One thing you can always count on from Rick Scott is his predictability when it comes to shameless hypocrisy. His few campaign promises often fall flat, and when they do, he tries to manufacture fictional victories.
Bennett said that his resignation was his idea, and that Rick Scott asked him to stay on. Scott has insisted that Bennett "did a great job" and continues to do so.
Bennett said that his remaining in the job would be a "distraction" for Scott and for Florida students, wasn't "fair" and he called the Indiana allegations "malicious" and "unfounded." Alluding that the timing and the release of the emails was politically motivated and should be investigated, he said he was "fearless" and proud of what he had done in Florida and would leave "with his head held high."
While he claimed that the release of the emails was politically motivated, he said his actual changing of the grade for the Republican donor's charter school was not political.
Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold "failing" schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett's education team frantically overhauled his signature "A-F" school grading system to improve the school's marks.
Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan's school received an "A," despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a "C."
"They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist.
Bennett also said during his press conference that there should be "a debate on the best way to educate children."
Just changing a grade you don't like isn't usually an option in debates on how to best educate children. Who needs an education when you can just manufacture the appearance of one? Apparently that works for Bennett, and Rick Scott, who was willing to keep Bennett on in spite of his changing grades from a "C" to an "A" so as not to compromise his "accountability work."
Tony Bennett had been Rick Scott's third Education Commissioner since he was elected governor.
Tony Bennett Gets An "F" In Playing Politics With Education
(Updated Below: Bennett to resign.)
On Monday, a report from the Associated Press indicated that emails obtained from then Indiana Schools Chief Tony Bennett showed that he changed the school grade for a charter school run by a prominent Republican donor from a "C" to an "A." Bennett was later defeated by a Democrat and left Indiana soon after. Naturally, Bennett was then picked by Florida Governor Rick Scott to take charge of Florida schools.
Now that the Indiana grade change details have been made public, many are calling for Bennett to step down. Unfortunately, after saying he hadn't seen the reports, Rick Scott responded to this latest scandal with much the same response he gives all the scandals coming from his office: "He's doing a great job."
In his place, Scott named DCF’s regional managing director for the southern district, Esther Jacobo, as interim DCF secretary.
“David did a great job in leading the state’s top child protection agency and his service is deeply appreciated. I have no doubt that Esther will increase accountability in the department and enhance child protective services in order to protect the most vulnerable among us,” Scott said.
Should we be surprised that Scott is standing by Tony Bennett? Probably not, and for more reasons than one. Of course Scott takes no blame when things go wrong under his direction, but the fact that Bennett allegedly changed grades for political reasons (although Bennett claims that isn't the case) may be exactly why Scott says he's doing a great job. Perhaps that's by design, and exactly what Scott intended.
In a textbook exercise in Orwellianism, Bennett, now the Florida schools chief, defended his damage-control frenzy by saying the rating apparatus as a whole was in jeopardy.
Educators, from those with traditional public schools to those operating charters to those teaching teachers in universities, already had warned him about A-F. But they saw the jeopardy the other way around: It was and is a blunt instrument that treats parents choosing schools like shoppers for backpacks. And it sets schools up for state takeover, and management by private businesses with political connections, without giving them and their communities a fair chance to explain their numbers and describe their needs. It tends to financially reward the affluent.
Though the Florida Parent Trigger push has gone down in defeat in the legislature two years in a row, the powers that be are still hard at work trying to propel Florida schools into privatization. Former Gov. Jeb Bush and his nationwide efforts with his Foundation for Florida's Future, along with Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst and California-based Parent Revolution have gone to great lengths to find other ways when legislation fails in spite of deception tactics like the "Debunking Parent Empowerment Myths" propaganda they deployed earlier this year.
There are big profits to be gained from privatization in spite of the evidence that many charter schools in Florida have had not only bad academic failures, but financial accountability problems, and weighting and boosting grades for private schools isn't new either.
When people whipped money in the 2012 election, stunning journalists who had swallowed Bennett’s Kool-Aid and had presumed his easy re-election, the vanquished golden boy of the national conservative school crusade opined that he had been too busy rescuing our children to devote sufficient time to politics. His sponsor, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, suggested that illegal campaigning by unionized teachers had derailed vitally needed reform.
"He is very focused on accountability. He is very focused on making sure we have the number one school system in the country."
