Florida House panel reconsiders class-size penalties

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauJanuary 14, 2014 

TALLAHASSEE -- The penalties may soon be less severe for school districts that fail to meet state-mandated class-size limits.

A House subcommittee on Tuesday gave early support to a proposal that would change the way class-size compliance and penalties are calculated.

Florida public schools must abide by the class-size limits outlined in a 2002 constitutional amendment. Under the amendment, kindergarten through third-grade classes may have no more than 18 children. Fourth- through-eighth grade classes are capped at 22 students, and high-school classes are limited to 25.

The penalties are not included in the amendment, but are written into state statute. Traditional public schools are judged (and punished) based on the number of classrooms that are out of compliance. Charter schools and other schools of choice (i.e. district-managed magnet schools) can submit their average class size.

If HB 319 becomes law, traditional public schools could also submit schoolwide averages. What's more, the bill would repeal language set to make the penalties even more costly beginning with the 2014-15 school year.

Miami-Dade Assistant Superintendent Iraida Mendez-Cartaya spoke in support of the proposal on Tuesday, noting that although the Miami-Dade district was at 99.7 percent compliance, the penalty was likely to be about $2 million.

Mendez-Cartaya said complying with class-size limits was “not always in the best interest of family and students.”

“If a family of three moves into a neighborhood, and you have room for one or two of those children [in the school], but not the third, we would have to split up the family,” she said. “That is not the intent [of the amendment] and the district has a policy of keeping families together.”

The House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee voted 12-1 in favor of the bill.

"This really gives district the flexibility they need without taking away the responsibility they have to meet their Constitutional obligations," said Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican.

Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, cast the lone vote against the proposal. He said voters continue to support class-size limits, and said watering down the penalties would send the wrong message to school districts and the public.

Posted by Kathleen McGrory at 10:46 AM on Tuesday, Jan. 14 | Permalink | Comments (0) A conversation with Marshall Criser III, Florida's new state university system chancellor,

@tbtia

New state university system chancellor Marshall Criser III has been on the job one week, enough time to see one Florida university win a national football championship and another hire its first female president.

The multitude of issues and topics that have already come across Criser's desk is among the many things that have surprised him about what he calls his dream job. The Times/Herald sat down with Criser on Monday to talk about his vision for the state's 12 public universities and the business and personal experiences he brings to the job.

There is ongoing debate about whether students should attend college with the intent of getting a high-paying job after graduation versus pursing their interests and curiosities. What do you think is the balance between the two?

"When you think about it, it is the student who pursues the degree and makes decisions about what they want to study. It ultimately will be the student who decides what point they want to enter the workforce and what type of career that they want to engage in. And so that is what makes it a very natural discussion to think about the connection between higher education and workforce. I think it's also important to understand that young people today aren't like people like me who spent 33 years with one company. Many times, they may pursue different types of jobs in their lifetime and may have several different employers."

Read more from the Q&A here.

Posted by Tia Mitchell at 10:39 AM on Tuesday, Jan. 14 | Permalink | Comments (0) Scott seeks $31 million bump in DCF funding for child protection

In an effort to repair his child welfare track record, Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday in Miami that he is steering $31 million in additional money to child protection efforts, a move aimed at reducing caseloads and increasing oversight of vulnerable children in Florida.

The announcement comes in the wake of dozens of child deaths from abuse and neglect in the past year, and amid calls for reform of the Department of Children & Families from the non-profit Casey Family Foundation and Democrats in the Legislature.

“While DCF has made significant changes to protect children, we still have much to do to protect the most vulnerable among us,’’ the governor said in a statement on Monday. "Even one child death is a death too many."

The governor will also announce that he will steer an additional $8 million to sheriff's offices to investigate child abuse complaints, a turnabout for the governor who recommended a $17 million reduction in the grants to sheriffs for child protective efforts in his 2013-14 budget proposal. Story here.

Related articles

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Fifth child dies despite warnings to state, father charged with murder, DCF rocked again

Florida DCF worker tied to child death in Miami lacked credentials

Democrats to Gov. Scott: Call off latest DCF budget slashing

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 9:50 AM on Tuesday, Jan. 14 in 2014 FLORIDA LEGISLATURE, Rick Scott | Permalink | Comments (2) Major employers endorse bill to prevent sexual orientation discrimination

@SteveRothaus

Eleven major employers have joined Florida’s leading gay-rights group to support a proposed state law preventing workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Equality Florida on Monday announced the launch of Florida Business Coalition for a Competitive Workforce, a group of top employers including Walt Disney World Resort, Wells Fargo and Darden Restaurants committed to “passing a bipartisan bill that would ban anti-gay and gender-based discrimination.”

“This would be statewide nondiscrimination protection,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida. “The majority of Floridians live in communities that have local protection, but it’s a patchwork quilt. You can live in a city where you’re fully protected but work in county where there's no protections at all.”

Continue reading "Major employers endorse bill to prevent sexual orientation discrimination" »

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 8:16 AM on Tuesday, Jan. 14 in 2014 FLORIDA LEGISLATURE | Permalink | Comments (3) January 13, 2014 Sponsor of drug tests for welfare recipients says he supports marijuana use for seizures

The House sponsor of the bill to test welfare recipients for drug use has joined the bandwagon to decriminalize a non-euphoric strain of marijuana for medical purposes.

Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, wrote on his Facebook page, and in a letter to his supporters Monday, that he will support an emerging House proposal to allow for the legal sale of marijuana high in cannibidiol but low in Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that produces a high. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee last week heard testimony from parents seeking a state exception to the ban on marijana for medicinal uses.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, stunned supporters of the effort last week when he announced he will propose a committee bill to seek to exempt certain strains of marijuana from the state ban, so that parents of children suffering from severe epilepsy could have access to the extracts. A recent medical breakthrough in Colorado has shown that the strain, known as Charlotte's Web, has signficantly reduced seizures in some children.

Now Smith, who sponsored legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2012 to require the state to give drug tests to people seeking welfare benefits, has abandoned his opposition to drugs to support the exception.

"As the representative who ran the bill on drug testing welfare recipients, I want to make it clear in this statement that I DO NOT endorse the smoking of marijuana for the purpose of becoming intoxicated (high), I do however plan on supporting a change in statutes that will decriminalize the use of pill, cream or other forms of the plant that do not have enough Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to produce a high but will allow for it to achieve its medical purpose," Smith wrote in his letter.

"...Regrettably, there are those currently speaking out in support of legal marijuana with the goal of creating a legal means to get high. As I support this good bill it is my hope that they would set aside their childish goal and instead focus on providing this important substance in pill, cream, or other form containing less than .5% THC but having the medical ability to help those who need it. There are children who are suffering and even dying from severe epilepsy. If the discussion is really medical marijuana, then let’s get behind the Florida house and truly help those in need."

The drug testing law has been struck down as unconstitutional in federal court but Scott said this month that he will appeal the ruling, even though it cost the state more to implement than it produced in cost savings.

Smith also sponsored the bill that to allow state agencies to drug test their employees and fire those who test positive but that proposal has also been put on hold pending a lawsuit.

Unlike Smith, however, Scott has said he does not support allowing an exception for medical use of marijuana to help children suffering from seizures. Scott has joined Attorney General Pam Bondi in opposing a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot and asking the Florida Supreme Court to reject it as misleading. When asked by a reporter last week if he would support allowing parents of children with epilepsy to have access to marijuana for medical uses, the governor said: "I oppose illegal drug abuse, I’ve watched what it does to families. I think the attorney general has done the right thing with the advice she gave the Supreme Court. Have a great day!"

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Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 11:26 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 in 2014 FLORIDA LEGISLATURE, Medical Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (5) UPDATED If Lopez-Cantera becomes lieutenant governor, who takes over as Miami-Dade property appraiser?

@PatriciaMazzei

Presumably Carlos Lopez-Cantera will have to resign soon if, as expected, Florida Gov. Rick Scott names him lieutenant governor Tuesday.

So what would happen to Lopez-Cantera's job as Miami-Dade County property appraiser?

According to a county ordinance, his deputy would become acting property appraiser, if approved by the County Commission. That person would serve until the next countywide election, when voters would choose a new property appraiser for the remainder of Lopez-Cantera's four-year term.

He has been in office just over a year, having defeated incumbent Pedro Garcia in 2012. Lopez-Cantera's swearing-in took place in January 2013.

Lazaro Solis has held the title of deputy property appraiser in Lopez-Cantera's office, though no one at the county has confirmed that he would be the one to take over the reins.

Miami-Dade is different from other Florida counties. It has special powers granted by a home-rule charter that gives the county more authority from the state. So while the Republican governor would probably appoint the property appraiser's successor in most other counties, it looks like that wouldn't be the case here.

