain to others (our positions) … but we came together for what is a win for our state.”

Scott in fact went to the districts of House members who supported Corcoran’s plan to defund the agencies and more or less publicly shamed them.

Cut to this week, when Corcoran joined Scott on a “victory tour” to several cities to “celebrate the major wins for Florida families and students during (the) legislative Special Session.”

“I’m proud of the fact we’re able to fully fund VISIT FLORIDA; I’m proud of the fact we have this new development tool, $85 million that’s going to work to get more jobs here; I’m proud that we’re going to partner with the (Donald) Trump administration to help finish the dike,” he said.

Scott was at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to sign a bill (SB 7022) “which provides pay raises for Florida’s sworn state law enforcement officers, correctional officers and state employees,” according to a press release.

“… I’m glad the Speaker believed in all those things and we went to five cities to celebrate that success,” Scott added.

As far as any fight next year for business incentives, which Corcoran calls “corporate welfare,” Scott said he’ll decide then—his last year in office. He’s term limited in 2018.

Till then, “I’m going to keep working hard to get more jobs … I’ll use the tools that we have to call on companies … and I think it’s going to work,” he said.

Report: Top Ron DeSantis supporter contributes $500K to state political committee

A top supporter of Rep. Ron DeSantis has contributed $500,000 to a state-level political committee that could be used to help fund a gubernatorial bid.

POLITICO Florida reported that Frederick Sontag contributed $500,000 to Fund for Florida’s Future, a state-level political committee, on May 5. The committee, which was required to report all contributions it received in May by Monday, received $535,000 in contributions last month.

Sontag is the founder of Spring Bay Companies, a Ponte Vedra Beach private equity firm focused on technology investments, and has a history of supporting DeSantis. POLITICO Florida reported that in 2016 Spring Bay Capital, a company owned by Sontag and affiliated with Spring Bay Companies, gave $500,000 to the Fighting for Florida Fund, a super PAC backing DeSantis.

DeSantis is believed to be mulling a 2018 gubernatorial bid. If he runs, he’ll need a massive war chest. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has $10 million in the bank. Sen. Jack Latvala and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are also considering a run.

Amid continued calls to veto HB 7069, Rick Scott says he is still ‘reviewing it’

Gov. Rick Scott isn’t showing his cards when it comes to a wide-sweeping and contentious education bill, despite rumblings he could sign the measure as early as this week.

The Naples Republican said he is still reviewing the bill (HB 7069), which, among other things, creates a “Schools of Hope” charter school program backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. However, many people believe Scott will sign the bill in return for Corcoran’s support of his priorities, including full funding of Visit Florida and money for an economic development fund, during a special session which ended last week.

“We all want school choice, we want to make sure our kids are going to good schools,” said Scott, when asked by reporters about continued calls for him to veto the bill during a stop in Fort Myers on Tuesday. “I know the Speaker is very passionate about it and it was something that was very important to him. I’m reviewing it, and I’ll do the best thing for the citizens of the state.”

The governor’s comments came as two state lawmakers sent letters to Scott urging him to veto the legislation. Rep. Ben Diamond and Sen. Gary Farmer, both Democrats, both called on Scott to veto the bill, telling the governor if signed it will divert money away from traditional public schools to charter schools.

The bill, among other things, extends the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program; reduces state testing, and requires test results be provided to parents and teachers in a timely fashion; expands eligibility for the Gardiner Scholarship Program; 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.

“What they’re really crying over is their bricks and mortar money,” said the Land O’Lakes Republican following a stop in Fort Myers on Tuesday. “The problem with bricks and mortar is they’re building $40 million Taj Mahals up and down the state, 67 counties (building) the most expensive buildings they can build. What we’re saying is focus on beautiful mind, not beautiful buildings. It doesn’t matter what the buildings look like, what matters is having that money follow the student and having that student have a world class education.”

But opponents aren’t just concerned about the capital outlay portion. In a statement, Diamond said the bill will “divert significant resources away from our traditional public schools for the benefit of charter schools, many of which are run by out-of-state, for profit corporations.”

“The bill includes little oversight or accountability for these charter schools, which would receive a significant investment of taxpayer money. The bill also makes it harder for our school districts to retain our best teachers,” said Diamond.

Corcoran said “every single penny” in the bill goes to public schools, and called outrage over the “Schools of Hope” component misplaced.

“The real outrage shouldn’t be that we’re funding ‘Schools of Hope,’ it should be that we’re the third largest state and the richest country in the world and we have failure factories. Some of our students, from the time they enter school to the time they graduate, spend their entire educational career in a failure factory. That’s where the outrage should be,” said Corcoran. “We’ve come in and said ‘enough is enough.’ We’re going to create ‘Schools of Hope,’ where those children are able to be afforded a world class education just like every other child in the state of Florida. That is transformative and that’s beneficial.”

Scott and Corcoran were in Fort Myers on Tuesday as part of a five-city “Fighting for Florida’s Future Victory Tour.” The one-day swing was meant to highlight the successes of the special session, which ended Friday.

The event at the Sun Harvest Citrus retail store and package facility struck a much different tone than a “Fighting for Florida’s Future” tour Scott embarked on in May. While Scott used that trip to hint at vetoes and take swipes at lawmakers over their decision to slash funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, this swing has been a chance for Scott and Corcoran to mend fences and show a unified front.

“The speaker is passionate about what he believes in and you know what I believe in,” said Scott. “We worked hard to get something done, and we had a very good session and a very good special session.”

Corcoran called the governor is “a passionate warrior,” and he looks forward to another session of working together.

“The neat thing about this is the two of us have another session together,” said Corcoran. “I can assure you, we’re looking forward to coming back next session with another bold agenda that’s transformative and continues on this great path the governor has led us on.”

Andrew Gillum takes a swipe at Rick Scott’s ‘victory tour’

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, is slamming Gov. Rick Scott‘s and House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s “victory tour.”

Saying he’s standing up for public schools, Gillum released a statement Tuesday in the wake of Scott’s announcement of a five-city “Fighting for Florida’s Future Victory” tour to “celebrate the major wins for Florida families and students during last week’s legislative Special Session.”

Corcoran plans to join him on some of the stops, set for Miami, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Tampa and Jacksonville Beach.

“This tour will highlight an all-time high of K-12 per-pupil spending, the establishment of the $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, full funding for VISIT FLORIDA, and $50 million to kick-start repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee,” the governor’s press release said.

Gillum isn’t buying it.

“The only person less deserving of a ‘victory tour’ than Gov. Scott and Speaker Corcoran is Donald Trump‘s lawyer,” he said.

Scott’s and Corcoran’s “backroom deals will destroy our public schools’ futures, and they ought to be ashamed of what they’ve done to our state over the past week,” he added.

Gillum and public schools advocates have been critical of Corcoran’s favored bill, HB 7069, a wide-ranging education policy bill they say slights traditional public schools in favor of charter schools run by private concerns.

“The end of the Special Session is not ‘mission accomplished’ on behalf of Florida’s students and teachers,” Gillum said, a likely reference to a 2003 speech by then-President George W. Bush, after which he was criticized for prematurely saying the U.S. had “prevailed” in Iraq.

“I’m running for governor because our children are not well when they can’t read at grade level, take anxiety medication for high stakes tests, and suffer while for-profit charter school executives and their allies fly around on a ‘victory tour,’ ” Gillum said.

Lottery gets more time to file brief in contract case appeal

The 1st District Court of Appeal last week OK’d the Florida Lottery’s request for more time to file its initial brief in an appeal over its invalidated $700 million contract for new equipment.

The agency now has till “on or before July 7,” according to an online docket.

The Lottery filed its challenge after Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Karen Gievers in March struck down a $700 million multiple-year contract involving, in part, new equipment for draw and scratch-off tickets.

She essentially agreed with House Speaker Richard Corcoran that the agency went on an illegal spending spree when it inked the deal last year.

Because then-Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie “lacked the legal authority to enter into the IGT (International Game Technology) contract, (it) must, therefore, be found to be void and unenforceable,” Gievers said.

She agreed with House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum, who had said the deal broke state law by going “beyond (the Lottery’s) existing budget limitations.”

The deal also included provisions for in-store signage, self-service ticket checkers and upgraded security in the communications network.

The Lottery has countered that the Legislature cannot “micromanage individual contracts,” saying the state’s “invitation to negotiate” for the contract discloses that any deal would be contingent on “an annual appropriation” from lawmakers. Such a disclosure is required under state law.

Jack Latvala raises more than $47K in May

Sen. Jack Latvala raised more than $47,800 in about 20 days in May.

