In the political landscape that is Florida, Gainesville is a lonely, tiny blue dot in a vast sea of red. Last night, that blue dot celebrated a symbolic act that could have major repercussions in the national elections coming up next year. Kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles was named Teacher of the Year in Alachua County, adding further validation to the bold stand she took last September in refusing to administer a test she found to be flawed and an egregious waste of classroom time. In her bold act of refusing to administer the test, Bowles fully expected to lose the job she loves so much. Instead, her action prompted the state to drop the test and she has been given a high honor for her work.
Naming Bowles as Teacher of the Year takes on a special symbolism to me because it comes precisely when JEB! Bush is making his push to enter the 2016 presidential election. To JEB! fans, his educational “reforms” in Florida are one of his chief accomplishments. To those of us in the blue dot, we know that JEB!’s “reforms” had nothing to do with school performance and had everything to do with enriching the private firms run by his cronies to administer the tests. That enrichment of his cronies resulted in trickle down, but only to JEB! [And Rick Scott’s “reforms” of JEB!’s testing program were merely a function of switching out JEB!’s cronies for Scott’s, but I digress.] Adding even more to the symbolism here, Bowles teaches at Lawton Chiles Elementary.
The test to which Bowles objected was only one in a wide array of tests mandated by the test-crazed Florida Legislature. This test, the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading (inappropriately marketed by Scott’s cronies as FAIR), was legislated to be administered three times a year. But as the Gainesville Sun reported in September, Bowles found that changes made for this year made the test meaningless and a huge waste of time:
In past years, both tests existed in paper format for kindergartners, but this year the FAIR became a computer-based test for the state’s youngest students, which has made it necessary for teachers to administer the test one-on-one.
Some kindergartners are coming to the test without ever having touched a computer mouse before, which Bowles said causes the testing time to stretch from the prescribed 35 minutes to 50 minutes or an hour.
There is also no way to go back and correct answers on the test, she said, so a student who accidentally double-clicks to enter an answer could end up skipping multiple screens on the test, rendering their results inaccurate.
But the main issue for Bowles, and others, is the loss of instructional time after administering these tests — a total of six weeks, in fact.
Bowles initially took to Facebook to announce her decision not to administer the test. Again, from the Sun:
Bowles said she was so frustrated after trying to test two students last week that on Sunday she took to Facebook to publicly air her act of civil disobedience, in a post titled, “Why I am refusing to give the FAIR test to my kindergarteners.”
“I know I may be in breach of my contract by not administering this test,” she wrote in the post. “I cannot in good conscience submit to administering this test three times a year, losing six weeks of instruction. There is a good possibility I will be fired.”
Attention to Bowles’ move snowballed, and her actions garnered huge amounts of support from parents. A blog at the Washington Post noted the attention. The blog post reproduced what Bowles posted on Facebook about the test. Bowle’s preface to her letter to parents is especially courageous:
To the parents of the boys and girls in my class,
I wrote you a letter over the weekend to let you know that I am refusing to administer the FAIR test [Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading] to your precious little ones. I had hoped to send you an email or letter, but it would not be professional of me or allowed by the district for a letter to go out letting you know that I am doing something that is a breach of contract and therefore against the law. I want you to know that for the 26 years I have been a classroom teacher, I have been a good employee, and have always complied with my superiors. I also want you to know that this is not in any way being done because our principal or superintendent are mandating these tests. This is a government issue. So this decision does not involve anyone I work for. It is an act of civil disobedience.
I am hoping for government change in policy regarding testing.
That last bit turned out to be prescient, as well. Bowle’s letter to parents was dated September 7, 2014. The Gainesville Sun article came out on September 9 and the blog post at the Washington Post was September 11. On September 15, Florida’s Commissioner of Education caved in to public pressure about the test and cancelled it. As the Post stated in a blog post that day:
It turns out she wasn’t fired. On Monday, Owen Roberts, the superintendent of schools in Alachua County where Bowles teaches, sent a letter to parents saying that Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart has decided not to require FAIR testing for any students in grades K-2. The e-mail doesn’t directly name Bowles but does refer to “all the attention focused on this issue over the past few days.”