The next countywide election is on Aug. 26, which would give plenty of time for candidates to line up to run for the nonpartisan post. It wouldn't be surprising if Garcia himself were to seek the post again, considering he briefly challenged Lopez-Cantera's election in court and only lost by a narrow margin of votes.

This post has been updated to reflect that the County Commission does not have to vote on the deputy property appraiser.

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Posted by Patricia Mazzei at 10:32 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 in Miami-Dade Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) Scott's likely LG pick, Property Appraiser Lopez-Cantera, hides his home property info on his agency's website

@MarcACaputo

1e9hB6.Em.56It’s easy to find home and land-owner information on the website of Miami-Dade’s Property Appraiser, with a notable exception: the house where the county’s elected property appraiser lives.

Details about Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera’s home value and taxes are simply impossible to find with his website’s search engine. That makes him an exception in South Florida.

Lopez-Cantera would not comment. One friend of Lopez-Cantera’s, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the information was hidden after a threatening person showed up at his Coral Gables door after his 2012 election.

The Miami Herald accidentally discovered the issue Monday while researching him amid word that Gov. Rick Scott plans to tap him Tuesday to fill the long-vacant post of lieutenant governor.

Continue reading "Scott's likely LG pick, Property Appraiser Lopez-Cantera, hides his home property info on his agency's website" »

Posted by Marc Caputo at 9:08 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 | Permalink | Comments (3) Why Gov. Rick Scott is expected to pick Carlos Lopez-Cantera as Lieutenant Governor

@MarcACaputo, @SteveBousquet, @PatriciaMazzei

Remember this morning's blog that said Carlos Lopez-Cantera was emerging as a top Lieutenant Governor candidate and the announcement could be as early as this week? Right on both counts, it appears. Here's the story:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s long search for a new lieutenant governor ends Tuesday, when he’s expected to appoint Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a former state legislator who is Miami-Dade County’s elected property appraiser.

Scott plans to make the announcement at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday — 10 months after the resignation of former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.

Lopez-Cantera, 40, would be the first Hispanic to hold the largely ceremonial job. His presence on the 2014 Republican ticket would add diversity and could boost Scott’s standing among Hispanic voters, especially in the state’s largest county.

As talk of his possible selection intensified over the weekend, the usually accessible Lopez-Cantera disappeared from public view. He did not answer phone and text messages and emails, and his longtime aide said “no comment” when asked whether he was working Monday.

“If anything, I want to help beat Charlie Crist,” Lopez-Cantera said last month. He recalled that he was one of the few Miami-Dade Republican legislators to endorse Crist over Republican rival Tom Gallagher in the Republican primary for governor in 2006.

More here

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Posted by Marc Caputo at 7:48 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 in Rick Scott | Permalink | Comments (2) Scott touts "record" $8.8 billion in proposed transportation projects

In a continued push to increase spending on transportation and risk his credentials with tea party conservatives, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday he is proposing $8.8 billion on “strategic transportation improvements” throughout the state.

That’s a 2 percent increase on what Florida is spending this year, or about $200 million. Scott made the announcement while visiting the Jacksonville Port Authority.

“From construction jobs to increased trade opportunities, transportation projects provide tremendous job and economic benefit,” Scott said, sounding a wee bit like John Maynard Keynes. “This investment will enable our state to remain competitive for years to come.”

Is this the same Scott of 2011? Upon entering office three years ago atop a wave of tea party discontent, Scott proposed a 7 percent budget cut as a way to mend Florida’s battered economy.

“We can't afford a government that runs wild with taxes, regulations and excessive spending," Scott told 1,000 conservative activists at the Villages.

Compare that to this year, where he’s talking about transportation spending as if it were a form of economic stimulus.

“Last year, we secured a record $8.6 billion for transportation investments and we continue to see tremendous results in Florida as we spur economic development and create jobs,” Scott said.

Scott chose JAXPORT to hit upon the record amount of money that’s getting spent on Florida ports in anticipation of the widening of the Panama Canal, which is about a year from completion. He mentioned that next year’s funding will include about $139 million in port spending.

Continue reading "Scott touts "record" $8.8 billion in proposed transportation projects" »

Posted by Michael Van Sickler at 7:02 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 | Permalink | Comments (0) Rep. Magar reports mild stroke, recovering

MaryLynn MagarTequesta State Rep. MaryLynn Magar today announced that last Wednesday she suffered a mild stroke while in Tallahassee for committee meetings but was successfully treated and is recovering. Magar, 49, "enjoyed excellent health and had none of the risk factors associated with stokes,'' her office said in a statement.

