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Obama ed chief criticizes Florida’s GOP-led Legislature on tutoring standard

Thursday, May 17th, 2012 by John Kennedy

U.S. Education SecretaryArne Duncan  ridiculed Florida’s Republican-ruled Legislature on Thursday for sidestepping a  sought-after waiver from the federal government to help private vendors retain lucrative tutoring contracts.

Speaking in Washington, D.C. ,to the Florida Council of 100, the business-dominated advisory group, Duncan criticized lawmakers for requiring school districts to spend 15 percent of federal funds for low-income students on private tutoring programs.

Under pressure from state officials, the Education Department had granted Florida and several other states waivers that shielded them from a federal standard demanding that a set amount be spent on tutoring.

State officials had argued that data was inconclusive about whether the tutoring programs, which range from online to in-home student assistance, were effective.

“I find it ironic that Washington is offering flexibility but Tallahassee is taking it away,” Duncan said.

A federal study released this month analyzed results from No Child Left Behind tutoring programs in Connecticut, Ohio and Florida. It found that for students in grades three through eight, there was “no statistically significant impact” on performance in reading or math.

“Why is Florida keeping the set-aside for tutoring that is showing little or no impact on children?” Duncan asked. “Is it because of pressure from the industry?”

The Florida legislation (SB 7127) takes effect July 1. It was signed into law last month by Gov. Rick Scott.

The Council of 100 has long been an ally of Republican governors. But in recent weeks, the council’s appeals to Scott have fallen on deaf ears.

 The council sent a letter last month urging Scott to veto legislation creating the state’s 12th public university, giving independence to the University of South Florida’s Polytechnic campus in Lakeland. The council also called for Scott to approve legislation giving the University of Florida and Florida State University authority to charge whatever tuition they wanted, as part of a push to enhance the schools’ science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.

Instead, Scott approved the new university — and vetoed the UF/FSU tuition bill.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, praised Duncan’s criticism of the Florida legislation. He called on Scott to suspend the 15 percent requirement before the law takes effect in July.

 ”This statute will deny our school districts the flexibility the Obama Administration intended to give them by awarding Florida this waiver,” said Deutch, a former Florida state senator.  ”At a time when school districts throughout Florida are struggling with inadequate resources, top-down mandates, and high-stakes testing, we cannot afford to spend 15% of our state’s Title I funds on an ineffective, for-profit earmark for private vendors.”

Stephanie Monroe of the Tutor Our Children Coalition in Washington, which represents providers of the service, swung back at Duncan. She questioned the accuracy of studies that challenged whether the tutoring effort was effective.

“Secretary Duncan’s comment today on free tutoring services offered to low-income students at under-performing schools misrepresents the program  and does a disservice to the 74,000 students who access free tutoring in Florida,” Monroe said.


Florida House keeps it brief, shines spotlight on FSU b-ballers

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida House members straggled back to Tallahassee after just four days off for a brief kick-off to an “extraordinary” special session followed by an update from their lawyer about the Senate’s faulty legislative maps.

The Florida Supreme Court signed off on the House’s newly drawn maps but rejected eight of the Senate’s proposed 40 districts, meaning the upper chamber will have to do the heavy lifting for the next 10 days.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, told happy House members they won’t have to return to the Capitol next week but to be prepared to come back on March 26-28 to finalize the Senate’s new plan.

The House’s redistricting lawyer George Meros will give the redistricting committee an update on what the court found wrong with the Senate maps this afternoon.

House Redistricting Committee Chairman Will Weatherford said he’s working with his Senate counterpart Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and trusts the Senate to abide by the court’s directions on how to fix the maps.

“I am confident in the Senate’s ability,” incoming House Speaker Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said. “We’re working with them. We have a good conversation going with them. We’re showing deference to them but certainly we have opinions about how the Senate maps should look…. But I think the court gave some pretty specific recommendations. It’s my understanding that they’re taking those recommendations seriously.”

A visit from Florida State University basketball coach Leonard Hamilton provided the highlight of the 11-minute floor session. Hamilton stuck around for photos with members after being introduced by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, the “Seminole Caucus” cheerleader-in-chief.

