Editorial

Sun Sentinel Editorial Board




In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott declared a statewide public health emergency to combat the pill-mill crisis that was killing seven people a day.

Six years later, Florida faces an even deadlier killer. This time it's heroin, which is killing 10 people a day.


As he did with Zika last summer, we urge the governor to recognize the heroin epidemic for what it is — a public health emergency in urgent need of greater funding, increased awareness and wider distribution of naloxone, a drug used to treat overdoses.

"There is no family, no race, no ethnicity, no income level this epidemic cannot touch — and no effective state bulwark in place to stop it," Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens wrote in a letter to the governor.

Indeed, Marion County Commissioner Kathy Bryant — this year's president of the Florida Association of Counties — lost her brother, Daniel, to an overdose last July. She's not the only county commissioner who's lost someone to heroin, either. The association made addressing the opioid epidemic one of its top five priorities this year.

"People don't think it's people like you and me, and that's just not the case," says Bryant, of Ocala. "It's everywhere. It's one of those drugs that's extremely hard to get away from once you start it."

The association is seeking more money for mental health care and substance abuse, knowing addicts don't generally have insurance for treatment and families can afford only so much. They also want to ensure ambulances are stocked with naloxone, noting some South Florida fire departments can't afford it. And they seek tougher penalties for people who sell heroin, a good goal, though it's hard to believe tougher penalties will stop sales. Sure, longer sentences could keep dealers off the streets longer, but the painful truth is that addicts will find another supplier.

In other states that have declared public health emergencies, like Virginia, anyone can now obtain naloxone at pharmacies without a prescription, which lets families and friends be prepared to help people in the throes of an overdose. And Massachusetts released $20 million two years ago to get more addicts into treatment.

Sadly, the rise in heroin abuse is associated with the closure of the pain-pill clinics. Plus, heroin is increasingly compounded with fentanyl, a synthetic drug that can be lethal at low doses. Bad batches and uncertainty about potency are part of what's causing so many deaths.

Between 2013 and 2014, the Florida Medical Examiners Commission says deaths from heroin increased 124 percent. The next year, heroin deaths rose 80 percent. The trend shows no sign of ebbing.

Beyond the human toll, the costs are staggering.

The Palm Beach Post investigated the crisis and reports some stunning numbers:

• In the first nine months of 2015, Florida hospitals charged $1.1 billion for heroin-related visits, with many of those bills going unpaid.

• From 2010 to 2015, Florida hospitals charged $5.7 billion for heroin-related visits, including $2.1 billion to the state Medicaid program.

• In those same five years, hospitals charged $967 million for babies born addicted to heroin. Medicaid was the primary payer in almost all of those cases — $826 million.

Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said in a statement that the administration is listening. Surgeon General Celeste Philip and Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll are scheduled to meet with legislators "to hear their input on the subject." In Florida, the surgeon general is the person who formally calls a public health emergency.

State health officials should listen hard and make the obvious call. For not only is the heroin epidemic killing people, it's destroying families and leaving children without parents.

Schenone noted that Scott's proposed budget includes $4 million for the Florida Violent Crime and Drug Control Council, of which $2 million will "be provided for financial assistance to local law enforcement to conduct investigations related to heroin abuse."

That's not nearly enough money. It's expensive to treat addiction, wage public education campaigns and stock ambulances with emergency drugs.

These last few months, the governor has been waging the fight of his political life to secure $85 million in economic incentives to lure businesses to Florida.

Let us see equal tenacity in fighting for Florida families facing the consequences of addiction.

Let us see Attorney General Pam Bondi show the same muscle she used in fighting pill mills to fight the heroin epidemic.

Let the governor call the heroin epidemic what it is: a public health emergency.

And let Daniel's family — his sister and brothers, his three children, his parents, everyone — be the last to face the despair of this epidemic on their own.

Copyright © 2017, Sun Sentinel

 

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Michelle DeMarco

Communications Director

Florida Senate Democratic Office

404 South Monroe Street

Tallahassee, FL 32399



 
 
Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon

Response to State of the State – as Delivered

March 7, 2017

 


·       Good afternoon. I’m Oscar Braynon, and I’m the leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

·       On behalf of the Senate Democratic members, I’d like to talk to you for a few minutes about Governor Scott’s State of the State address today.

