Florida Politics

In urging veto of schools bill, ad distorts Republicans’ remarks

Fight for Florida, a labor union-backed political advocacy group, debuted an online video ad, asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto HB 7069.
Fight for Florida, a labor union-backed political advocacy group, debuted an online video ad, asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto HB 7069. Fight for Florida, Florida Education Association / YouTube

The fight over whether Republican Gov. Rick Scott should sign or veto a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill is escalating to new levels: Ad wars.

A labor union-backed political advocacy group debuted an online video ad Tuesday, asking Scott to veto HB 7069 because it heavily favors privately managed charter schools over traditional public education.

But the liberal-leaning Fight for Florida Inc. takes quotes from Scott and a Republican senator out of context in trying to make its case that the legislation is bad policy.

Fight for Florida says in its ad that HB 7069 is “an assault on our public schools” that will “send [tax dollars] to unaccountable private corporations, while stripping our public schools of needed resources.” (Charter schools are public schools, too; however, they’re managed by private companies or organizations, rather than overseen by a district school board.)

“We join outraged parents and conservative leaders to ask Governor Scott to veto this bad bill,” the ad’s narrator says. “7069 is bad for taxpayers and bad for Florida families.”

The ad’s existence elevates a bitter battle between supporters and opponents of HB 7069, who are bombarding Scott’s office with phone calls, emails, letters and petitions in an effort to influence the governor’s decision. Scott hasn’t received the bill yet, but once he does, he’ll have 15 days to act.

Traditional public school advocates — including superintendents, almost all elected school boards, and parent groups and teachers unions — want HB 7069 vetoed, while charter school proponents want it signed. (Some Miami-Dade charter schools are going so far as offering incentives to parents and, reportedly, extra credit to students, if they openly support the bill.)

Fight for Florida’s ad begins by taking out of context a quote from Scott, who has refrained from taking a position on the bill.

When Scott said “this Legislature is turning their backs on their constituents,” he was referencing the $82.4 billion state budget in its entirety after Republican House and Senate leaders agreed to the framework of a compromise on spending.

Scott’s remark came eight days before HB 7069 existed in its current form — on April 27, when Scott hastily called a press conference to specifically vent about the lack of funding lawmakers planned to give to his top priorities, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. HB 7069 wasn’t released out of budget conference negotiations until May 5.

Charter schools are one option in the growing "school choice" movement. Funded by taxpayer money, these schools are growing nationally, though some states have yet to pass related laws. Find out what sets them apart from traditional public and pri

Meanwhile, the ad also distorts comments from Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze.

When the narrator mentions those “conservative leaders” that want the bill vetoed, this quote attributed to Broxson appears on screen: “Cripples our schools ... our most vulnerable students. I won’t vote to fund any more charter schools ...”

The comment originates from Broxson’s floor speech May 8, when he voted for the bill despite criticizing how it came together.

Broxson was speaking specifically to flaws in HB 7069 — which would make the legislation difficult to implement and which Altamonte Springs Republican Sen. David Simmons said would require a fix by lawmakers when they return in the fall for committee work ahead of the 2018 session.

Broxson did not say he would completely oppose funding charter schools as the ad seems to imply.

Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze Florida Channel

“In September, if we don’t deal with this issue that cripples some of our schools, some of our most vulnerable students around this state, I will not vote to fund any more charter schools that have been affected in this bill,” Broxson said in his floor speech.

He added: “I’m going to vote for it today but I will tell you that this is not something that I came to the Senate to do, to pass what I think to be bad policy. This is not great policy, and this is not something we can go back home and brag about that we did it and we did it right. I’m depending on my colleagues to help me in September to revisit this issue and to do it right.”

Fight For Florida did not respond to a request for comment about how it used Scott’s and Broxson’s quotes in the ad.

The group said its ad will air on social media and other websites for at least the next week. It would not reveal how much it is spending.

Fight for Florida — which describes itself as a “diverse coalition of labor, faith and community organizations” — is registered as a political action committee with the Division of Elections.

It had reported $47 in cash on hand, as of April 30. Contributions or spending for May doesn’t have to be disclosed until June 10.

Although the ad is sponsored by the coalition, the main online host of the video is the Florida Education Association’s YouTube page. The FEA — the state’s largest teachers union and a member of the coalition — was the first group to openly call on Scott to veto HB 7069.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark