Florida

Prioritization of vouchers, decision on the gun regulation

The Florida House has set its top priority for the 60-day legislative session beginning March 7: universal school credits, regardless of income.

Such a change would end a nearly quarter-century-long campaign by Florida Republicans to privatize public education. This could impact traditional public schools in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush started a voucher program that the Florida Supreme Court struck down in 2006, correctly finding that the Florida Constitution prohibits spending state funds on private education. So lawmakers funded a new coupon program with corporate tax revenues diverted into the program. Subsequent courts have upheld this workaround.

A group outside of the state government called Step Up For Students administers the voucher program. As of 2020, the group’s president earned nearly $300,000. Step Up For Students’ board of directors includes founder John Kirtley, who began pushing for coupon funds decades ago.

As of the current school year, those funds total $1.3 billion — up from $326 million in 2020. Though supporters insisted the program was aimed at students from poor families, lawmakers have steadily raised the income cap . Households earning $100,000 are now eligible.

House Bill 1 would remove the cap, although low-income students would reportedly still be a priority. About a quarter million students attend the school on voucher scholarships and about 9,000 are on the waiting list for one.

Palm Beach County School Superintendent Mike Burke said vouchers are the primary reason for the district-wide enrollment decline of 5,356 students since 2019. Although enrollment has declined at several Delray Beach schools, schools in Boca Raton remain at or near capacity fully occupied.

But as School Board Chair Frank Barbieri points out, HB 1 could affect schools across the county. “I’m worried,” said Barbieri, who represents Boca Raton and West Boca. β€œIt could dilute what (money) is available for certain programs. All of this is based on students.”

The legislature uses money by district, not by school. If universal coupons admit more students from traditional Palm Beach County public schools, all schools could suffer. Some, Barbieri said, could lose elective and career academy programs — the very options the county is offering to discourage parents from switching to private schools.

About 70 percent of students statewide attend private schools β€” most of which are run by religious organizations β€” using vouchers. Such schools are not required to take the same tests that the state requires public schools to take. As a result, there is no way to determine whether coupon students are performing better than their public school peers.

Voucher schools are not required to hire certified teachers or adhere to state curriculum guidelines. Some have taught that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.

Vouchers can also discriminate. A private Christian school near Tampa last year ordered all LGBTQ students out of school. It received $1.6 million in voucher grants.

HB 1 will be an interesting pick for Peggy Gossett-Seidman, the newly elected Republican member of the Florida House representing Boca Raton. The Palm Beach County School Board will oppose the legislation. However, the GOP-run house does not tolerate dissenting opinions on almost any topic, especially on important issues like school vouchers.

I will have more up and through the session.

The Florida Supreme Court rules against challenging the firearms ordinance

florida supreme court
Florida Supreme Court

Last week, the Florida Supreme Court ruled against Boca Raton and other plaintiffs who challenged a 2011 local firearms regulation law.

In 1987, the legislature withdrew all of these laws from the state. Twelve years ago, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, Tallahassee went one step further. Any city or county official who votes for a local firearms law can face a fine of up to $5,000 if a judge finds the violation of the state law was “knowingly and intentionally.”

Under the law, aggrieved groups like NRAs can sue cities and counties if they oppose a local restriction. The law prohibits the refund of the fine. His original version even allowed removal from office.

After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in February 2018, some cities and counties challenged the 2011 law. The town of Weston in Broward County began the effort. Thirty cities, including Boca Raton, three counties and about 70 local officials made up the plaintiffs.

They argued that local immunity protected local officials from these provisions of the law. You won in court. Unsurprisingly, however, they lost at 1St District Court of Appeals. The state Supreme Court has now upheld that verdict.

Judge Ricky Polston wrote for the 5-1 majority that siding with the plaintiffs “would thwart the ability of the legislature to set policy for the state.”

In contrast, Judge Jorge Labarga quoted the trial judge as saying that the “knowing and intentional” language violated the separation of powers by allowing “undue judicial interference” in an elected official’s “thought process.”

The state did not appeal the trial judge’s decision overturning the deportation order. After almost five years, this is the only victory of the plaintiffs.

Another fatality involving Brightline train

The latest fatality involving a Brightline train occurred at 4200 North Dixie Highway in Boca Raton on Saturday morning. According to a police spokeswoman, the investigation is ongoing.

About 70 people have been killed between West Palm Beach and Miami since Brightline began operating in 2017. Although no deaths could be attributed to faulty train or signal crossing operations, the company recently applied for and was awarded a $25 million federal grant for additional safety measures. The Florida Department of Transportation and Brightline will each contribute an additional $10 million.

The last Brightline death in Boca Raton occurred three months ago. It happened on Southwest 18th road crossing. Brightline opened its Boca Raton station last month.

A brief meeting for the Boca Council tonight

Boca Raton City Council members could set a record for the shortest meeting in recent history tonight.

Due to a quirk in the planning, the Council has nothing before it other than the consent agenda, which usually goes by without discussion. There are no public hearings or the introduction of regulations. There is the usual public comment period, which sometimes does not attract speakers, and the normal reports from the city manager, city attorney and councillors.

In the nine years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve never seen such a thin agenda. Given the amount of time it takes to prepare for meetings, you can bet city employees will appreciate the break.

Bezos Academy opens at FAU

The opening of a Bezos Academy preschool at Florida Atlantic University did not materialize last fall as originally planned. A spokeswoman for FAU now says that the school financed by the Amazon founder will open “in the next few months”.

The location will be the former Karen Slattery Center, named after the Delray Beach teenager who was murdered in 1984 in the home where she babysat. Due to the restrictions during the pandemic, the school had to close in 2020. Next door is AD Henderson, FAU’s affiliated K-8 laboratory school.

In its heyday, the Slattery Center had 100 students. According to the Bezos Academy website, the new school has filled all the spots. The academy will “open in early 2023 after we’ve done some renovations to get the space just right.”

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