Coming from the governor who claimed he was working to do the same while actually defunding public education leaves one with more than just a little skepticism.
While Scott hasn't "directly answered" the question of whether Bennett's job is secure, he has a political dilemma of his own to face in his next move. He's placed Florida families and education squarely in his reelection cross-hairs, but voters have seen through his actual treatment of both, and parents are in no mood for another "parent trigger" style privatization maneuver.
If Rick Scott truly were interested in giving Florida's children a chance at a "world class education," he wouldn't be playing politics with them year after year, and he wouldn't have put Tony Bennett and his questionable past with Indiana schools in charge of Florida schools in the first place.
It should be a universal assumption in Florida by now. If Rick Scott is willingly in front of a camera and it doesn't involve questioning from reporters, it's likely for his benefit in some way. When the Governor officially requests your presence, most people are willing to step up and are sometimes even obliged to do so.
It makes sense that teachers would honor a request for an interview if he's considering them for a Florida Teacher of the Year Award. So it's one thing to submit to such an interview knowing that you're there for the purpose of being considered as a great teacher and a candidate for an award, but it's another when the Governor's reelection campaign uses video of those same interviews instead for a reelection campaign ad, and yet another when they do so without informing those teachers what they're actually using them for.
A least some candidates for Florida Teacher of the Year didn't realize the video interviews they gave during a reception at the governor's mansion would be used in a political advertisement for Gov. Rick Scott - and one called it inappropriate...[snip]
The videographer, a governor's office employee, "asked us different questions and said the video would be used for different things throughout the governor's office," said Megan Williamson, a fourth-grade teacher from Okeechobee. "I wasn't told I was going to be in a political ad."
Williamson, a Republican, said she wouldn't have minded even if she had known the video would be used in a political ad for Scott.
"I think he's gotten the state back on track," she said. "I appreciate his concern for education."
But Apryl Shackelford, a middle school teacher from Duval County, wasn't pleased when she learned from a reporter she was featured in video urging Scott's re-election.
"I don't think it's appropriate for me to be in any political ad, Democrat or Republican" as a statewide teacher of the year finalist, she said. "It's inappropriate for me to speak for 8,000 teachers" in Duval County. "I can't say what party they should choose."
This certainly isn't the first time Rick Scott has used others as campaign or photo-op props, especially when it comes to education. Scott has used school children as props, the first time as he made severe cuts to education, using them as backdrops in his budget signing ceremony, and another when he put a sliver of those cuts back into the budget to curry favor from voters who were outraged by the cuts in the first place. Further, he used education as campaign fodder again when he went out on his "Teacher Pay Raise Victory Tour" recently. Those "raises" weren't exactly what he promised, and as one educator put it: "The math simply does not add up."
As is often the case, promises made by Rick Scott don't always add up, and math isn't exactly his strong suit.
"A state employee on state time took this video at a state event and it was sent out publicly to the press and to all our email lists," said Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz. "After that anyone can do anything they want with it."
Scott's office disclaimed responsibility for making the ad, which was posted on YouTube by the state Republican Party. Representatives from Scott's office and the state Department of Education said the party used video distributed by the governor's office as a news release, but without any coordination with the governor's office.
See? It was in no way coordinated with the state Republican Party, who at the moment do little else but campaign for Scott's reelection, and as the most unpopular governor in the country, he needs all the help he can get. Right now the RPOF is the reelect Rick Scott campaign.
But sure, this has nothing to do with Rick Scott's conducting those teacher interviews on video.
"All too often we’re associated with being 'anti' everything," Bush said. "Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates even though they share our core beliefs, because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party."
If only Jeb Bush were willing to take Jeb Bush's advice.
No, Bush has decided that if you can't beat insanity, or fund raise and push your agenda without it, by all means start campaigning with the inmates! Last night Bush headlined a fundraiser with one of the most unpopular Tea Party Governors who has tossed his hat back into the reelection ring.
No, not Rick Scott this time, think crazier:
Maine's very own lunatic Governor Paul LePage. And people keep insisting that Jeb's the brains in the Bush family.
The media wasn't allowed at the fundraiser, which I guess under the circumstances is perfectly understandable. Most wouldn't want that kind of association to get out, but when you're shameless and desperate like Jeb, I guess it's worth the risk.