·       Not just about what he said, but about what he didn’t, about the promises he’s broken, and why that matters.

·       For the past seven years, Governor Scott has talked a lot about the economy. “It’s all about jobs,” he says.

·       Well, he’s right. We couldn’t agree more. Everyone needs work; everyone needs a job.

·       The problem is the kind of jobs he’s been bringing home to Florida.

·       Because the majority of his jobs are great for teenagers, or someone just starting out, but not for someone with skills, with training, with a strong work history, or a family to support.

·       They’re not the kind of jobs that let you save for that new car, that down payment on a new house, or your kid’s future education.

·       They’re not the kind of jobs that invest in the people.

·       And it’s that commitment to investing in the people that’s been missing from too many areas in the seven years since Governor Scott first took office.

·       In states like Michigan, Arizona, and even Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana, the governors didn’t stand in the way of the people getting affordable health care.

·       They realized that bankrupting residents because of a medical emergency isn’t the way to prosperity.

·       They realized that the national health care law not only brought more medical coverage for people, but more good paying jobs in the health care field.

·       They knew that you can’t work if you’re sick, you can’t give 100 percent if your body is operating at half power, and you can’t take care of others if you can’t take care of yourself.

·       Time and time again, Governor Scott had the chance to do the right thing, to invest in the people by expanding healthcare coverage in Florida.

·       But he didn’t. He gave the public’s money away in big tax breaks to big companies instead.

·       It was a fool’s errand.

·       From conservative think tanks to top economists, there’s widespread agreement that the way to lure the top companies with the top paying jobs isn’t just dangling tax dollars in front of them.

·       Florida is and has been one of the lowest tax states for business in the country.

·       Business executives want what the rest of us do, and it all comes down to quality of life: good schools and top-notch universities, quality, affordable healthcare, efficient transportation, and clean water and air.

·       They want more than just a state that sells itself as “cheap.”

·       So as Governor Scott continues his sales pitch for more of your dollars for more of his corporate tax cuts, ask him about that big shortfall the state is facing because of these very same policies, and his broken promises to turn Florida around.

·       Ask him about the green sludge fouling Florida’s waters because money was never committed for prevention.

·       Ask him why we’re stuck near the bottom in high school graduation rates and educating our pre-school kids.

·       Ask him why 9,000 more people with developmental disabilities age 21 or older are waitlisted for services, or why we’re at the bottom of the national pack in our commitment to services for the mentally ill, or access to basic health care.

·       And ask him why investments in the people just aren’t as important as the people’s money for his tax incentives.

 




·       If you had the chance, what would you choose?

·       More jobs paying minimum wage, or jobs you could brag about, jobs you were proud of, jobs that were taking you somewhere?

·       If you had the chance, would you check the box for fewer doctors, less medical services, and higher costs?

·       Or would you check the box for a family doctor, preventative services, and treatment  you can afford?

·       As Democrats, we believe in the right choices, the ones that deliver the good jobs we need, and the affordable healthcare we’re missing.

·       We believe in a future that aims higher, that wraps the hopes and dreams of every man and every woman struggling to hold on, into one unified march for better opportunities now – not some faraway date in the future.

·       And we believe that the way that you do this is by investing in the people.

·       Start with education, the great equalizer, and start young. Commit the money our public schools desperately need to shore up crumbling buildings, pay better salaries to our teachers entrusted with educating our children, and provide the tools students need to succeed and stand second to none.

·       Embrace health care coverage for all Floridians, and the financial sense it makes not just in eliminating expensive back-end treatments, but a boon in new high paying jobs.

·       And rethink opportunity and second chances by eliminating criminal records for minor drug and non-violent offenses so that job offers don’t vanish with the application form.

 



·       All of this was missing from Governor Scott’s State of the State speech today. It’s been missing for the past seven years.

·       For all his campaigning as an “outsider” his politics have been focused on the well-being of the insiders, his promised tax cuts mostly tailored for the well-off while the tax bills went to everyone else.

·       In his first campaign for president, former President Obama said: “Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who’s willing to work. That’s the promise of America.”

