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10 posts from December 11, 2012

December 11, 2012

Finalists for state education commissioner make their pitches in Tampa

After hearing from all three finalists for the education commissioner job, Florida's Board of Education is expected to make its choice today.

Tony Bennett, Randy Dunn and Charles Hokanson Jr. each spent roughly an hour Tuesday outlining their education philosophies and work experience in a meeting at Tampa's airport hotel. They also faced questions about their ability to manage large organizations and work with the governor and board — issues that plagued former Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson, who resigned abruptly in July after only a year.

After the interviews, board chairman Gary Chartrand wouldn't say which of the finalists was his favorite.

"All three candidates are high quality and each had their strengths and weaknesses," he said. "I will say that I do think our next education commissioner is among the three."

It is the board's second education commissioner search since Gov. Rick Scott was elected in 2010.

The three finalists surfaced after the Board of Education decided in September to extend the application deadline by two months. Many felt the initial pool of candidates was lackluster.

Read more about the interviews here.

Miami-Dade asks Florida secretary of state to let big counties offer more early-voting days, sites

Miami-Dade’s mayor and elections supervisor asked Florida’s secretary of state on Tuesday to relay three requests to Tallahassee to try to fix last month’s elections woes:

Extend the number of early-voting days. Allow early-voting sites to open at locations other than public libraries and city halls. And cap the number of words in state constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Those changes to state law, Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley said, could help prevent some of the embarrassing problems that plagued the Nov. 6 presidential election, in which some Miami-Dade voters waited in line for seven hours and wrangled with a 10- to 12-page ballot.

“We can’t have any more ‘one-size-fits-all’ elections,” Gimenez said.

But will the pleas from the state’s largest county be heard in Florida’s Capitol?

Secretary of State Ken Detzner said he would carry Miami-Dade’s message to Gov. Rick Scott, who tasked the state’s chief elections officer with visiting five problematic counties and drafting recommendations for improvement. Those suggestions, however, would then require the approval of state legislators who wrote the elections laws in the first place.

Separately, Gimenez has convened a local advisory group to make its own recommendations to the county and the state. The group, which is still awaiting the elections department’s after-action report, meets for the second time Friday.

“There are some things that we’re going to need from the state, but a lot of the things that happened can be rectified here in Miami-Dade County,” Gimenez told reporters Tuesday. 

More here.

RPOF keeps spooling the Crist files

The Republican Party of Florida has turned watching Charlie Crist reels into an art form.

In yet another reprisal of what we have now heard and seen from the party -- dozens of times -- comes their latest video. It's called : the Two Faces of Charlie Crist. The kicker makes clear that the party wants Dems to remember Crist as a Ronald Reagan Republican, not a Democrat. (But that begs the question: if Crist is a Reagan Republican, who else is?)


Attorney General Pam Bondi announces ban on more 'bath salts' synthetic drugs

Bondi bath salts pic
Attorney General Pam Bondi signed an emergency order this morning to ban 22 synthetic drug compounds sold as legal alternatives to marijuana and commonly referred to as "bath salts." The action will help aide law enforcement in keeping harmful substances off store shelves where kids can get to them, Bondi said. 

"Our children are overdosing, these have now hit our entire state and I just want to point out to you the marketing," she said during today's news conference. "This is what is actually digusting to me. Look at this. These are ‘Scooby snacks.’ Do you think this is directed at an adult? This is directed at a young child.”

Then Bondi picked up a packet labeled “cotton candy.”

“If you touch and feel it, it feels like cotton candy. These are marketed to children," she said.

Bondi will work to get legislation passed in the upcoming session to make the bans permanent.

Continue reading "Attorney General Pam Bondi announces ban on more 'bath salts' synthetic drugs" »

Parent leaders urge Gov. Rick Scott to reject education commissioner finalists

Nine parent leaders representing advocacy organizations across Florida sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott today urging him to reject all three of the finalists for the education commissioner job. The group appeals to the governor's recent attempts to build relationships with parents and other education stakeholders, saying this is a chance for him to show he is concerned and was listening.

"We are confident that you have had far too many conversations with the parents and teachers of Florida to ignore the fact that Tony Bennett, Charles Hokansan and Randy Dunn apparently endorse an extreme reform agenda that does not represent our vision of public education," the group wrote. "We will not be silent as our state Board of Education, who serves at your pleasure, considers candidates who are a comfortable fit for them, but a poor choice for the 2.74 million public school children who will bear the brunt of this decision. We strongly urge you to convince the Board of Education to reject these last-minute political applicants, who are not the product of a thoughtful search independent of ideology."

Among the signers of the letter: Eileen Segal, president of the Florida PTA, Melissa Erickson, the former president of the Hillsborough County Council PTA, and Don Kearns of Support Dade Schools.

The coalition also urges Scott not to reappoint two Board of Education members whose terms are up soon: Roberto Martinez and John Padget. Instead, they wrote, Scott should choose new board members from the advocates he has met during a listening tour around the state.

Here is the full text of the letter:

Continue reading "Parent leaders urge Gov. Rick Scott to reject education commissioner finalists" »

Gov. Rick Scott: All schools receiving state funds should meet same standards

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott's spokeswoman Jackie Schutz sends us a statement to provide context to what the governor said earlier.