Or how about the time he said this, over repealing a ban of Bisphenol A (BPA), a man made carbon-based compound used in plastic beverage bottles that exhibits hormone-like properties:
"There hasn't been any science that identifies that there is a problem" and added: "The only thing that I've heard is if you take a plastic bottle and put it in the microwave and you heat it up, it gives off a chemical similar to estrogen. So the worst case is some women may have little beards....and we don't want that."
Even though Bush and LePage share ties to the State of Maine, why would Bush risk embracing the crazy? Well, here's how LePage views immigration and education for a hint. LePage has touted how a private school was able to bring up its math scores “because they bring kids from Asia.” Also, this hint from Bush spokesman Jaryn Emhof:
"I know (Bush) has a lot of respect for what Gov. LePage is trying to get done in the state," and the two spent time together at a national education conference and have "a good rapport."
Of course. Money, and Bush's love for privatizing public schools.
Did I mention that Bush is shameless and desperate?
Of course that's not the entire reason for Bush and LePage to become BFF's. The best reason is the one that Jeb would rather you not believe. That he and LePage are actually ON the same page when it comes to many of their shared political beliefs. Jeb just thinks you won't notice, given that he's supposed to be the sane member of the GOP.
He's just not inclined to use colorful terms terms like "Gestapo" or "vaseline" to promote them.
Progress Florida has released a new report on ALEC's influence in Florida, this time concerning public schools which are under assault by those who seek to profit from privatization. Cited in the report are The Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), founded by Jeb Bush, and the Special Needs Scholarship Act, which is based on the Florida McKay scholarships. Model legislation in Florida is just part of the widespread influence ALEC has on education nationwide.
“Floridians need to know who is representing, and how cozy their lawmakers are with, the for-profit education industrial complex,” said Mark Ferrulo, executive director of Progress Florida. “We will continue to shine a bright light on ALEC and the lawmakers doing their dirty work for as long as their assault on our neighborhood public schools continues.”
From the report, ALEC v Kids, the specific policies pertaining to Florida:
ALEC’s ties to Florida are reinforced by the connection with Former Governor Jeb Bush and his ALEC member Foundation for Excellence in Education. ALEC has taken model policies from FEE, and FEE has promoted policies taken from ALEC. Matthew Ladner, working at the time for the Goldwater Institute, introduced the ‘A-Plus literacy Act’ as an ALEC model bill based off the education policies, including vouchers, Former Governor Bush spearheaded in his tenure in Florida. Ladner then began working for FEE, where he works today. FEE’s digital learning statistics are used by ALEC for their report card, and Florida has enacted an ALEC model Virtual Public Schools Act. FEE supported the ALEC ‘Parent Trigger’ legislation that failed in Florida, voted down by the Senate 20-20.
ALEC’s education policies have been intertwined with Florida for more than a decade. In 1999 the Florida Legislature passed a bill as part of Governor Jeb Bush’s signature education reforms establishing the McKay Scholarship Program. The program is a voucher system to allow for disabled students to attend private schools. This program was the first of its kind. ALEC’s model ‘Special Needs Scholarship Program Act’ is based on the Florida McKay scholarships. Now, at least seven states have enacted similar programs. Although it was the first of its kind, Florida’s McKay scholarships are wrought with problems.
There is no mechanism in Florida law to measure the academic achievement of students using the scholarships. It is impossible to know if the program is improving or harming academic performance. For more than a decade, Florida has spent millions on the scholarships, without any mechanism to assess the efficacy of the program. Not for lack of trying, the Manhattan Institute, a State Policy Network Affiliate with ties to ALEC, has attempted to assess results by conducting a surveys, in 2003 and 2008. Not surprisingly these surveys mirror the ALEC model legislation, attempting to assess satisfaction, but not truly assessing student performance. In 2011, still with no credible assessment of the Florida program, the state expanded the McKay scholarships to encompass more students.
