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PolitiFact Florida Checks Claims On Beaches, Stormwater - And Testing

Oct 6, 2017

Are Florida's beaches and stormwater systems up to the test in the face of perhaps more - and more intense - hurricanes because of global warming? 

And is it really illegal for a public school student to talk about what's on their standardized tests with the parents? WUSF's Steve Newborn gets to the root of those questions with Josh Gillin of PolitiFact Florida.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, a Democrat who's running for governor, wrote an opinion piece recently for the Tampa Bay Times. Graham said, "Our coastal and stormwater infrastructure are not prepared to handle climate change. They're two of the most critical areas during a storm, and received D-plus and D ratings, respectively, by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2016."

Is that true? Here's what PolitiFact Florida has to say:


Every four years since 2008, the Florida Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers has issued a report card outlining the condition of Florida’s infrastructure.

The organization was founded in 1852 and represents more than 150,000 members of the civil engineering profession in 177 countries, making it the oldest engineering society in the country.

A committee of civil engineers updates the card and gives out 11 grades on different sectors of infrastructure, including bridges, energy and school facilities, to create an an average grade. (Florida’s grade point average was a C in 2016.)

Florida’s highest marks were in ports (B-minus), aviation (B-minus) and bridges (B) in the group’s 2016 report card. As Graham said, coastal and stormwater infrastructure scored poorly.

The section about coastal areas takes a close look at the Sunshine State's 825 miles of beaches. That area received a D-plus grade in 2016, just like Graham said. 

According to the organization, almost 61 percent of Florida’s beaches are eroding and need "ongoing maintenance" to fight the trend. The group put some of the fault on state policymakers, adding that "over the last 10 years, the average difference between requested and state appropriated funds exceeded $40 million per year."

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that hurricanes and major storm events can really mess up coastal areas and beaches. During periods of extreme rain, the chance for flooding increases. Flooding combined with wind, leads to beach erosion and jeopardizes the integrity of important infrastructure, like power plants, along the coast.

Florida’s stormwater infrastructure, which include the drains that capture excess rain water and transport it for cleaning, received a D. Based on the ASCE’s assessment, Florida needs about $1.1 billion through 2019 to update its stormwater infrastructure. However, as needs for improvement have increased, utility fees to upkeep the systems have decreased since 2011.

Stormwater infrastructure is put into overdrive during storms and hurricanes. Increasing the amount of water compromises the natural ability of the ground to absorb water, making stormwater systems function worse.

Graham is accurately citing a report card given out by the oldest engineering society in the country and experts vouched for the group’s assessment and Graham’s larger point. Florida has failed to take preventative measures in the past and it needs to update its existing infrastructure to prepare for climate change.

We rate this claim True.

In our next ruling, is it really against the law to talk to your child about what's on his test? 

That was the gist of a speech state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam gave to supporters in Kissimmee in August. It came after Putnam’s son told him he had to write an essay as part of a statewide exam. And Putnam just happened to tell this to a school principal:

"We're still doing dumb things like telling the parent of an 11-year-old that it's against the law for them to tell their parents what they were tested on something that will determine whether they're promoted or not," Putnam said at the Republican Party of Florida quarterly meeting Aug. 12. "That will end when I'm governor. That's crazy talk."

But is it against the law for a student to tell their parents about a standardized test? Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:  

In 2014, the Florida Department of Education phased out the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and replaced it with the Florida Standards Assessment. The testing system measures students’ achievement in math, language arts, science, biology, U.S. history and civics depending in certain grade levels.  

These tests have a lot of rules and procedures laid out in the FSA testing manual for administrators, which is the basis for Putnam’s claim.

The statements in play come from a section labeled "Discussing Test Content after Testing," which is read aloud to students before the exams.

The first part tells students they cannot share test specifics, with an emphasis on modern communication methods.

"Because the content in all statewide assessments is secure, you may not discuss or reveal details about the test items or passages after the test. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as texting, emailing, or posting online, for example, on websites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram."

However, the section goes on to address student-parent conversations — something Putnam’s story omits.

Adam Putnam at a recent breakfast meeting in Kissimmee
Credit Facebook

It says: "While students may not share information about secure test content after testing, this policy is not intended to prevent students from discussing their testing experiences with their parents/families."

"The department does not monitor or interfere with personal family interactions, and parents have the discretion to determine the depth and breadth of their family’s discussions," said DOE spokeswoman Meghan Collins.

The portion about parent involvement was added fairly recently following concern from parents that students could not talk about their tests after signing the acknowledgement.

In fall 2015, the department added this language to testing manuals and to parent/guardian letter templates it provides to districts.

The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, so we rate it Mostly False.