She is expected to return to Tallahassee in time for the legislative session in March.

Her media release:

In Tallahassee, early last Wednesday morning, Representative MaryLynn Magar suffered a mild stroke and was successfully treated at a hospital in Tallahassee. She was released on Saturday and has returned to the district where she will receive physical therapy over the next several weeks.

Prior to the stroke, Representative Magar enjoyed excellent health and had none of the risk factors associated with strokes. Her physicians were very pleased with her immediate response to treatment and are expecting a full recovery.

Representative Magar will remain in the district for the next several weeks while she works through physical therapy and will request absences for upcoming committee meetings, although she is remaining in close communication with the Speaker, House leadership, and the Chairs of those committees on which she serves. She will return to Tallahassee in time for the beginning of the legislative session.

In addition, Representative Magar's legislative and district staff remain fully engaged in advancing the legislation she has already sponsored and are engaging in responding to the priorities of her constituents without interruption.

"I want to thank God for a loving family, a great team of health care professionals, and very supportive colleagues in the State House," said Representative Magar. "As I begin this sprint toward recovery, I am already looking forward to my return to Tallahassee. No one wishes for this kind of injury, but God has a plan in all of life, and there is no doubt that I will be uniquely qualified to understand the struggles of those who deal with much larger disabilities than mine. Until then, I appreciate your prayers and support and look forward to seeing you in service very soon."

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 5:23 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 | Permalink | Comments (0) Report: Florida lags farther than most states in restoring its pre-recession fiscal strength

More than four years after the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, the financial condition of Florida and most other states is improving but it remains far from where it was on several key measures of fiscal health, according to a new report by The Pew Charitable Trusts' Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis.

The report examined tax revenues, employment rates, debt ratios and reserve funds and compared the fiscal health of each of the states. Florida fared worse when it comes to tax collections and employment but better in terms of reserves and debt.

According to the report, Florida collects 21 percent less in tax revenue’s as of June 20, 2013 than it did during its pre-recession peak, giving the state significantly less spending power than it had seven years ago. Only Alaska and Wyoming are further behind in restoring their tax collections to pre-recession levels, the report found, while Arkansas saw the least dip in its tax collections of any other state, followed by Illinois and Minnesota.

Florida's employment rate is also among the worst in the nation, the report found. The report measured the number of people ages 25-54 in the work force before the recession and again in 2013. It found that the 2007 employment rate in Florida was 81.1 percent and, in 2013, it was 74.8 percent, the third largest drop of any other state, behind only Nevada and New Mexico. Nationally, the average drop was 4.1 percentage points.

Meanwhile, Florida's reliance on federal dollars as a share of state personal income continues -- like other states -- to be the highest in history. Federal funds have largely driven growth in total state spending over the past two decades and, despite efforts by Gov. Rick Scott to routinely reject federal funds for numerous spending needs, that pattern is not changed.

Continue reading "Report: Florida lags farther than most states in restoring its pre-recession fiscal strength" »

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 4:53 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 in 2014 FLORIDA LEGISLATURE, Budget | Permalink | Comments (0) Bob Graham goes to Cuba

From the Naples Daily News:

Former U.S. Senator and Florida Gov. Bob Graham is part of an American contingent traveling to Cuba on Monday to explore the communist nation's oil drilling plans.

Graham, the keynote speaker at the Everglades Coalition conference at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club on Saturday evening, said he will be joining about a dozen others, including prominent offshore oil industry experts, for the trip, which is being coordinated by the Council on Foreign Relations.

At least four exploratory wells drilled off Cuba's northern shore over the last two years have come up dry, but the island nation's goal is to attain energy self-sufficiency by tapping into the 4.6 billion to 9.3 billion barrels of oil believed to be offshore.

"It's very important for the nation, and particularly important for Florida that any drilling done in that area be done at a very high standard of safety and with the capability to respond if there is an accident," Graham said Saturday afternoon, while relaxing at the hotel's beachfront restaurant.

More here

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/2014/01/13/4933017/former-us-sen-fla-gov-bob-graham.html#storylink=cpy 1

Posted by Marc Caputo at 4:31 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 in Cuba | Permalink | Comments (0) NAACP, Democrats vow to fight Rick Scott’s second voter purge

Democrats and NAACP leaders on Monday protested the latest attempt by Gov. Rick Scott to scrub ineligible voters from registration rolls, calling it an intentional ploy to block certain minority voters from casting a ballot.