·       That’s the promise of Florida, too. And that’s the promise Democrats intend to keep.

·       Thank you. 

 

 

 

Michelle DeMarco

Communications Director

Florida Senate Democratic Office

404 South Monroe Street

Tallahassee, FL 32399

 
 
by John B. Morgan
Special to the Tampa Bay Times
Something unprecedented happened in Tallahassee this week. The Florida House of Representatives quit three days early. They just threw up their hands and stopped working. I'm incredulous, but maybe I shouldn't be.

These are the same people who, for years, refused to even give a hearing to medical marijuana legislation in Florida. These are the same people who then, once medical marijuana was on the ballot, had the gall to say it should be passed legislatively, rather than by constitutional amendment. These are the same people who, staring down a ballot measure, finally passed what they call a "medical marijuana law" but wrote it so hastily that a year later it still hasn't been implemented.

Anyone who knows me knows two things about me: I keep my word and I never quit. It is simply not who I am. It is not who I raised my kids to be. I've recently become a grandfather, and it is not who I want my grandson to be.

I am going to keep my word and push to pass a medical marijuana law that helps sick and suffering Floridians. And I am not going to quit until that happens.

I took up this cause for my brother, who has spent his entire adult life in a wheelchair, in severe pain, and who only has a normal life because of medical marijuana. But medical marijuana quickly became an issue that is larger than my family. It's about all of our families.

When I first became a public advocate for medical marijuana, people immediately started telling me their stories. A father whose 8-year-old daughter has hundreds of seizures a day and none of the drugs work. A mother who is stricken with cancer but doesn't want to try marijuana to relieve her suffering because she's afraid she might get arrested and lose her children. A wife, given a death sentence by an ALS diagnosis, who is still alive nearly three decades later because her husband grows and administers marijuana for her illegally.

Those are the stories of the present, of people who need this law right now. But this is just as much for me about the future. Like me, everyone deserves an opportunity to give their children and grandchildren a better life than we had. Our children and grandchildren deserve the ability to live in a state where they can have safe, reliable access to medical marijuana should their doctors recommend its use.

I have to believe the politicians in Tallahassee were not thinking about this like I do, through the lens of family, because if they were, passing a sensible medical marijuana law would have been a no-brainer.

I cannot believe they call this working. If my kids showed this kind of work ethic in school, they would have been grounded. And guess what? I would have drug-tested them too. I run a big law firm, with hundreds of employees. If someone who worked for me said to me on Tuesday that they weren't showing up for work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I'd tell them not to come back Monday.

There are a few courageous Republican and Democratic legislators who tried valiantly to bring compassion to Florida. Unfortunately, in Tallahassee, the power of the pharmaceutical industry and the special interests are proving more powerful than the people.

The people don't have a vote in Tallahassee, but they do have a vote in November 2016. Medical marijuana will be back on the ballot, and we will get the law we deserve.

Compassion is coming to the great state of Florida, as it has in 23 other states plus Washington, D.C. I plan to lead this march to victory as long as it takes.

Last fall we almost won. Nearly 3.4 million Floridians voted "yes" for medical marijuana, totaling 58 percent of the vote in favor. That's usually a win. Medical marijuana received a half-million more votes than Rick Scott and more than any other elected official on the ballot. This time around, we will not only win a broad majority, we will win a majority larger than 60 percent, and medical marijuana will become the law of the land.

Politicians in Tallahassee may not want to work. So be it. We will do their work for them. We will do their work, for the people, for the patients, for our families.

John B. Morgan is the managing partner of the Morgan & Morgan law firm and the Chairman of the medical marijuana advocacy group, United for Care. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.



 
 
Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa)

State of the State Response – as Prepared

March 3, 2015

 

On the road to his first election, Republican Governor Rick Scott promised Floridians that under his 7-step economic plan, “total job growth will accelerate, the number of new business start-ups will increase, wages and salaries will grow, and the productivity and vitality of Florida’s economy will soar.”