As the program has grown in size to 26,000 students, with the state paying more than a billion dollars, rampant fraud has followed. In a thorough investigation, the Miami New Times investigated the McKay scholarships and found appalling fraud. While schools were required to have a physical location, no verification was required, and the New Times found that funds were being spent on schools that did not exist, existed in condemned buildings, or simply existed in public parks. Schools had virtually zero regulation of curriculum, and no requirement for accreditation, to the extent that many ‘schools’ let children wander in parks, and in an appalling case had children panhandling as a ‘business management class.’ Even corporal punishments, banned in Miami-Dade public schools, made a resurgence in McKay funded private ‘schools.’ Between the program’s implementation and 2011, the Florida Department of Education had investigated 38 schools, and substantiated claims of fraud in 25 of them; many of the schools committing fraud continued to receive McKay funding. According to the Miami New Times, many of the schools committing fraud are merely asked to repay the stolen funds, and continued to receive McKay payments.
This is not surprising, as the law, at the time, stated that the Florida Department of Education could make no more than three random site visits each year; three visits covering the more than a thousand schools who were in the program. The Miami New Times investigation prompted legislators to enact measures to combat fraud, 12 years into the program. ALEC’s model bill has not changed, and continues to advance in states.
He's also looking for small donations these days rather than just large check dumps from his favorite corporate welfare recipients, so he's now also appealing to "Florida families" to get the job done:
Scott’s Let’s Get to Work fund-raising committee issued a blast email urging contributors to give at least $10 to “join us in fighting the newest tax increase on Florida families — rising tuition.” Scott’s committee has raised $4.8 million already this year, mostly from big donors.
But in recent weeks Let’s Get to Work has taken a tactical turn and has begun drawing small scale contributions from close to 400 individuals.
The rising army of grassroots givers may be part of an effort to cast the poll-challenged governor in a more favorable light, while building a volunteer base for next year’s campaign.
In other words, take some of what you'll presumably save in tuition hikes and hand it over to Scott who has only your best interests at heart. Also, he thinks you're stupid.
Scott and Weatherford: Conflicting Priorities In A Race To The Bottom
Things are getting interesting, and a little heated, between Rick Scott and Republicans in the legislature in a fight over priorities and power struggles. If the problems didn't pose such serious consequences for Floridians who at this point merely pawns to the ruling party, their donors and lobbyists, it would be time to get out the popcorn. Unfortunately, any celebrations will only result from lessening the damage from this year's legislative session.
Scott has claimed he prefers the Senate version of Medicaid which would take $50 billion in federal funds, but the House version uses only state funds and the coverage is inadequate and would extend to less people. The Senate passed their version, but the House has so far refused to adopt the bill, which set off a standoff in the House today when Democrats called for the use of their "nuclear option" of reading the bills in full, causing more tension in the chamber between parties.
Scott turned his forced acceptance of Medicaid expansion into a campaign issue hoping that voters would "believe" his flip-flop was genuine, which of course, hasn't worked. Voters haven't forgotten that his entire career before running involved trying to kill off ObamaCare. If the legislature does nothing about Medicaid, which appears to be the likely outcome, they will drag him down with them in defeat. Unfortunately many Floridians will still go without insurance coverage and health care as a result of what House Speaker Will Weatherford says won't be "the end of the world." While his own family benefited from Medicaid, he has denied it to others, and in doing so, it's not a stretch to say people will die without it. For them it will be the "end of the world."
It is really disappointing to watch the Legislature, particularly the Florida House of Representatives put ideology over the health care needs of working uninsured Floridians. The plan the Florida Senate has designed will build on one of the best public private health care partnerships in America, KidCare, and would provide more than 1 million working uninsured Floridians access to real private health insurance.
I know one thing, if this debate had happened during my term as Governor, the Legislature and I would have spent all summer in Tallahassee until we had done the right thing by the people that we all serve.
There has also been disagreement between Republicans and Scott over his education priorities, on everything from teacher raises to tuition hikes, more campaign fodder for Scott. With those in jeopardy thanks to the GOP, Scott has threatened to veto special projects of theirs.
"They have to explain what they meant. I know that we had an agreement, a three-year agreement."
An analysis says repeal of the tax would result in a loss of about $140 million in sales tax revenue to the state, cities and counties. The budget before lawmakers is $74.5 billion, and is about $4 billion higher than current spending.
Scott didn't stop there: He directly criticized the Legislature for writing a budget that includes a 3 percent tuition increase on in-state students. To Scott, raising tuition is the same as raising taxes, which he also called "ridiculous."
"I'm reviewing the bills. I'm going to make the right decision for 19.2 million Floridians," Scott said. "I don't look at this as politics. I look at this as, how do you take care of people in our state?"