Congratulations to Susan Bowles for her brave act of civil disobedience and the benefit to the youngest Florida students that it produced. Congratulations also to Alachua County Public Schools for rewarding Bowles’ principled stand.
It’s really difficult to say which poor response to Ebola has done more damage to the public health system in the United States. First, we had the series of unforgivable errors at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas that resulted in Thomas Duncan being sent home with Tylenol and antibiotics when he first presented with Ebola symptoms. This was followed up after he was admitted by Nina Pham and Amber Vinson coming down with the disease after they treated him. Now, we have Kaci Hickox, who treated Ebola patients in West Africa, confined to an unheated tent in a New Jersey hospital for 21 days even though she is asymptomatic and has tested negative for Ebola. Twice.
The hysteria over retracing the steps of Craig Spencer in New York City just before he developed his fever illustrates the way the US press has misled the public about when and where Ebola risk exists. Abundant evidence from this and previous Ebola outbreaks demonstrates clearly that there simply is no risk of transmission from asymptomatic patients and that transmission risk grows through the course of the infection.
We see that principle demonstrated very clearly in Duncan’s case history. See this terrific ABC timeline for relevant dates quoted below. Duncan arrived in Dallas September 20. No passengers on any of the flights he took have developed Ebola. The incubation period has elapsed, so we know that no transmission of the virus occurred during any of his flights. Duncan had symptoms on his first hospital visit on September 26 but was sent home. He was later admitted on September 28. No patients or personnel from the hospital became infected from his visit September 26. The incubation period has expired, so we know for certain that transmission did not occur for anyone near Duncan that day. Similarly, even though they were in the apartment with him for days after he developed symptoms, none of the residents of or visitors to the apartment where Duncan was staying in Dallas became infected. The incubation period for that exposure also has expired. From this timeline developed by the New York Times, it appears that Pham and Vinson treated Duncan on the day before he died, which would be at the time when the amount of virus being produced by his body was nearing its maximum.
Rick Scott was elected Governor of Florida in 2010 by a razor-thin margin that many attribute to his strong support from the Tea Party movement. A large portion of that support was garnered through his highly public opposition to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. However, with the small exception of my Congressional district electing batshit crazy Tea Partier Ted Yoho in 2012, it appears that the Tea Party is on a bit of a retreat in Florida and so, with Charlie Crist now looking like a very formidable opponent for the 2014 gubernatorial race, Scott is systematically reversing his position on a number of issues away from the crazy and toward both the human and the humane.
A huge step in Scott’s attempted move back toward humanity took place early yesterday evening, as he announced his support for Florida participating in expansion of Medicaid under the ACA. He even resorted to the death of his mother to justify the move:
The governor said he gained new perspective after his mother’s death last year, calling his decision to support a key provision of the Affordable Care Act a “compassionate, common sense step forward,” and not a “white flag of surrender to government-run healthcare.”
However, the representatives of Professional Crazy were not amused by this development. From the same AP article:
“I am flabbergasted. This is a guy who, before he was a candidate for governor, started an organization to fight ‘Obamacare’ in the expansion of medical entitlements. This is a guy who said it will never happen on his watch. Well, here it is,” said Slade O’Brien, Florida director of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
In other words, AFP notes that Scott was just one more of their huge investments that produced very poor returns.
And McClatchy brings us the Tea Party response, thankfully translated from the original jibberish:
“This is just another example of Republicans lying to Floridians,” said Everett Wilkinson of Palm Beach Gardens, calling Scott “the Benedict Arnold to the patriot and tea party movement in Florida.”
Of course, Florida’s Grifter in Chief (who still holds the record for the largest federal fine paid by a company for Medicare fraud) wouldn’t make this move if he couldn’t further enrich his old HCA co-conspirators or other corporate fraudsters, and so he has engineered a new opportunity. From the AP article: Continue reading
Yesterday, just a few hours before Charlie Crist was set to deliver what would be damning testimony in a US Senate hearing on the 2012 voting debacle in Florida, Rick Scott appeared on CNN and suddenly reversed himself on the issue of early voting.