Florida Leadership Committee, the Clearwater Republican’s political committee, raised at least $47,891 between May 10 and May 31, according to contribution data posted to the committee’s website.

The Division of Elections’ deadline for reporting May numbers is Monday. Florida Leadership Committee hadn’t posted its information with the state as of Monday morning, but has posted contribution data on its website.

Top contributors during the three-weeks included AT&T Services, Third Amendment Media Production, and real estate executive Edward Pantzer.

Latvala, the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is believed to be mulling a 2018 gubernatorial bid. In May, Latvala said he planned to announce his decision in August.

He appears to be boosting his coffers ahead of an eventual decision. State records show the political committee has raised more than $1.4 million between January and April of this year. It ended April with more than $3.1 million cash on hand.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam already launched his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. His political committee, Florida Grown, raised more than $1.01 million in May, according to contribution data posted to the political committee’s website.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is also believed to be considering a 2018 gubernatorial bid. His new political committee, Watchdog PAC, did not report raising any money in May.

John Morgan plans lawsuit to allow for smoking of medical pot

The Florida Legislature’s passage of a bill to enact the state’s constitutional amendment expanding the use of medical marijuana has ended one chapter in the battle over setting up regulations for the nascent industry. But pro-pot supporters say it doesn’t go far enough.

Once Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill, the principal backer of getting the amendment on last year’s ballot said he intends to sue over the law’s ban on smoking. John Morgan has been steadfast in saying that the 71 percent who voted for the amendment expected smoking as one of the ways to consume cannabis.

“I don’t know why they would object to anyone on their death bed wanting to use what they wanted to relieve pain and suffering,” Morgan said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Friday night. “If they were really concerned about smoking, why don’t they heavily tax cigarettes?”

Morgan said he plans to file the suit in Leon County and has enlisted constitutional law expert Jon L. Mills, the dean emeritus of the University of Florida’s Levin School of Law, to help in the coming legal battle.

Senate Democrats made a last-ditch attempt to get smoking added, citing that nearly 90 percent of people who use it smoke it, but it was voted down.

The legislation passed Friday allows patients who suffer chronic pain related to 10 qualifying conditions to receive either low-THC cannabis or full-strength medical marijuana.

The bill sponsors in both chambers have said there aren’t any scientific studies to show that smoking pot is more effective than other ways of ingesting the drug.

State Sen. Rob Bradley said during Special Session that if he spent his time responding to Morgan’s statements and tweets “then I’d be a congressman dealing with Trump.”

Rep. Ray Rodrigues said that “If he wants to sue us, that it is his prerogative. I am confident it can be defended in front of a judge.”

Vaping is allowed in the bill, but Rodrigues and Bradley could repeatedly not answer what the difference is between smoking and vaping.

Morgan, nonetheless, said he was pleased to see the Legislature pass a bill, instead of the rules-making process being left solely up to the Department of Health. But he said that in the end, the bill came down to special interests and not patients.

“At the very end we saw what most of the Legislature was about which was profits and not patient care or access,” he said.

Morgan though did laud House Speaker Richard Corcoran for advocating for a special session and for negotiating to craft a deal. Morgan called Corcoran the real winner of the session and said he will hold a fund-raiser for Corcoran next week in Orlando.

Besides smoking, one or more of the seven currently licensed distributing organizations could challenge the caps of 25 retail dispensary locations per licensee. The caps are due to sunset in 2020 and more can be added per 100,000 patients added to the medical marijuana registry.

According to the Department of Health, the state registry now has 16,614 patients. A recent state revenue impact study projects that by 2022 there will be 472,000 medical cannabis patients and $542 million in sales.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Is there a deal to get out of Tallahassee on time?

Quick hit: With hours left in the Special Session, rumors of a final deal abound.

Details are scarce, but one Senator close to negotiations said “there could be a path to get our work completed today,” putting it at a 60 percent probability.

The Senate could get its money for hospitals, but the House will dictate how to spend it.

Moreover, medical marijuana implementation is expected to pass without incident.

A deal on education funding is all but signed off on by Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

What we don’t know: The fate of the Senate’s veto overrides.

As the AP’s Gary Fineout tweeted, “One possible out – but risky – is to add the higher ed vetoes the Senate wants to the school funding bill. But Scott could veto again … Unless of course @FLSenate can get @FLGovScott office to assure them that he won’t veto the higher ed projects a 2nd time.”

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