Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his prescription for the future of education in Florida this week as he released details of an agenda that focused on national core standards and putting more faith in charter schools.
Following a listening tour that took him across the state, Scott released details of his legislative agenda for education, one of his few major forays outside economic development since taking office nearly two years ago.
Other than that, the looming elections in the politically deadlocked state overshadowed most issues this week.
After all, Florida played host to the presidential candidates who debated at Lynn University, the last of three debates before voters cast ballots in the Nov. 6 election. Other guests crisscrossing the state included family members and a string of party luminaries who are turning over every rock to find the elusive "undecided" voters who have yet to make up their minds.
There was, however, other news as well.
Echoing the concerns that almost got Scott sent packing from South Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce this week objected to legislation passed earlier this year that would block state and local governments from buying goods and services from companies that have business ties to Cuba.
The chamber's position had the not-so-surprising effect of angering South Florida Hispanic lawmakers.
Speaking of South Florida lawmakers, U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, added the Florida Commission on Ethics to a growing list of antagonists as he faces mounting investigations and tries to hold on to the seat he has held since 2010.
On the economic front, BP announced this week it was cancelling plans to build a $300-million ethanol plant in Highlands County, ending a four-year commitment to build its first production facility in the United States. The company said it would seek opportunities elsewhere.
EDUCATION AGENDA UNVEILED:
Expanding his priority list from attracting jobs and boosting the economy, Scott this week consolidated a series of previous mini-announcements as he put forth a package of education priorities he says will move the state forward.
Arguably the most controversial element of Scott's plan is the increased role of charter schools, public schools that are usually run by third parties and are free of many of the regulations faced by typical schools. Scott's plan would remove enrollment caps on existing charter schools and allow school districts to operate their own charter schools.
Scott's agenda would also make other changes, junking some regulations and giving debit cards to teachers to pay for school supplies, with the hopes that businesses would help support the program.
The agenda would also require the state not to introduce any new testing that doesn't conform to the "Common Core Standards," a national set of curriculum guidelines set to take effect next school year.
CHAMBER OPPOSES CUBA-SYRIA CONTRACTING LAW:
The Florida Chamber of Commerce jumped into the always politically dicey subject of Cuba trade this week as it asked a federal appeals court to continue blocking a new law that would prevent state and local governments from contracting with firms that have business links to Cuba or Syria.
The chamber filed a brief Monday in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that says the law, passed this year by the Legislature, would have "far-reaching implications and unintended consequences that will irreparably harm Florida businesses and the state's economy."
The state is appealing a Miami federal judge's decision in June that granted a preliminary injunction against the measure, which was signed into law by Scott. The governor initially said the restrictions would not take effect until Congress passed a law allowing states to impose such sanctions. But he reversed course after an outcry from Hispanic lawmakers.
In the brief, the chamber said the law would discourage foreign investment in the state and strain relations with Brazil and Canada.
The response of South Florida lawmakers, if not surprising, was at least timely.
"Quite frankly, we are appalled with your decision to accept providing economic benefits to these states which support terrorism and communism without taking into consideration all those who have suffered and died at the hands of such oppressive regimes," Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, wrote in a letter to Chamber Chairman Anthony Connelly.
RIVERA FACES ETHICS CHARGES:
The Florida ethics commission found "probable cause" to believe that Rivera broke state's ethics laws as a state legislator at least 11 times, jolting his re-election bid less than two weeks before Election Day.
The ethics commission allegations included that Rivera received income from a company essentially trying to buy his vote; misused campaign funds; didn't report a company's decision to forgive a debt as a gift; and left information off of financial disclosure reports.
Rivera is currently locked in a battle for his seat against Democratic challenger Joe Garcia, who has made an issue of allegations of corruption that have been lodged against Rivera.
In a statement issued by his campaign, Rivera blasted the timing of the announcement and his political enemies.
"It is no coincidence that these frivolous complaints from two years ago -- one from a major donor to Joe Garcia and another from someone who was convicted of threatening to kill Jeb Bush -- were suddenly acted upon just two weeks before the election," Rivera said.
BP DROPS PLANS FOR ETHANOL PLANT:
BP's plans for a 36-million-gallon-per-year ethanol plant in Highlands County have been scrapped, with the company saying it is ending its pursuit of commercial ethanol production in the United States.
"Given the large and growing portfolio of investment opportunities available to BP globally, we believe it is in the best interest of our shareholders to redeploy the considerable capital required to build this facility into other more attractive projects," Geoff Morrell, BP vice president of communications, said in a statement.
The company's decision is a blow to the Central Florida region, which was hoping to welcome the plant and the 800 construction and operating jobs it would bring.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov. Rick Scott unveiled an education package this week in preparation for the 2013 legislative session.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Let's focus on where we're going. We're going to a common core standard that 46 states have and we're going to spend all our time on that." -- Gov. Rick Scott on moving away from FCAT to national standards.