Recall that the Florida legislature passed a horrible bill shortly after Scott narrowly won the 2010 election, cutting early voting days from 14 to 8, restricting registration efforts and purging voter lists so dramatically that the Department of Justice intervened on several issues in the law. Scott stood firm in supporting it. Just a few days before the election, as ridiculously long lines were reported in early voting, AP had this report:
Florida Democrats say they’ve filed a federal lawsuit asking for the state’s early voting period to be extended.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott has stood firm against giving Florida residents more time to vote before Tuesday.
On Saturday, some Floridians waited for hours on the last day of early voting. State officials say nearly 4 million early and absentee votes have been cast.
Scott and state officials have insisted there were no reasons to keep polls open beyond the eight days authorized in state law. The GOP-controlled Florida Legislature last year cut the number of early-voting days from a maximum of 14 days to eight. That reduction was upheld by federal courts.
As can be seen in the video above, Scott avoided mentioning his role in passing and signing the bill that created this year’s fiasco until called out by Soledad O’Brien. He tried to sound like a reasonable person proposing reasonable changes that will improve the situation, completely ignoring his role as an extremist who was instrumental in attempting to suppress the votes of hundreds of thousands of minorities in Florida.
Also yesterday, a Quinnipiac University poll provided some context for why Scott would find it necessary to reverse himself. His approval rating is strongly negative, while Charlie Crist, who recently joined the Democratic Party, retains an overall favorable rating, as does Alex Sink, who narrowly lost to Scott in 2010 but has already faded from voter recognition. From the poll:
Florida voters disapprove 45 – 36 percent of the job Gov. Rick Scott is doing, continuing his almost two-year run of negative scores, and, as he enters the second half of his term, voters say 52 – 30 percent that he does not deserve a second four-year term, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
“Gov. Rick Scott’s ratings with voters are just plain awful. The numbers cannot be sugar-coated,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “When voters in a politician’s own party want him to be challenged in a primary by another candidate, it’s difficult to see it as anything but outright rejection.
Crist, elected governor in 2006 as a Republican, has a 47 – 33 percent favorability rating from all voters, including 65 – 10 percent among Democrats and 48 – 33 percent among independents, with a negative 28 – 56 percent among Republicans.
By comparison, Scott is viewed favorably by 31 percent and unfavorably by 43 percent of all Florida voters. His ratings by party are 55 – 18 percent among Republicans, with negatives of 16 – 60 percent among Democrats and 25 – 48 percent among independent voters.
Ms. Sink is viewed favorably by 27 percent, and unfavorably by 14 percent, with 57 percent who haven’t heard enough about her to form an opinion.
Marc Caputo, in the Miami Herald, reports on Crist’s appearance later Wednesday in the Senate:
In a prelude to a long and bitter campaign, former Gov. Charlie Crist pointedly criticized Gov. Rick Scott during a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday over an elections law that led to voting troubles and helped turn Florida into a “late-night TV joke.”
Crist suggested that Scott was the one to blame because he signed the election law in 2011 and, this year, the governor refused to extend in-person early voting hours despite lines that stretched for hours and discouraged many South Floridians from voting.
Crist contrasted that record with his own as governor in 2008, when he extended early voting hours.
“As Gov. Scott refused to take action to ease the lines, in some cases, those lines extended to six and seven hours,” Crist testified.
“The outcome of these decisions was quite obvious,” Crist said. “Florida, which four years earlier was a model for efficiency, became once again a late-night TV joke.”
Writing in the Gainesville Sun, Lloyd Dunkelberger brings us a prominent Democrat’s reaction to Scott’s sudden reversal:
Scott’s comments stunned Democrats, who had been harshly critical of Scott and the Republicans for the shortened early voting period as well as other provisions in the 2011 election law that they said were designed to suppress Democratic voters at the polls.
“It’s bordering on an alternative reality,” said former state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, who wrote Scott urging him to extend the early voting hours after witnessing lines of voters waiting six to seven hours in Miami-Dade County. “He and his colleagues in the Legislature created precisely what happened.