The Seminoles won the ACC championship this week, and Hamilton, in his tenth year as head coach at FSU, was recently named the ACC coach of the year.

“Today we proudly send our Seminoles to Nashville for the first rounds of the NCAA tournament and wish them the best against St. Bonaventure, wherever that is,” Patronis said.

Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, also took a moment on the floor to give his legislative aide Jacquet a shout-out. Jacquet yesterday defeated three other candidates to win a seat on the Delray Beach City Commission.

Scott says ‘no’ to tuition hikes

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that he’s ready to put the brakes on tuition hikes for college and university students across Florida.

“I don’t believe in tuition hikes,” Scott said. 

He added, “We have to do what the private sector has done, what every family has done. We have to tighten our belts to see how we can save money. That’s the first thing I want to focus on: How do we reduce our costs, rather than how do we raise tuition.”

Last week, 300 Florida university students rallied at the Capitol to oppose what looks like another push by the Legislature to approve a tuition increase. Tuition at five Florida universities has climbed 60 percent over the past four years, while students at the other six public universities have weathered a 45 percent boost in that time.

The presidents of the University of Florida and Florida State University earlier this month urged a House committee to give schools authority to begin charging higher tuition for science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs — the STEM degrees that Scott says are the path to employment in the evolving economy.

The House budget committee Wednesday looks set to approve another potential 15 percent boost in university tuition as part of its $69 billion state spending plan. College tuition would climb 8 percent, under the plan.

Florida’s tuition has been climbing even as state support for universities has dropped 24 percent since 2008, shifting more school costs onto students and their families. The state’s tuition remains the 45th lowest rate in the country.

But while universities have been cutting programs to reduce costs, Scott thinks more reductions can be made at the administrative level.

Six-figure salaries paid to high-level administrators seem to have endured Florida’s prolonged economic slump. Over the past year, they’ve become a rallying point at campus protests.

“I want the cost of living in this state to be lower than other states, I don’t want it to be higher than other states,” Scott said. “Would you think that way in business? You’d wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, gosh. The other business, it costs them more to do things, so let me raise my prices.’ You don’t do that. You figure out, how can we be efficient.” 



FSU’s move into FAU turf sparks state universities’ civil war

Monday, August 22nd, 2011 by John Kennedy

When Florida State University agreed to bring its much-honored film school to West Palm Beach, it was a Hollywood-style story, glittering with images of students getting hands-on experience in big-budget movies.

But a year before classes even begin in temporary quarters at CityPlace, FSU and its partner, Port St. Lucie-based Digital Domain Media Group, already have produced their first blockbuster.

Call it “The Civil War.”

FSU’s arrival in the backyard of Boca Raton-based Florida Atlantic University has sparked a fierce turf battle among the state’s 11 public universities, stirring age-old rivalries among schools that compete not only on the football field, but also for lucrative business partnerships, well-heeled donors and faculty-friendly locations.

FAU has cried foul over FSU’s arrival.

Spurred by the bad feelings, a panel of the State University System’s Board of Governors is scheduled to consider a new regulation today that would assign schools to specific regions and require them to get approval from the schools in another region before offering programs in that region.

“It’s a tough issue,” said Ava Parker, a Jacksonville lawyer and Board of Governors chairwoman. “The world has become more mobile and global. But a lot of this is about bricks and mortar, and where they are placed.”

While pushing back critics, FSU gains a couple more GOP insiders

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Even as Florida State University administrators work to stiff-arm critics over the school’s $1.5 million donation from conservative titan Charles Koch, Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday added a couple prominent Republican leaders to its board of trustees.

Scott named former House Speaker Allan Bense of Panama City and Joe Gruters, chairman of the Sarasota Republican Party, and a recent candidate for state GOP boss, to the school’s board. Bense served as the state party’s finance chairman last year.

Both also are Noles.

But FSU President Eric Barron has been pushing back hard against criticism that the school has compromising its values — and strayed into the world of right-wing politics — with the contribution from Koch. The part-time Palm Beach resident’s cash will help pay for positions in the university’s economics department.

Koch, a part-owner of Koch Industries, is a prominent libertarian who has helped finance such organizations as Americans for Prosperity which, in turn, have served as a touchstone for the tea party movement.

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