“The obstacles, through intimidation and these type of things, it isn’t anything new,” said House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. “We’ve seen this in the past. But we think Gov. Scott is on the wrong mission entirely for this. He can probably find more reports of UFOs and space aliens in Florida than there are reports of fraudulent voting in the state.”

In 2012, finding fraudulent voters was the GOP’s cause celebre. Scott’s staff’s spent an inordinate amount of time on weeding out those who shouldn’t vote. It was a confusing and messy pruning, resulting in an ever shifting list of suspected non-U.S. citizens that shrank from 182,000 to 2,600 to 198 before election supervisors suspended their searches as the presidential election drew close.

Several of Florida’s 67 supervisors of elections, who were responsible for removing the ineligible voters from the list, lambasted the Secretary of State’s office for the confusion and said they resented being supplied unreliable data. Ken Detzner, Scott’s Secretary of State, embarked on a 5-day apology tour in October throughout the state, taking responsibility for the flawed data.

But the apology came with a sales pitch that said a second attempt, “Project Integrity”, would be better. Using data provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Detzner vowed further attempts to remove ineligible voters would be more precise. Detzner will soon be mailing supervisors the names of those who are suspected of being non-citizens.

On Monday, during a news conference outside of Scott’s Capitol office, Pafford, Democrats and NAACP leaders said they don’t trust Scott to get it right this time. The new data has holes in it that promise to disproportionately marginalize Latino voters, said Tabitha Frazier, vice president of the statewide Democratic Hispanic Caucus.

Continue reading "NAACP, Democrats vow to fight Rick Scott’s second voter purge" »

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Posted by Michael Van Sickler at 1:49 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 | Permalink | Comments (7) Hialeah mayor: remove political foes' names from city buildings

@kikeflor

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández will ask the city council on Tuesday to pass three resolutions to remove the names given to city properties years ago to honor former Mayor Raúl Martínez, his wife, Angela, and Martínez’s political ally and former state Sen. Roberto Casas.

“If the resolutions are approved,” Hernández said, “the names will be removed immediately.”

Hernández said that the measure will allow removing Raúl Martínez’s name from city hall, a four-floor building located at 501 Palm Ave.

Also, the name of Angela Gardens will be removed from a city building of 18 apartments rented to low-income elderly people at 695 West Second St. On Oct. 5, 2005, the three-floor building was officially named after Martínez’s wife, Hernández said.

The third resolution refers to a park of a little more than two acres located on 33rd Avenue West and 79th Street, which was named in 2003 to honor Casas. In 2011, Casas offered his political support to Martínez’s candidacy for mayor against Hernández.

More here.

Posted by Patricia Mazzei at 1:45 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 in Miami-Dade Politics | Permalink | Comments (3) Bill shielding taxpayer email addresses raises concerns

Pointing to a potential "slippery slope," an open-government group Monday requested that a Pinellas lawmaker withdraw a bill that would create a new public records exemption for email addresses used by tax collectors to send notices to taxpayers.

From The News Service of Florida: The Senate version of the bill, SB 538 by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the Senate Community Affairs Committee. A similar measure, HB 421 by Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, has been filed in the House. The Senate bill says, in part, that email addresses submitted to tax collectors are currently public records "and, when combined with other personal identifying information, can be used for identity theft, taxpayer scams, and other invasive contacts."

But the First Amendment Foundation, in a letter Monday to Latvala, said there is "no factual evidence to support" the assertion that a public-records exemption is needed to prevent identity theft and warned that the bill could have broader long-term implications.

"This particular legislation protects only those email addresses obtained by tax collectors," foundation President Barbara Petersen wrote. "If passed, it would create the proverbial slippery slope of Mt. Everest proportions, Senator, provoking similar unnecessary and unsubstantiated exemptions, affecting all government business conducted electronically, creating major problems with efficiency, and increasing costs associated with obtaining public records."

A separate, unrelated proposal to be considered by the 2014 Legislature would allow tax collectors to accept applications for concealed weapons permits.

-- Steve Bousquet

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Posted by Marc Caputo at 12:55 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 in Florida Legislature | Permalink | Comments (1) RNC whacks Sebelius in Spanish-language FL audio ads over Obamacare

From a press release:

WASHINGTON –With 10 months to go until the midterm elections, the RNC today launched Spanish-language digital ads on Univision.com and 30-second audio ads on Univision’s music radio app Uforia in the Miami media market. The ads coincide with HHS Secretary Sebelius’ trip to Florida.

