State Politics

Lawmakers’ rebuttal to Broward Schools’ pledge to sue? A promotional video

House Schools of Hope promo

The Florida House, under Republican Speaker Richard Corcoran, released a video advertising the controversial “Schools of Hope” program enacted under House Bill 7069, which Broward County Public Schools plans to sue over.
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The Florida House, under Republican Speaker Richard Corcoran, released a video advertising the controversial “Schools of Hope” program enacted under House Bill 7069, which Broward County Public Schools plans to sue over.

Two days after the Broward County School Board decided to sue over newly enacted and controversial statewide education reforms, Florida House Republicans countered by debuting a promotional video that touts their hotly debated “Schools of Hope” plan.

The “Hope” program — a top session priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes — is one of several provisions within House Bill 7069 that attorneys for the Broward school district plan to argue is unconstitutional.

Corcoran on Wednesday said the Broward School Board’s vote earlier that day to file a lawsuit was “clueless” and “arguably heartless,” in part, because “Schools of Hope” aims to break the cycle of traditional public schools that earn failing grades year after year.

RELATED: “Broward Schools to sue over controversial new schools law”

The House’s new video advertising “Schools of Hope” is the most recent product of an aggressive digital marketing strategy implemented under Corcoran, who took over as speaker in November.

The video was produced in-house by Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo and other staff using taxpayer-funded resources. It was uploaded to the official “Florida House of Representatives” YouTube page sometime Thursday and publicized Friday morning.

The two-minute video features dramatic instrumental music, photos of a diverse array of students and a voice-over compiled from several key Republican lawmakers who passionately argued for “Schools of Hope” as it was debated in the House this spring — including Miami-Dade Republican Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. and Michael Bileca, two main architects of HB 7069.

No Democrats are featured in the video. Only one supported HB 7069, Miami Rep. Roy Hardemon.

The video’s message — and an accompanying tweet from Corcoran promoting it — are consistent with how Republican lawmakers have argued in defense of HB 7069: By casting critics as people opposed to helping tens of thousands of children in perpetually failing schools who might not have other public education options to turn to.

“As they prepare to sue ... we help prepare kids to soar,” Corcoran wrote Friday on Twitter, appearing to reference the Broward County School Board.

Broward school district spokeswoman Tracy Clark had not reviewed the video as of Friday afternoon but in a statement she reiterated the district’s reasons for opposing HB 7069 and deciding to sue.

“Broward County Public Schools believes the recent legislation, HB 7069, is detrimental to students and teachers, violates the Florida Constitution, does not provide an equitable and level playing field for all schools, and the process by which it was approved intentionally lacked public review and input,” Clark said. “In addition, it allows the use of local taxpayer dollars to pay for capital improvements to properties owned by private, for-profit entities.”

She added: “All students deserve a high-quality education, regardless of whether they attend an innovative district school or a charter school. The School Board of Broward County, Florida, authorized the district’s legal challenge of HB 7069, in potential collaboration with other Florida school districts, to ensure a level playing field between innovative district schools and charter schools.”

Meanwhile, several Republican House members joined Corcoran in circulating the “Schools of Hope” promotional video on social media, with some repeating identical talking points.

It’s uncertain how soon Broward Schools will file its lawsuit. The school district wants to garner additional support from other districts, since many were up in arms over the passing of HB 7069.

The House’s video cites 92 schools and 55,000 students as potentially benefiting from the “Schools of Hope” program. Those figures are lower than the 115 schools and 77,000 children House Republicans referenced during the legislative session because new school grades were released recently for 2016-17 that yielded fewer failing schools across the state.

RELATED: “Miami-Dade school grades mark a milestone: No F schools”

The video does not detail the particulars of “Schools of Hope,” which has been heavily criticized for its lop-sided favor to charter schools. It also doesn’t make clear that not all 55,000 of the targeted children will be helped at once.

Under a cap lawmakers put in the new law, only 25 of those failing schools at any one time will be eligible for financial assistance — of up to $2,000 per student — to pay for new wraparound services, such as after-school programs. (House Republicans previously explained that additional schools will be helped as failing schools cycle out of needing the “Hope” assistance when they improve their standing.)

But the bulk of the $140 million in state money for “Schools of Hope” will go toward attracting new charter schools to Florida, which would set up within 5 miles of a perpetually failing school and essentially compete with it.

Diaz said recently he expects it will take at least a year for any of those approved charter operators to get in position, so the program’s benefits won’t be fully realized for some time.

The Florida Department of Education has not yet set rules that will more clearly define how “Hope” operators will be chosen or other rules that will dictate how HB 7069 needs to be implemented. The 274-page bill includes a plethora of changes to statewide education policy.

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

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