“Governor Scott is most concerned about improving Florida’s education system by supporting and increasing education funding where possible and improving results for students through accountability. Governor Scott will speak to Step Up for Students and those at the Tax Credit Scholarship reception tomorrow and he looks forward to discussing existing and any future accountability goals with them.”

ORIGINAL POST: Private schools that receive state dollars in the form of vouchers for low-income or disabled students should have to meet the same standards as charters and traditional public schools, Gov. Rick Scott said today.

“I believe anybody that gets state dollars ought to be under the same standards," Scott said during a news conference in his office this afternoon.

The line of questioning began with a reporter asking Scott for his opinion on charter schools and other types of non-traditional public schools. He reiterated his stance that Florida families should be about to choose with is right for them.

"I believe that we ought to have choice, and I believe that we ought to have accountability, and I believe parents out to have some options," Scott said. "I believe that competition works. I want to make sure that traditional public schools do well. I want charter schools to do well. I just want our kids to get a great education.”

Most students attending traditional public schools and charters take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and will eventually be expected to meet the new common core standards. But Scott said that should apply to all students if the state is paying for their education, even at private schools.

FAMU placed on accreditation probation by SACS

Florida A&M University was placed on academic probation by its regional accrediting body today, which cited ongoing issues concerning hazing and financial mismanagement at the school.

For now, the university’s accreditation remains intact. FAMU has 12 months to convince the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that it has fixed the problems or it could face more devastating consequences.

Interim President Larry Robinson notified the school’s Board of Trustees about the probation this morning, and he will meet with students and staff on Thursday.

Robinson said probation became inevitable once SACS ruled that FAMU had failed to maintain principles of integrity, one of the key core requirements for remaining in good standing.

“We’ve got to take it very seriously,” Robinson said, while also pointing out that the school’s ongoing efforts to address its issues could pay off when a SACS committee visits Tallahassee this spring.

“We’ll have a strong case to make to the special committee that we’re making progress on it,” he said.

Continue reading "FAMU placed on accreditation probation by SACS" »

Atwater 'not surprised' at Crist switch

Even as Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater refrained from speculating on the political plans of former Gov. Charlie Crist, he wasn't shy to criticize Crist's switch from Republican to Democrat. 

"I'm not surprised by it," Atwater said with a laugh. "He's been a Republican, he's been an Independent, he's now a Democrat in what's probably a 48-month period. I don't know what's left, maybe there are some other parties out there that would like his participation and might start soliciting."

Atwater, who was Senate president when Crist was governor, also jabbed at Crist for flip-flopping when he held elected office and for passing the buck on tough decisions. Crist is widely believed to be positioning himself to run as a Democrat against Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.

Continue reading "Atwater 'not surprised' at Crist switch" »

State economists: property tax collections will rise a modest fraction of a percent

It’s been at least five years since Florida’s housing market collapsed under the weight of foreclosures, and the disaster is far from over, according to state economists and budget advisors.

During a Tuesday revenue forecast conference for next year’s budget, Florida’s chief economist Amy Baker said it won’t be until at least 2017 that the hangover from the foreclosure crisis should wear off.

That means flat to steady growth in collections of property taxes in Florida's 67 counties. Economists now peg next year’s growth at less than 1 percent, about 0.83 percent. While better than last year’s 0.88 percent decrease in property taxes, it’s still pretty much a wash. It’s not expected to get much better in subsequent years, where the property taxes should climb about 3 percent each year until 2017.

“We have growth, but it’s more steady because of the foreclosures that will be hitting the marketplace,” Baker said after meeting with representatives from the House, Senate and Gov.Rick Scott’s office, including his policy chief Holger Ciupalo. These meetings are held now to establish a consensus in projecting revenues and costs and are crucial in serving as the underpinnings for the proposed budgets that will be released early next year by Scott and the Legislature.

Statewide, schools have the most to lose or gain from the projections on property taxes, which are used to estimate the Required Local Effort millage rate. This is the rate school districts levy so they can collect state revenue from sales taxes and other sources. 

-- Mike Van Sickler

Feds say they won't fund partial Medicaid expansion

From the News Service of Florida: 

Florida and other states will have to fully expand Medicaid eligibility if they want to tap into billions of dollars in extra money under the federal Affordable Care Act, Obama administration officials said Monday.

The announcement cleared up a lingering question for states deciding whether to dramatically increase the number of people enrolled in Medicaid when the federal law, better known as Obamacare, takes full effect in January 2014.

The Affordable Care Act says the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost of the expanded eligibility from 2014 through 2016. But states questioned whether the federal government also would cover the full costs for a partial Medicaid expansion --- an idea that the Obama administration officials rejected Monday in a conference call with reporters and in documents posted online.

"The law does not provide for a phased-in or partial expansion,'' the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said in a document. "As such, we will not consider partial expansions for populations eligible for the 100 percent matching rate in 2014 through 2016."

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also sent a letter to governors Monday emphasizing that the federal government would pay the full cost of the expansion in its initial years. After 2016, the federal share would gradually drop to 90 percent in 2020.

Continue reading "Feds say they won't fund partial Medicaid expansion" »