 

Well, this past January, as Governor Scott returned for a second term, the jury came in about all those promises. And the verdict was grim: Florida is taking the lead in the race to the bottom, in large part because all those new jobs Governor Scott has been busy creating are mostly minimum wage. And it’s not working.Just ask Adhanet Kidane, a 30 year old single mom in Tampa, who works two minimum wage jobs at fast-food restaurants.

 

Sadly, the road to today’s state of the state came at your expense. The ones who prospered before, during, and after the Great Recession never lost their tax breaks, rarely made good on their commitment to create all those high paying jobs, and continued to sock away profits in offshore accounts protected by powerful financial institutions.

 

The middle class has been sinking while the lifeboats sailed off with the well off and the well connected.

 

And they have yet to return for your rescue.

 

Today, while many Floridians see signs of an economy starting to improve, they’re still waiting for the improvements to reach them. Jobs that used to be the first step for teens earning money are now the final steps for adults trying to support themselves and their families. And Florida is no closer to putting hard working people within reach of a family doctor than they were when the national health care law first offered them a fleeting hope of affordable insurance.

 

Because in the deepening disconnect between this governor and the people, the one glaring gap in all the glowing rhetoric about getting to work, removing government interference, and promises of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” is this: giving the people a fighting chance. Like 45-year old Winter Park resident Alvin Joyner, a single dad raising two young boys who puts in 45-hours a week and is barely scraping by on just under $24,000 a year. An assistant manager, Mr. Joyner is pinning his hopes on his faith and a future promotion to earn a better life for his small family. So far, only his faith has come through.

 

Unfortunately, Governor Scott just doesn’t get it. But I believe you do.

 

Any Floridian stuck in a low wage job in a state flush with low wage jobs, gets it. Any homeowner struggling to hold onto their homes when banks get to ignore the rules, gets it. Any student facing crushing debt to get an education, gets it. Anyone stuck in an expensive emergency room because a governor is at war with the president’s health care law, gets it.  Anyone paying high property insurance premiums for minimum insurance coverage, gets it.  And anyone trying to start a small business but can’t get any help because Tallahassee is too busy helping big corporations – gets it.

 

Governor Scott’s economic policies are still catering to Wall Street, while Main Street is left to fend for itself.  Assuring us that all those minimum wage jobs help “families put food on the table, pay the rent and buy a car,” is easy from the luxury of his private jet; but at ground level it’s an insult when the harder you work, the further you fall behind.

 

That’s why we need to turn this ship around.

 

This session, Senate Democrats are sponsoring legislation that promises real help for real people and real small businesses. After all, you work hard for the money you send to Tallahassee. At the end of the day, shouldn’t you have something to show for it too?

 

Our bills are designed to finally give Floridians a fighting chance to climb into the middle class, and the middle class a ladder to climb higher.  Our plan is to build a new economy by investing in clean technology that will launch an industry manufacturing products proudly stamped “Made in the USA.” That’s why we’re pushing to help businesses like those developing solar energy, freeing us from the stranglehold of traditional fuel. And we want to eliminate cumbersome taxes on vehicles powered by alternative fuel so that more people can buy them.



The Senate Democrats’ mission also includes a fighting chance for those too often forgotten. From raising the minimum wage to bringing Floridians’ federal tax dollars home so that our money covers health care for our people, instead of other states’ – these are the basics any democratic society needs to flourish, and we will raise our voices on their behalf.

 

As many of you know, Florida is home to a large group of military veterans who have fought valiantly to defend the freedoms we cherish. This legislature has passed bill after bill to help these warriors upon their return home – everything from housing assistance to lowered tuition. But little of that matters if the jobs aren’t there, if the only fighting chance they have to put those skills or that education to work is no chance at all. Little of the housing help matters if they can’t earn enough to pay a mortgage. And none of that matters if the freedom they defended overseas eludes them on their own home soil because - without a fighting chance – there is no hope, and you are not free.

 

So as you look around you, as you gather around the kitchen table with your families, as you tuck your children into bed at night, ask yourselves: is this the best we can do? After all the belt tightening, the sacrifices, and the hard work – is this the reward? Is this all we can hope for? For ourselves? Our children? Our state?

 

And if the answer is “no” and you, too, like so many other Floridians – like Adhanet and Alvin - are ready for that fighting chance, then stand with us. Let’s demand the same opportunities from this governor he likes to give to just a select few. And let’s rise together.