Hanging in the balance as leverage for Scott are three GOP legislative priorities, which Scott has to act on by Wednesday, campaign finance "reform," ethics, and in a new twist on the war on women, a law that would end or restrict alimony.
As Scott and Republicans fight it out among themselves, sadly the losers in either battle will be Floridians.
“What was originally intended as a gesture of GEO’s goodwill to financially assist the university’s athletic scholarship program has surprisingly evolved into an on-going controversy and considerable distraction to both of our organizations,” GEO Group chairman and CEO George Zoley wrote in a letter.
After claiming that the name would go up as planned when it first came to light, a student protest yesterday apparently got the message across that the name would continue to be a negative not only for the university, but for GEO.
Along with striking the name idea, the $6 million "gift" that Geo claimed was purely philanthropic has also been withdrawn:
GEO and university officials laughably claim that the deal is strictly philanthropic, and in no way, shape or form a corporate sponsorship, or, worse, a way to recruit new employees and desensitize people to the horrible private of for-profit prisons.
So the claim that the $6 million was merely a "gift" and in no way a coprorate sponsorship has disappeared right along with the "gift" itself.
Or at least that's what he says his main concern is in front of the cameras. When he's not in public however, it's a different story. Those who were willing to fork over $125 for a ticket to attend the so-called "non-partisan" James Madison Institute’s 25th anniversary gala Wednesday night got a different "pledge" from Scott, along with several other Florida politicians and office holders.
During the event, Scott made no mention of those teachers raises he's laser "focused" on. No, there he made it clear that he's still working for big business, and less concerned about representing the best interests of Floridians.
In a story that highlighted the governor’s preference for unfettered private development that was sure to please the JMI crowd, Scott spoke about meeting with Gary Morse, the developer of The Villages and a major donor to the GOP. Morse showed him an aerial map of his project where more than 80,000 people live in Central Florida. Scott asked him why he couldn’t keep growing because of there was nothing but vacant land around the project. Morse, who is a billionaire and top donor to the governor’s reelection campaign, told Scott he could never afford to pay for the costs of having the project reviewed by state planners. “So with your help,” Scott told the JMI audience, “with the individuals you elected, with your thoughts and your ideas, we cut taxes, we cut 2,300 regulations, we streamlined the permitting process, we got rid of the Department of Community Affairs (which would have been the agency to review the Villages), we streamlined the water management districts, we got the Department of Transportation focused on where they can help us get more jobs.”
Yes, let's let development run wild with no restrictions and pesky regulations, that's just what Florida needs according to Scott. Let's just turn the entire state into a giant version of The Villages! There's a frightful vision.
Adam Putnam: “Private property rights are a bedrock of our constitutional rights.(applause) We spend far too much of our time pushing back against a federal government that tells us how much water they’re going to let flow downstream, what we’re allowed to do with it, what we’re allowed to do with our land. That’s not just an ag issue, it’s a constitutional issue, that’s an American issue. We can never lose sight of protecting our sacred private property rights."
Jeff Atwater: “Right now our choices are to reduce the size of our government, reduce the size of the debt, reduce taxes and reduce regulation. Those are the choices that Florida made because JMI was educating the people of Florida as to the consequences of the choices. In the same period of time we made those decisions, Washington increased the size of our government, increased taxes, increased our debt.”
Adam Putnam isn't the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, he's the Commisioner Of The Constitution! He just neglected to share the title change with the rest of us. Agriculture, land use, pshaw!
And according to Atwater, we who actually pay taxes need to be educated! Those of us not in the big business world just don't understand how great it is when there are no rules to be governed by. That's what you call "freedom!" Oh, and speaking of freedom:
Will Weatherford: “I believe America is less free today than it was four years ago. We are less free. And I believe, under current trends and the current leadership that we have, we’ll probably be less free three and a half, four years from now than we are today. Now I have no control of that here in Tallahassee. But what I do have control over and what we have an opportunity to do is create a pocket of freedom that is unrivaled by any place in the world. We can do that. Right here. We can create little pockets of prosperity all over the country. I believe that the real battleground is taking place in states all over America. We have an opportunity, right here, to lead that charge.” He said the next two years, the House will focus on making Florida “the most prosperous free state that America has ever seen.” He repeated two of his priorities: closing pensions for new government workers and stopping Medicaid expansion.