Gov. Rick Scott has all but ignored the state’s constitutional duty to provide uniform, high-quality and free public schools. The governor’s Board of Education has pandered to the tea party’s misinformation campaign on Common Core State Standards, and it has set the stage for a potentially disastrous standardized testing change this spring. This is not the work of a governor engaged in enhancing the state’s investment in children. Scott has done far more to undermine public education than to support it.

As he campaigns for re-election, Gov. Rick Scott portrays himself as a champion of public education who has increased spending, befriended teachers and ensured Florida's schoolchildren will be better prepared for to enter college or the job market. His record is at odds with his rhetoric. In 16 years since Republicans took over the Governor's Mansion and began pushing major education policy changes, no governor has been so coldly calculating and cynical about what happens to Florida's traditional public schools.

From his first year backing steep budget cuts and nonsensical teacher assessments to his repeated favoring of private interests, Scott has all but ignored the state's constitutional duty to provide uniform, high-quality and free public schools. The state has its fourth education commissioner in four years. The governor's Board of Education has pandered to the tea party's misinformation campaign on the Common Core State Standards, and it has set the stage for a potentially disastrous standardized testing change this spring. This is not the work of a governor engaged in enhancing the state's investment in children but of a former CEO who treats education like an expense line to be managed and squeezed.

In four years, Scott has done far more to undermine public education than to support it.

Budget cuts

A month after taking office, Scott unveiled a proposed state budget that called for cutting school spending by 10 percent, or $700 per student. Even the Republican-led Legislature balked before agreeing to a still-staggering $1.3 billion in cuts for 2011-12 — or $540 per student. Florida's public schools and their teachers have been struggling to regain their footing ever since.

The current school year is the first in which the state will spend more per student than when Scott took office, but it is still nearly $200 less than the high of 2007-08. More sobering, when adjusted for inflation schools now have roughly $356 less per student than in Gov. Charlie Crist's last year in office.

Scott notes a spending increase this year for the state's voluntary prekindergarten program — the first increase in his tenure. But spending of $2,383 per student is $17 less per student than the program received in its first year, 2005-06. When adjusted for inflation, the gap grows to about $450 per student.


Scott has approved changes to Florida's accountability system that have managed to breed further distrust and loathing from parents and educators. Months into his job, he approved a deeply flawed and unfair teacher evaluation system that Crist had vetoed a year earlier because it relied too heavily on standardized tests and ultimately judged many teachers on the performance of students they had never taught. Lawmakers have tweaked the law — which also eliminated school districts' ability to grant tenure to new hires — but the districts are still grappling with implementing "value-added models" in any meaningful way even as these assessments play a huge role in whether new teachers are retained or veterans receive merit pay. That's on top of the continuous changes in how the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test figures in school grades, making the ratings nearly meaningless.

Common Core

When the furor erupted a year ago over the state's years-old transition to Common Core State Standards, Scott rashly abandoned the state's investment in a multistate, nonprofit testing concern that was writing Common Core assessments to replace the FCAT. Then the state Department of Education — whose administration of standardized testing has been highly problematic throughout Scott's tenure — handed the test-writing over to a firm that won't do extensive field testing in Florida before students take the exams this spring. Transitions are always tough, but Scott has only made it harder by irresponsibly pushing forward without regard to the consequences.

Special interests

Never mind that the vast majority of Florida's children attend traditional public schools. During four years in office, Scott's focus has been on helping privately run schools — from those private schools that take state vouchers to publicly financed charter schools — boost enrollment at the expense of public schools. He has fully enabled Tallahassee's penchant for regulating and assessing every aspect of public schools but failed to insist on the same accountability when taxpayers pay the bills at privately run schools. He signed laws making it harder for school boards to oversee charter schools and easier for the state's lightly regulated voucher program to expand without meaningful assessments of whether those students are learning. Three times Scott signed budgets giving charter schools that serve a fraction of Florida's students access to millions in construction money while not providing a dime for construction for 67 public school districts.


From the start, Scott's lack of interest in education has translated into four years of short-term crises and no long-term planning. Well-regarded Education Commissioner Eric Smith, a holdover from the Crist administration, was frozen out and left after three months. His successor, former Virginia Education Secretary Gerald Robinson, lasted a year before the state had yet another failure in administering standardized tests. Former Indiana Education Commissioner Tony Bennett was gone in six months after a controversy about a charter school grade in his previous job. Scott's current education commissioner, veteran bureaucrat Pam Stewart, got the job when the Board of Education skipped a national search. Scott finally appeared to engage in 2013, calling for $2,500 teacher raises and debit cards for teachers to buy supplies, but neither worked out as promised and Scott once again looked clueless about public schools.

A few months later, as Common Core came under attack, Scott called a summit of the state's education leaders at St. Petersburg College. Then he failed to show up.

Look closely at the center of the picture.
Kind of speaks for itself - especially for Texas women who've watched Governor Rick Perry continuously stomp on women's rights while he's been in office. 
by Joan McCarter

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said Monday that the company's participation in, and funding of, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was a "mistake," and that the organization's fight against climate legislation and in promoting denial of global warming is "making the world a much worse place."
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt indicated in an interview Monday with NPR's Diane Rehm that Google would drop its ALEC membership "in the future," but did not specify a date."We funded them as part of a political [campaign] of something unrelated," Schmidt said in response to a caller asking if Google "is still supporting" the influential conservative organization. "I think the consensus within the company was that that was some sort of mistake, and so we're trying to not do that in the future."

Rehm then asked Schmidt why Google first involved itself with ALEC.

"Well, the company has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts—what a shock," Schmidt said. "And the facts of climate change are not in question anymore. Everyone understands climate change is occurring, and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people—they're just, they're just literally lying."

Google is a member of ALEC's Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force and sticks out like a sore thumb, with its famous "don't be evil" ethos, on that massive list of corporate supporters of the organization. That's led Google to be one of the primary targets for activists trying to get these companies to dump ALEC. Microsoft left ALEC last month, joining large corporations like Coca-Cola, General Motors, Bank of America, and Proctor & Gamble who have all said they will leave the group.

Update  From ThinkProgress:
Google has reportedly confirmed to Bloomberg News that it will end its membership with ALEC at the end of the year. Also in a statement to Bloomberg, ALEC’s public affairs direction said Google’s decision was “a result of public pressure from left-leaning individuals and organizations who intentionally confuse free market policy perspectives for climate change denial.”
Daily Kos member
TUE SEP 16, 2014 AT 04:22 PM PDT
The U.S. Census Bureau has announced that the poverty rate declined in 2013, falling from 15% of Americans to 14.5%. This is the first decline since 2006.

Pop the cork on the champagne, boys! This means that only 45.3 million Americans were living at or below the poverty line, which was an annual income of $23,834 last year ($24,375 in 2014 dollars).

So what does it take to live in poverty? A lot of hard work for that four-member family, especially if they're being paid the current minimum wage.

To make $23,834 at $7.25/hour takes about 3,287.5 hours per year. Now, since most minimum-wage jobs don't include things like sick leave, vacations and other things that would only be wasted on the poor, the calculations are easy.

3,287.5 hours per year equals about 63.25 hours per week. Since it's tough enough to get an employer to commit to 40 hours per week for hourly workers, overtime probably isn't a factor.

So either one adult in the family has to work two jobs or there must be two wage-earners. The single-breadwinner approach works out to 8 hours per day, seven days a week, every week and then pick up one more four-hour shift at the second job. Once again, there's no room for time lost due to illness.

The benefit is that one adult is free to take care of the home and children. This is the "Leave It To Beaver" world of the poor. No high heels and no pearls, but someone is there when the kids get out of school, which experts tell us is a good thing.

The more reasonable alternative is both parents work and try to adjust their schedules to maximize their family time.

Don't forget, this is all to make the maximum under the federal poverty guidelines. A lot of those 45 million-plus people don't make that much.

Of course, as we all know from listening to various pundits and politicians, these are the lazy sponges that soak up government assistance in the form of SNAP, WIC, Earned Income Tax Credits and other such examples of federal waste. And they don't even pay income tax.

Sorry, maybe it's just my flawed perceptions, but two people busting their butts just to make enough to be poor don't sound very lazy.

But let's say this is the "Leave It To Beaver" world with one parent employed, one stay-at-home parent and a couple of kids, call them, oh, Theodore and Wallace. Ward or June has one job working 40 hours a week and let's toss in a two-week vacation, while we're at it.

How much does Ward or June need to make enough to live in gentile poverty in modern America? $11.92 an hour.

This is well beyond the proposed $10.10 minimum wage that some have solemnly predicted would cause the collapse of Western civilization and lead to mass joblessness.

But wait! That $11.92/hour would mean that many people could stop having to work two jobs. Those jobs would still need to be done, so other people would be needed to fill them. These new hires would now have money and could become consumers, the real job creators in our economy.

Of course, $15.00/hour sounds good, too. People who work as hard as many minimum wage earners should be able to see something beyond the bare necessities.

And to those who moan about how raising the minimum wage to a livable level would make prices skyrocket, I would point out that the average price of a Big Mac has risen 30% since the last time the minimum wage was raised. The employees didn't get raises but somebody's making more money somewhere up the chain. And they're probably not buying enough Big Macs to cover it. Let's see what happens if we pay the folks that make them enough to buy them (McDonald's employee discounts apply only to food purchased by the employee for their own consumption during breaks).

(Unrelated actual picture from my collection)
Southerland’s VAWA vote was wrong
Safety and security in our homes, workplaces and communities must be above politics. These are not Democratic or Republican issues. They are universal and sacred. That’s why, 20 years ago this week, Congress passed into law the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with strong bipartisan sponsors and votes.
VAWA has had lasting and significant effects. Intimate-partner violence has significantly decreased in America. The justice system and services to victims have greatly improved. Nevertheless, domestic violence and sexual assault remain vastly under-reported crimes. And our work toward ending sexual assault and domestic violence is nowhere near done.
That is why I found it to be so troubling that Congressman Steve Southerland voted in 2013 against re-authorizing VAWA. Never before had this bipartisan law been dragged into the mud of single party-based opposition. It was outrageous and shameful.
Southerland and other Republicans voted for a watered-down version of the bill that actually took away support for victims. He did not join his Republican colleagues to support the stronger Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. Claiming that he did so now is misleading and just plain wrong.
Southerland should explain why he voted against protecting women and families here in Florida and across the country in favor of petty party politics.
VAWA and its protections for women, children and all families is a sacred trust for our elected leaders. If Southerland will play politics with that trust, what else are we at risk of losing?
Former executive director, Florida Governor’s Task Force on Domestic and Sexual Violence

Let’s not go back to the 12th century
Re: “This is dirty politics” (letter, Sept. 9).
Although I understand Julie Tomlinson’s desire to defend her husband, his campaign event for Congressman Southerland was offensive, insulting and disrespectful.
Women have made progress, but not without having to push hard against male-dominated power structures. Anyone who thinks that opportunities for women are equal to those for men need only look to who runs Fortune 500 companies and even the Congress of the United States; we are half of the population, but only a small percentage of those in charge.
There may be many complex reasons for why women are not running the world today, but one of them is that power is still largely in the hands of men and they are not ready to give it up.
I am not a man-hater; my husband is the best man on this earth, and many of my closest friends are outstanding men.
But women will continue to be treated as second-class citizens, especially in the workplace, if men continue to network at political galas featuring whiskey, cigars and the Knights of the Round Table. An invitation to a 2014 political event that fondly invokes the 12th century and the paternalistic governance of “good men sitting around discussing & solving political & social problems over fine food & drink …” is unforgiveable.
Didn’t Hugh Tomlinson know any intelligent, accomplished women who could participate? Congressman Southerland cannot control the inappropriate behavior of his supporters, but he can refuse to attend events such as this. And as for “dirty politics,” many people were outraged about the event, and there was nothing feigned about that reaction.
Joan McCarter Daily Kos staff
Southerland talking man stuff, like tractors, with a man.

