Teachers union competitor loses aid

Associated Press

The Legislature backed away from a $1.2 million project for a group with close ties to Gov. Jeb Bush that is competing with Florida's teachers union.

The Senate on Friday voted 36-4 for a bill (CS-HB 409) to instead send the money that was tucked into Florida's $48 billion budget to the Department of Education and give other groups a shot at it. The House passedthe bill unanimously.

The budget provision would have given the Professional Educators Network, which has ties to the Republican governor, control of a new state program providing teachers with professional liability insurance.

The group bills itself as an alternative to the Florida Education Association, which currently is the primary provider of such coverage and usually supports Democrats.

A two-sentence paragraph in the budget designates the Professional Educators Network, which also sells the insurance, as administrator of the new program, bypassing competitive bidding laws.

Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, is sponsoring legislation to create the program, saying it is a way to help teachers.

Farkas said he did not know how the provision designating the network got in the budget. The Senate sponsor, Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, said he, too, was unaware of how it got there.

Webster sponsored the language passed Friday to send the money to the education department to offer the contract through competitive bidding.

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