 

###

 

 

 

 

 

Michelle DeMarco

Communications Director

Florida Senate Democratic Office

(o)  850.487.5833

(c)  850.544.6246

 

 
 
Image From My Collection (Bill)
bySemDem

So... did we all forget this happened?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered deep cuts Thursday to programs that serve tens of thousands of residents with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other developmental disabilities.
Though a range of state services face cuts from this year's Legislature, the governor invoked his emergency powers to order the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities to immediately roll back payments to group homes and social workers by 15 percent — an amount providers say could put them out of business and threaten their clients' safety.

The cuts went into effect immediately.  No provider was given notice.  As the article says they learned from the headline the next morning.


I remember the picture of the young disabled child that accompanied the story.  She depended on the aides for basic tasks, like eating and bathing.  The workers made minimum wage working around the clock--their pay literally couldn't be cut any less.  No health insurance, no sick leave, no retirement, but tons and tons of love and patience.  Florida's budget for the disabled was already at the bottom in the nation, but it wasn't enough for Rick Scott.  He  kicked them to the curb like his rescue puppy.


Rick Scott didn't show an ounce of heart or soul.  After all, disabled kids could be dumped into adult nursing homes.  Which they were.  Pam Bondi would defend it.  Evil.  


Oh... and in case you think he just hates disabled, helpless children, that's not true. He showed that he hated disabled, helpless seniors that year as well.

Did he at least save any money?  Nope.  Their small budget was cut by a whopping 15%, which was only a few million.  But Rick Scott combined this with 1.3 Billion in cuts to education.  (This was, mind you, after he swore he wouldn't cut education, but as usual, no one calls him on this.)  At least, you would think, that would go a long way helping somebody in Florida.  


And it did.  


2.5 BILLION IN TAX BREAKS FOR BIG, POWERFUL, WELL-CONNECTED CORPORATIONS.  


Rick Scott's donors and friends weren't the only ones to cash in.  So did Rick Scott.  


Remember in 2010, when Rick Scott spent $75 million to get the governorship?  Remember in 2013 when he introduced a state law that allowed elected officials to keep assets in a so-called "blind trust" instead of disclosing investments as required by Florida's Constitution?  There is a reason Rick Scott failed to disclose how much he has made the past few years.  He is now the wealthiest governor in history, raking in almost half a billion dollars: and "forgetting" to claim $340 million of it.


This original post was quite long documenting and linking travesty after travesty, and each time Rick Scott has profited off of our misery.  But you know what, I'm TIRED OF IT! This post is ONE FREAKING EXAMPLE out of many.  


I remember the outrage when it happened.  Now it's never mentioned.  NONE of these are. My state party is treating me to the same tired Medicaid scandal as back in 2010, even though Rick Scott's Medicaid privatization district scheme makes that scandal look like a Sunday drive.  Rick Scott isn't just a horrible politician, he is a  horrible person.  Lest you think that I would say that about any GOP governor, I wouldn't--and haven't.  I didn't say that about "JEB" (John Ellis Bush) or Tom Corbett or Rick Perry or whathaveyou.  But I will say that about Rick Scott.


When the hell did this state become an abused spouse that tries to convince itself things weren't so bad?


You know what Florida, THIS IS AN INTERVENTION!  Kick him out, or we're through here.





ORIGINALLY POSTED TO SEMDEM ON TUE OCT 21, 2014 AT 06:31 AM PDT.
 
 
BY MARY ELLEN KLAS

HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU
10/08/2014 7:00 AM 

TALLAHASSEE Gov. Rick Scott has failed to report more than $200 million in assets on his state financial disclosure form in violation of the Florida Constitution, Democratic attorney general candidate George Sheldon alleged in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Sheldon, a former deputy attorney general under Bob Butterworth, is running against Republican Pam Bondi. His lawsuit, filed in Leon County just weeks before Election Day, accuses the governor of relying on a “web of complex financial arrangements” to shift investments and hide his “financial interests from public view.”