How's that Republican rebranding going, again?

WASHINGTON — Back in March, organizers held a fundraiser for Republican Congressman Steve Southerland described as a meeting with Southerland and a "small group of concerned men," according to an invite obtained by BuzzFeed.The invite goes on to say that attendees should "tell the misses not to wait up" because "the after dinner whiskey and cigars will be smooth & the issues to discuss are many."

Southerland is running for re-election in Florida against Democrat Gwen Graham.

"Good men sitting around discussing & solving political & social problems over fine food & drink date back to the 12th Century with King Arthur’s Round Table," the invitation said.

Well, of course there won't be any solving of political and social problems if women are in the room. They'll just keep on interruptin' with their girl talk about how all this stuff makes them feel. No, what you need to get shit done is lots of testosterone. And tobacco. And booze. And to be living in 1950.Gee, I can't imagine why American women think that the Republican party is  "intolerant," "lacking in compassion," and "stuck in the past."

(Steve has made National, actually International news with this one)

by author Nicholas Sheppard
In the last twenty years, there have been three occasions when the Republicans have won national elections, but received less votes than the Democrats.

The direction of the nation would be vastly different, and the progressive legacy so much more profound, if, in each instance, power had simply been granted to the side that won the most votes.

In the 1996 Congressional elections, the House Democrats received 60,000 more votes than the Republicans, but the Republicans remained in the majority, and in control of the legislative agenda.

The Congressional term produced the Balanced budget act and tax relief act of 1997, but beyond that, it was a period of extreme volatility and confrontational politics, personified by Speaker Gingrich, whose management style was so disorganized and unpredictable that within three years, his own lieutenants tried to depose him in a chaotic coup. By the time he was forced out in 1998, many former members say they were terrified to open up the newspaper in the morning, fearful he had said or done that could cause them political heartburn.

If the Democrats had taken back the House – because they got the most votes – the nation would have been spared the dysfunction, and there would have been far less of a sense of the country remaining fundamentally conservative. Although the Republicans would still have retained the Senate, the Democratic House, under Dick Gephardt, would have controlled the legislative agenda, which would have been decidedly more progressive.

In 2000, George W. Bush was eventually inaugerated as President, despite receiving half a million votes less than Al Gore.

If Al Gore had won – because he got the most votes – tax levels would most likely have remained at the moderately progressive levels under Bill Clinton. 9/11 would likely still have happened, although greater heed may have been given to the infamous August memo.

Gore certainly would not have invaded Iraq. (he described the invasion as one of the worst strategic blunders in American history). A trillion dollars and thousands of lives would have been spared, and greater focus, and resources, would have been given to Afghanistan.

Gore would likely have used executive action in response to climate change, and been more liberal on stem cell research, perhaps even fast tracking gene modification to mitigate against conditions such as Alzheimer’s. There would likely have been no gutting of FEMA and no appointment of an ineffective official to head it, increasing the liklihood of a better response to Katrina.

In a broader sense, there would have been the acknowledgement of a full and equal ideological retort to the twelve years of the ‘Reagan Revolution’, and a legitimate claim that the country was moderating away from its oft-claimed conservative leaning. Instead, the illusion of right-wing parity, or preeminence, continued – the Republican party propped up by the quirks of the system rather than by actual numerical superiority at the ballot box.

In the 2012 Congressional elections, The Republicans again retained control of the House, despite receiving less ballots less than the Democrats. This time, they trailed by an astonishing 1.4 million votes. There is no precedent for this – no House ‘majority’ in the history of the Republic has ever governed with less of a public mandate.