“It was done purposely and willfully and now to pretend like they were surprised by it is utterly ridiculous.”
Given the polling on Scott’s popularity, it would appear that many Florida voters join Gelber in blaming Scott for the voting fiasco last month.
Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley took great joy in pointing out to the Miami Herald that her county beat three other large Florida counties in finishing counting absentee and provisional ballots on Thursday, the third day of ballot counting:
Townsley made note of the fact that Miami-Dade, the state’s largest county, finished ahead of three other big Florida counties — Broward, Palm Beach and Duval.
Broward County finally finished counting ballots at about 11:30 p.m. Thursday, said Broward elections spokeswoman Evelyn Perez-Verdia. Palm Beach and Duval were still tabulating their absentees as of Thursday afternoon.
Florida’s official tally of county-by-county status indicates that Miami-Dadistan has indeed finished its absentee and provisional ballot counting. The tally shows Palm Beach and Duval still counting absentee ballots. However, perhaps because this tally shows that only 19 of the 67 counties at the time of this writing have counted their provisional ballots (I’ve seen no media outlets pointing this detail out), major media outlets such as CNN and the New York Times still have their electoral college counts stuck on 303 to 206, with Floriduh’s 29 electoral votes still not assigned to either candidate. Earlier Thursday, the Romney campaign appeared to concede defeat in Florida, but that also did not lead to moving the scoreboards.
I can’t help wondering if the large number of counties not yet finishing the counting of all of their provisional ballots might be due to the way that large numbers of people were moved to new precincts this year with poor notification that their voting site changed. Poorly trained poll workers may have sent some of these voters to provisional ballots rather than checking to see if the voters had been moved to other nearby voting locations where they would have voted normally.
Despite Townsley trying to claim that her county did an overall good job, she still completely sidestepped questions about what went wrong in the precincts where people stood in line until after 1 am to vote. From the Miami Herald article linked above:
Townsley said her elections staff was prepared for the presidential race turnout and lengthy ballot, which included numerous county and state amendment questions. She said she deployed 200-plus more scanning machines and 400 more poll workers for this election compared with 2008, and made trouble-shooting decisions Tuesday to shift resources where needed.
Asked why there were waits up to six hours at various precincts in the Brickell area of Miami, as well as in West Kendall, Country Walk, Goulds and Homestead, Townsley ducked the question without providing details.
“That is precisely the reason we will be conducting an after-action report to determine what actually went wrong,” she said. “We will learn from those lessons.”
Grover Norquist-style small government advocate Miami-Dadistan Mayor Carlos Gimenez feels that he is on top of the situation. His brilliant plan on Thursday afternoon, according to the Herald, was to assemble a task force (which appears to consist only of county commissioners) to find out what went wrong. I’m guessing that these geniuses won’t trouble their little minds with the possible explanation that cutting government to a size where it can’t function properly might have played a role in leading the world to conclude that they are managing a third world local government.
Meanwhile, Grover Norquist-style small government advocate Foriduh Governor Rick Scott is doing his best to hide from the controversy, but he was forced to comment Thursday:
Florida Governor Rick Scott, heavily criticized when he refused to use his emergency powers to extend the number of early voting days in the state, now says he’s willing to look at whether changes are needed to make voting go smoother.
At an event in Orlando on Thursday morning, Gov. Scott was asked about the voting problems in Florida.
“I’m going to be sitting down with the Secretary of State soon to go through all of the issues that might have come up during the election and make sure we always keep improving,” said Scott.
Overall though, the Governor said he was happy with the election process in Florida this year because so many people came out to vote.
Considering the extreme lengths that Scott and his Republican legislature went to in trying to suppress voter turnout, that last bit where he said he was happy with high turnout must have been a really painful thing for him to say.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has done his best to prevent Democrats voting in the 2012 Presidential Election. First, Scott and his Republican legislature undertook a purge of Florida’s voting lists that was so biased against minorities (who tend to vote Democratic) that the state was sued by the Department of Justice for violating the National Voter Registration Act. The purge was so overly aggressive that there are now reports of multiple military personnel being disenfranchised by the State of Florida for the 2012 election. In addition, Scott and his Republican co-conspirators in the legislature dramatically cut back on early voting hours in Florida.
Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald has been following voting issues in Florida closely. He has posted the results for how many Floridians voted early this year, as seen in the table here.
Note that Democrats had a very much larger turnout than Republicans for early voting but Republicans had the advantage in absentee voting.
Caputo noted that the changed law for 2012 cut early voting hours back from 14 days to 8 days. However, Floridians responded to the cutback by turning out in almost as big numbers and despite waits of 8 hours or more at some locations, there were 2.4 million early votes this year compared to 2.6 million in 2008.
One of Caputo’s most important observations about the changes in Florida’s voting laws concerns the relative treatment of early voting and absentee voting:
Guess which type of voting Republicans specialize in? Absentee ballots. Democrats do better at in-person early voting. Though more fraud-prone, absentee ballot voting wasn’t touched in the election law Scott signed that shortened early voting days.
What? Fraud in a type of voting Republicans prefer? Yes, there are major vote fraud cases of absentee ballot fraud going on from the very northern part of the state in Madison County to the south in Miami-Dade County. But of course, despite claiming that their voter roll and early voting hour changes were aimed at assuring a fair election free of fraud, Scott and his lackeys left untouched the easiest route to fraud, which just so happens to also be the form of pre-election voting that their side prefers. Their moves now stand as a clear indicator that Florida’s Governor and legislature have no qualms about suppressing the votes of their opponents while enabling fraud on their own side.
We can only hope that the people of Florida wake up to these disgusting tactics before voting in the 2014 gubernatorial election.
Back in early March, Catherine Rampell wrote in the New York Times about the ongoing trend since the mid 1980’s to cut state funding for higher education, noting that it has led to cutbacks in some of the very few areas of instruction where graduates actually face better employment prospects. She put up a companion piece at the Times’ Economix blog, where she was even more explicit about how it is the refusal by state legislatures to adequately fund higher education that is leading to the current problem of decreasing educational offerings despite skyrocketing tuition costs:
But at least at public colleges and universities — which enroll three out of every four American college students — the main cause of tuition growth has been huge state funding cuts.
There was quite a Twitter kerfluffle last week over the funding situation at the University of Florida, when it was claimed that Computer Science was being shut down while funds were being shifted to the athletic department. That was wrong on both counts, as the University is still struggling with how Computer Science will be organized, but it is not going away. Rather than taking money from academics, PolitiFact explains that the Athletic Association, which is a separate nonprofit, has given back over $60 million to the University since 1991 for academic use.
Unfortunately, that story obscured the real news on higher education in Florida, when Governor Rick Scott vetoed a bill that had passed the Florida legislature with a huge bipartisan majority, giving the University of Florida and Florida State University the ability to bypass the 15% per year limit on tuition increases in order to make up a larger portion of the huge cuts in state funding for higher education in this year’s budget:
The veto comes at a tense time, with universities bracing for a painful state budget cut for the fifth year in a row. This year, the total cut to the system is $300 million. Continue reading
Rick Scott, who remarkably is Florida’s Governor rather than an inmate in the federal prison system, just can’t break out of the behavior that resulted in HCA (where he was CEO) paying a record $1.7 billion in fines to the federal government for Medicare fraud and taking the Fifth Amendment no less than 75 times in a subsequent deposition. Today, we learn that despite apparently no longer owning a significant amount of HCA stock (pdf), Scott’s latest proposal for cutting state funding to hospitals in order to restore funding to education would selectively enrich HCA hospitals while putting in place draconian cuts at public hospitals that provide large amounts of service to the poor and uninsured.
Of course, we knew from even before Scott took office that he planned to punish public hospitals in the state at the expense of private ones (the original Miami Herald article on this topic no longer comes up when searching their site, so one of the multiple online copies is used here):
Florida’s government-owned hospitals will be in the political cross hairs after Tuesday’s inauguration of Rick Scott, once leader of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain.