The digital ads invite listeners who have been negatively impacted by ObamaCare to share their stories at www.GOP.com/comparte.The ad highlights President Obama’s infamous Lie of the Year, by using the president’s own words and the words of Univision’s Jorge Ramos. The ad exposes President Obama’s broken promise that people would be able to keep their healthcare plans under ObamaCare, which will be an important issue in the November election.

“We are very excited to be the first political party to advertise on Uforia and thrilled to connect with Univision’s digital audiences and cultivate increased awareness about Obamacare. This unique opportunity allows us to connect and listen to the concerns of Hispanics who have been hurt by Obamacare.

Continue reading "RNC whacks Sebelius in Spanish-language FL audio ads over Obamacare" »

Posted by Marc Caputo at 12:33 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 | Permalink | Comments (2) Iceberg melting? Gov's office sends out release welcoming federal funds for homeless

What a difference a few years makes. Remember when it was commonplace for state agencies not to accept federal money to help Floridians in need? Now, comes this press release from the Florida Department of Children and Families which touts the fact that the state was awarded a $4.4 million grant to serve the homeless.

For a brief history lesson, remember the time the governor's office pushed back grant money to move term care patients into their homes, curb child abuse through in-home counseling, and strengthen state regulation of health premiums? Or the time it rejected Medicare money to help sign up eligible recipients, turned away millions to educate teenagers about pregnancy prevention, rejected money to plan for the health insurance exchanges and turned away federal funds for cancer prevention?

To be fair, the agency accepted a grant of $2.1 million in federal Emergency Shelter Grant funding in May 2012 that went to 25 homeless shelters and announced another $72 million in January 2012 for homeless as well. So why is it cool to take some federal money sometimes, but not other federal money other times? Is there an abiding principle here? A policy distinction, especially when the state was in the throes of the recession? We're hoping for an answer.

Here's the DCF press release:

Continue reading "Iceberg melting? Gov's office sends out release welcoming federal funds for homeless" »

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 12:29 PM on Monday, Jan. 13 in Rick Scott | Permalink | Comments (1) State recommends tweaks, additions to controversial education benchmarks

Hoping to incorporate public input and assuage criticism, state education officials on Monday released 98 proposed changes to the controversial Common Core State Standards.

The suggestions represent additions and minor tweaks to the national benchmarks, which have been adopted in more than 45 states and outline what students should know at each grade level.

Among state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart’s recommendations: adding 52 new calculus standards, requiring students to master cursive writing (a skill not included in the original Common Core standards), and introducing money concepts in the first grade, instead of the second grade.

Stewart said the proposed changes would strengthen the benchmarks, and make them unique to Florida.

"With your input, we have strengthened our standards to ensure they are the best and highest standards, so that all of Florida students graduate from high school prepared for success in college, career and in life," she wrote in a statement Monday.

But opponents were unconvinced. They said even revised standards would constitute federal overreach, and are renewing their calls for a complete overhaul.

"Adding [standards] does not make these Florida's own standards by any means," said Laura Zorc, a Vero Beach mom and co-founder of Florida Parents Against Common Core.

The state education department will hold workshops on the proposed changes at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday.

The state Board of Education will vote on the proposal in February.

The Common Core standards have become a point of contention in states from New York to Oklahoma.

Supporters, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, favor the benchmarks because they stress analysis and critical thinking, and are said to be more rigorous than what most states previously had in place.

The leading opponents are Tea Party groups and conservative parents, who disapprove of the federal government playing a role in the education benchmarks. They point out that even though the Common Core standards were created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, federal grant money was used to create new tests that measure the standards.

A smaller group of liberal critics supports the theory behind the Common Core, but is concerned that the broader movement places too much emphasis on testing.

The debate boiled over in Florida last summer, prompting Republican Gov. Rick Scott to call for a series of public hearings and a review of the benchmarks. Stewart held three town-hall style meetings in October, and launched a website to solicit public feedback.

The education department received more than 19,000 online comments.

Stewart said that feedback, along with analysis from a team of education experts, was incorporated into the proposed revisions.

"I appreciate all of the feedback from teachers, parents, administrators and people across the state on Florida's English language arts and mathematics standards," she said.

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