If the Democrats had won – because they got the most votes – the Tea Party would be an impotent, fringe group on the periphery of the public discourse. There would have been no 2013 debt ceiling crisis, roiling markets and shaking consumer confidence. There would have been no government shutdown lasting sixteen days, costing the economy a staggering 23 billion dollars and shaving half a point off G.D.P growth. There would not be yet another investigation into Benghazi, after seven prior investigations that concluded no evidence of wrong-doing. There would be no frivolous lawsuit against the president, nor chatter of Impeachment.

With the Senate having passed a bi-partisan Immigration bill with more than two-thirds of the chamber voting yea, the house would, by now, have followed suit, with a final bill coming out of conference, bound for the president’s desk. Substantial Immigration reform would be the law of the land.

And yet, the idea persists that the nation is divided down the middle, and the Republicans have a legitimate mandate to stymie the President’s agenda. If the Democrats were back in control of the House – because they got the most votes – the Tea Party movement would be largely viewed as a momentary reactionary surge, and the Republicans would only have been in control of the chamber for two of the last eight years – having won only one congressional election out of four, reflecting the broader, and more dire context of the Republicans having only won the Presidential popular vote once out of the last six elections.

To put this into perspective, there have been three instances in the last twenty years, when the party that considers society to be a meritocracy, has assumed power without meriting it.

The party that abhors the mindset of getting a medal just for participating, has three times come first, not by winning, but just by participating.

And the party that says you shouldn’t just expect the system to take care of you has three times been taken care of by the system.

The Republicans: Freeloading off the more deserving for twenty years.

OUR OPINION: Gov. Scott ignores right of public accessAmong Florida’s recent governors, none has a worse record on transparency and open government than incumbent Rick Scott. Now Mr. Scott is apparently trying to render Florida’s public records law effectively meaningless by adopting a policy that makes it next to impossible to obtain access to public communications.

His latest effort to skirt the obligations of transparency, revealed in a lawsuit over his secret plans to raise money for a project involving the Governor’s Mansion, was justified by a claim that public employees can routinely conduct state business using private email accounts. They then become “custodians” of their own records.

This is a stunning assault on Florida’s constitutional right of public access, but well in keeping with the pattern and practice of a governor who has never seemed to understand, or appreciate, the obligations of transparency imposed on Florida’s public officials. He acts more like the CEO of a privately operated hospital chain, which he once was, than a public servant required to conduct the public’s business in public.

Until now, all emails and communications by public officials have been a matter of public record, accessible via a public-records request. By allowing public employees to use private email accounts to conduct business, however, Mr. Scott and state employees can deny that any such public records exist in state files.

Anyone wanting access, therefore, has to determine which state employees — current or former — may have those communications. Seekers of information may be obliged to file lawsuits. The burden is on the employee to release them or fight the request. They are the ones who have to hire lawyers to represent them in handling public-records requests.

This is a policy never before employed by state government, a reversal of precedent that makes the public-access law inoperable on a practical level. It effectively takes the state out of the loop on state business and creates a barrier that blocks public scrutiny of public affairs.

The project to create a “governor’s park” around the chief executive’s mansion is, in itself, perfectly defensible, but the way the governor has gone about it raises multiple questions about what’s going on behind the scenes. Why, for example, were public employees raising funds for a private endeavor on public time? What promises were made, or expected, by big-time donors to the project like FPL and U.S. Sugar? We don’t know because the communications were not part of the original public record.

None of this is new for Mr. Scott. Ever since he was elected, he has displayed a disturbing tendency to conduct the public’s business in secret. This pattern of playing fast and loose with the right of access was initially revealed when it became known that documents involving his transition from candidate to elected official had been destroyed.

That could have been attributed to rookie error, a mistake by someone with no experience in public office who simply didn’t know better. But the record since those first days shows a clear pattern of shielding the governor’s activities from public view. As a result of his reluctance to disclose his travels or meeting schedules, the public often does not know where he goes, whom he goes with and with whom he meets.

Florida has a proud tradition of open government that Gov. Scott apparently considers an inconvenience. Floridians deserve a governor who honors that tradition instead of one trying to destroy it.

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