Critics call for veto of massive Florida education bill
BRANDON LARRABEE, THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
11:45 AM, May 10, 2017
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - After lawmakers ignored their calls to vote down a sprawling education bill, opponents of the wide-ranging measure have turned to Gov. Rick Scott as their last hope to stop the proposal from becoming law.
It is not clear when the bill (HB 7069), which covers everything from charter schools and teacher bonuses to school uniforms and sunscreen, will hit Scott's desk. It could be weeks before the Legislature decides to forward the budget-related bill to the governor.
But within hours of its passage Monday night through the Senate by the narrowest possible margin, 20-18, opponents were already beginning to urge Scott to use his veto pen on the measure.
In addition to complaints about individual policy issues in the bill, critics have seized on the fact that the measure --- which includes pieces of roughly a dozen separate bills considered during the legislative session --- emerged from budget negotiations Friday afternoon.
"Where's the government transparency that the leadership promised this session?" Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall asked in a statement issued by the union demanding a veto. "Floridians expect a fair process, not backroom deal-making."
In a sign that the bill has taken on added political significance, former Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham --- who's running for governor --- also issued a statement calling on Scott to nix the bill, along with the state budget approved before lawmakers ended the session Monday.
"As governor, I will veto any budget or policy that shortchanges our schools in favor of the education industry," Graham said. "I'll cancel the Legislature's summer vacation and demand they start over from scratch. We no longer have time for rhetoric or games."
Many of the social media accounts that railed against the bill as it moved through the Legislature on Monday pushed for a veto. Some organizations were slower to state the next step.
Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who also serves as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said Monday night it was too early to say what position his group would take.
"I know the superintendents throughout Florida are very concerned tonight about the budget that we just passed, and rightfully so," Montford said.
But around the same time, some school superintendents --- including Duval County's Nikolai Vitti --- were calling for a veto.
"Why will Governor Scott veto..because he understands that politically beating up K-12 education does not work for FL," Vitti tweeted.
In some ways, the bill could prove to be an inviting target for Scott. It was pushed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O' Lakes Republican who sparred with the governor throughout the session over economic-development incentives and tourism marketing.
But there are also politically popular parts of the bill that could make it difficult for Scott to veto, particularly as he weighs a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2018.
The most notable parts of the legislation were a proposal known as "schools of hope," which would encourage charter schools to locate near academically struggling public schools, and an expansion of the "Best and Brightest" teacher bonus program.
It also moves to limit standardized testing of students in an attempt to answer widespread complaints about the practice and would allow districts to ignore a convoluted and controversial state formula based on those tests when doing teacher evaluations.
Even some lawmakers who reluctantly pushed for the education bill to be approved as a way toÂ appease Corcoran and end the legislative session suggested, not necessarily unfavorably, that a veto from Scott was a real possibility.
"In this case, in my opinion, and my personal choice, is going to be to let him do that --- that we'll do what we agreed to do and pass a conference package of all the bills that we have in conference, and then we'll pass it down and let him do his job," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
Corcoran, perhaps unsurprisingly, said Scott should accept all of the budget-related bills that passed the Legislature.
"If I were governor, I wouldn't veto any of them, no," said Corcoran, considering a run for Scott's office in 2018. "They're not good policy, they're great policy."