Sheldon is asking a judge to order Scott, Florida’s wealthiest governor, to “immediately and accurately disclose all assets he owns or controls,” and to declare the governor’s “blind trust” in violation of the blind trust law he signed.

“The lawsuit asks the court to remove the blindfold that Rick Scott has put on the people of Florida so that they cannot see what is going on with his personal assets,’’ Sheldon said during a press conference. “The governor likes to talk about how much he has disclosed. The lawsuit is about how much he has not disclosed.”

The Florida Constitution requires elected officials every year to make a “full and public disclosure” of their assets and liabilities “in excess of $1,000” so that the public can monitor any potential conflicts of interest.

Scott was asked about the lawsuit while campaigning in Miami and defended his disclosure. He blamed the controversy on Charlie Crist who, unlike Scott, has released his tax returns for 2013, but has not released his wife’s returns, who files separately. Scott and his wife have released their joint tax returns for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

“This is just pure Charlie Crist,’’ Scott said. “That's what he does; he just attacks people.”

Scott said he put his assets in a blind trust, as was done by former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and former Gov. Jeb Bush, and also released his tax returns. But, unlike Sink and Bush’s reports, Scott’s 2014 blind trust did not disclose the value of the individual assets listed.

The complaint follows a Herald/Times story published last weekend that raised questions about the completeness of the governor’s financial disclosure in light of the blind trust he created, numerous trust accounts he has established, and the differences in which he reports his finances to the federal government and the public.

The Herald/Times and the investigative Broward Bulldog site have previously reported that the governor’s investments in companies that have benefited from his policies have raised questions about the overlapping nature of his role as private investor and public servant.

Earlier this week, Scott’s campaign manager Melissa Sellers defended the governor. In a prepared statement, she said the governor is “in full compliance with both federal and state reporting requirements, which are different.”

Sheldon disagrees. “Rick Scott has under-reported his financial interests; the assets that he owns and controls,’’ he states in the 20-page complaint. “He reports one set of facts to the State of Florida and another set of facts to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Both cannot be true.’’

Sheldon claims that Scott used more than $300 million in proceeds from his severance package from Columbia/HCA to form Richard L. Scott Investments. Scott is the former CEO of Columbia/HCA, a national hospital chain.

Scott then created “a complex web of investment vehicles which appears to include at least six trusts, numerous partnerships, investment funds and accounts” that are worth “at least $340 million,” the lawsuit claims. Scott reported on his 2014 financial disclosure report that his net worth was closer to $132.7 million.

“Funds appear to be moved seamlessly between the entities and they are all financial interests of the Defendant Scott,” the complaint states. “Because he does not include these entities on his financial disclosure, they enable Scott to hide some of his assets and financial interests from public view.”

In her statement on Tuesday, Sellers said the governor has gone “above and beyond what the law requires” by disclosing the assets of his blind trust and releasing his tax returns for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Unlike his campaign opponent, Democrat Charlie Crist, Scott has not released his 2013 tax return and has not committed to do so.

The case is being handled pro bono by Tallahassee attorney Don Hinkle, a Crist campaign contributor.

It it is the second lawsuit filed to force the governor to provide Floridians a more complete picture of his personal wealth. Jim Apthorp, a longtime aide to former Gov. Reubin Askew, has sued to force Scott to adhere to the letter of a Florida constitutional requirement that elected officials make a “full and public disclosure.” A judge sided with Scott, but Apthorp has filed an appeal.

Sheldon’s suit argues that a lawsuit is necessary because the Florida Ethics Commission, which oversees the financial disclosure law, does not have the power to compel the governor to file a complete return, only to fine him after the fact. By contrast, he notes, failure to accurately report financial information to the federal SEC or IRS could result in jail time.

“The policing of ethics in the state has no teeth,’’ he said.

Miami Herald reporter Joey Flechas contributed to this report.

Link to complaint filed against Rick Scott (PDF)
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article2602153.ece/binary/Complaint%20filed%20by%20Sheldon%20against%20Rick%20Scott%20(PDF)

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article2569079.html#storylink=cpy






 
 
DEMETRIUS FREEMAN | Times

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.
http://www.tampabay.com/


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.


Accountability

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.


Leadership

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.

 
 
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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