The governor-elect’s transition team has recommended creation of a panel to study whether government-owned hospitals — Miami-Dade’s Jackson Health System among them – are necessary.
So, given that Scott has a history of illegally enriching HCA and that we knew from before he was even sworn into office that he wanted to end public hospitals, this should not be a surprise:
Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to cut about $2 billion in public funding to hospitals that care for the poor is devastating and even ridiculous, say hospital leaders who predict patient care will suffer if it is enacted.
But because most Medicaid dollars come from the federal government, the move would free up about $422 million in state tax dollars for education. The rest would be federal matching funds that Florida would lose, said Bruce Rueben, president of the Florida Hospital Association.
Oh that’s just brilliant, isn’t it? Scott wants to lose more than a billion and a half in federal funding just so he can cut hospital funding by a little under half a billion. But those cuts are not administered fairly:
What’s more, he and others say, Scott has structured the cuts in a way that hits hardest at “safety net” hospitals that provide the most care for poor people. Yet a few for-profit hospitals — including some owned by Scott’s former employer Hospital Corporation of America — would actually get more tax funds under his plan.
Tampa General Hospital and All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg would each face estimated cuts of more than $70 million, according to the Florida Hospital Association. But three Pinellas HCA hospitals — Largo Medical Center, St. Petersburg General and Northside — would each get a few million more.
The obligatory “I have not seen those numbers” quote from Scott denying that he was aware his plan enriches his old partners in crime is not in the least credible.
Only someone as warped as Rick Scott could come up with the idea that the proper way to fund education is to deny healthcare treatment for the poor while enriching healthcare robber barons. Scott’s plan has not yet been enacted into to law and there are even suggestions that some Republicans in the legislature won’t go along with the plan as structured, so there is a small bit of hope that at least a little bit of sanity can be folded back into Florida’s budgeting plan for next year.
The elections from earlier this week may well go down in history as a watershed event in which voters finally began to understand, and then to overwhelmingly reject, the most extreme elements of Republican views that take the “pro-life” movement into a completely indefensible realm, demonize collective bargaining and promote institutional racism. Developments reported today in Florida indicate that this re-awakening may be spreading, with a survey of Republican voters indicating that they favor withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq over cuts to Social Security or Medicare when reducing the deficit and with the Tea Party scolding Governor Rick Scott over his failed campaign promises to institute ethics reforms.
Note first the remarkable result in Ohio. In a state that provided Barack Obama an election margin of only 51% to 47% over John McCain in 2008, the restrictions on collective bargaining by public employees put in place by Governor John Kasich and a Republican legislature were voted down by a margin of 61% to 39%:
With a beer in his hand and a smile on his face at the We Are Ohio celebration at the Hyatt Regency, Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said public workers should not be the scapegoats for the state’s economic problems. “That is the lesson John Kasich must remember after tonight, and if he doesn’t, he’ll be a one-term governor.
“If you overreach, the people will respond. There is no one tonight who could suggest this was about Democrats versus Republicans,” Redfern said, noting the wide margin of defeat. “This is literally about what is right and what is wrong, and what Ohioans feel is important.”
The outcome of the so-called “Personhood Amendment” in Mississippi is no less striking. In one of the most conservative, anti-abortion states in the nation (won by McCain 56% to 43% in 2008), we learned that just as Kasich and his cronies over-reached on collective bargaining, the Pro-Life movement over-reached in Mississippi, as the measure was defeated 58% to 42%:
Objectors also raised the specter of legal challenges. Most of all, many said, the amendment allowed no exceptions for abortions in cases of incest or rape – a claim not disputed by proponents, who are trying to end abortion in the state.
In a statement from the anti-initiative group Mississippians for Healthy Families, spokeswoman Valencia Robinson said, “… (W)e were successful because Mississippi voters ultimately understood that there is no contradiction in being pro-life and standing in opposition to an initiative that threatened the health and very lives of women.”
And in Arizona, voters recalled Russell Pearce, the author of SB 1070, the “papers please” extremist anti-immigration bill. Pearce lost to a more moderate Republican by a margin of 53% to 45%: Continue reading