« December 3, 2012 | Main | December 5, 2012 »

12 posts from December 4, 2012

December 04, 2012

Jeb Bush makes case for more online university courses

 Last year, House Speaker Will Weatherford said the state should create an online university and a Board of Governors task force recently released a report on the state's opinions. Count former Gov. Jeb Bush among the proponents of more online courses in higher education.

Along with Randy Best, chairman of a company that creates online courses, Bush penned an opinion piece that was first published by Bloomberg News. An excerpt:

Growth in online education is now outpacing traditional enrollments by a wide margin. Why? Because it is well suited to the needs of an increasing number of learners, extending access and allowing students to both work and study.

In addition, learning measures for online students have matched or exceeded those for on-campus students. Although graduate programs have seen the largest growth in online learning, significant increases in online undergraduate programs are expected over the next decade. Unfortunately, many universities remain averse to such change and hold to tradition and a classical notion of education.

In a recent hearing before state legislators, university officials questioned the value of moving online, testifying that there would be little, if any, savings from such a shift. These conclusions simply don't hold up.

Read the full text of Bush and Best's piece here.

Gov. Rick Scott, other GOP governors want meeting with President Barack Obama on health care

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and 10 other Republican governors are asking to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss the impacts of the new health care law.

The letter, sent via the Republican Governor's Association on Monday, was obtained exclusively by the Times/Herald and outlines the states' request for more control over their Medicaid programs.

"We request your personal commitment and follow-through from the United States Department of Health and Human Services to create flexibility and reforms to the program," the governors wrote. "While each state will have its own set of considerations regarding the future of its Medicaid program, our hope is that this letter can represent the first step in opening those discussions."

Among the other signees: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. They outline several suggestions about improving Medicaid, which provides insurance coverage for the needy and disabled.

The letter also outlines the governors' concerns with setting up health exchanges and enrolling people into Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Read more here.

Download Governors' letter to Obama

Federal government has 90 days to decide if Florida can privatize Medicaid

Back in 2011, the Florida Legislature voted to turn its Medicaid program over to private managed care companies. That required a waiver of federal law, and Florida's request to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been hanging in the balance ever since.

But today, the News Service of Florida, reported that a "90-day clock" was triggered in late November, meaning the federal government has to make a decision by the end of February on one portion of the managed care proposal pertaining to senior citizens requiring long-term care. The HHS department still hasn't indicated when it will rule on the wider proposal to move nearly all of Medicaid patients to managed care, the News Service of Florida said.

The decision to convert Medicaid to a managed care system was a controversial one.

Democrats have urged the feds to veto the waiver, saying there were too many issues when the state authorized five counties to test managed care for their Medicaid patients. But Republicans have supported privatizing Medicaid, saying it could save money while increasing flexibility and choices.

From the News Service of Florida:

Continue reading "Federal government has 90 days to decide if Florida can privatize Medicaid" »

Florida's highway safety agency may go to court over license tags

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles may be on the road to court after failed attempts Tuesday to settle a dispute over who will make and distribute the state's new license tags.

County tax collectors and other groups say Florida is breaking the law as it moves to pay private companies for services that have for decades been done by state workers. The tax collectors' protest could go before an administrative law judge in January.

In a meeting closed to the public, tax collectors asked the state highway agency to withdraw its request for bids from private companies and create a committee to study whether tax collectors or private businesses are best positioned to improve cost savings and customer service.

Read more here.

Legislators weigh in on tuition increases ahead of universities' funding announcement

Wednesday morning, presidents and student leaders from many of the state's universities will convene on the Capitol to make a major announcement regarding funding. The expectation is the announcement will be related to the $118 million in new funding the State University System has requested for the 2013-2014 budget.

That money would be distributed among the 11 existing schools and tied to performance. But the amount is also notable because is it  quivalent to the amount universities would receive if they increased tuition by the maximum 15 percent allowable by state law. At the most recent Florida Board of Governors meeting, members said they would consider forgoing tuition increases if the state granted this $118 million request.

Gov. Rick Scott has said he will not support further tuition increases and is urging colleges and universities to make degrees cheaper. But educators, and even the governor's own higher education task force, have said that without new state dollars tuition is the only way for universities to meet their bottom lines.

With legislators in Tallahassee for the first committee week of the 2013 session, we pulled aside some of the leading education advocates to ask whether they would consider giving more money to the universities and their thoughts about rising tuition costs.

Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican, is chairman of the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee. He said he disagrees with Scott’s hard stance against tuition increases and believes there should be flexibility in the funding policy in order to address the unique needs of each university.

Continue reading "Legislators weigh in on tuition increases ahead of universities' funding announcement" »

State to appeal prison health care ruling

Florida Department of Corrections Deputy Secretary Mike Crews said Tuesday that the state will appeal the ruling by a Leon County Circuit Court judge throwing out the state decision to use a budgetary committee to privatize prison health care services.

"The Department disagrees with, and intends to appeal, the ruling issued by the Second Judicial Circuit Court,'' Crews said in a statement. "This ruling creates an anticipated budget shortfall of up to $90 million over the next 18 months.  This will jeopardize other Department needs and legislative budget priorities which could include additional reductions in staffing and program services across the Department.  While we work to resolve this issue the Department will continue to provide constitutionally required healthcare services to inmates."  

Melissa Sellers, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott, echoed the sentiment in a statement: 

“This ruling is wrong and puts in jeopardy nearly $90 million over the next two years that could be used to fund critical priorities – including increasing K-12 education funding,'' Sellers said. "We are working with the Department of Corrections to appeal the decision and protect hundreds of other state jobs that the Department could be forced to eliminate if they lose nearly $90 million in expected savings.” 




CFO Jeff Atwater, Gov. Rick Scott settle 'Taj Mahal' art case, agree to pay Signature Art Gallery

After two years, two lawsuits and seven appeals, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Gov.Rick Scott on Tuesday agreed to pay Signature Art Gallery for framed photos ordered by judges at the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Instead of the $357,000 tab due when the photographs were completed, the state will pay almost $515,000, a price that includes storage and legal fees paid by the gallery owner.

The payment must be approved by members of the Legislative Budget Commission at a meeting in January. Once paid for, the art will go to the Department of State’s Division of Cultural Affairs. If the Commission rejects the payment, the lawsuit will continue.

Scott  and Atwater said the settlement, helped along by court-ordered mediation, is in the state’s best interest. It will end expensive litigation and safeguard taxpayer money while also signaling that the state’s contracting system “must be cost effective, accountable and transparent,’’ the two officials said in a joint release.

The settlement was announced Tuesday, the day Atwater had been scheduled to answer questions under oath from lawyers who represent the gallery and Peter R. Brown Construction of Clearwater.

More here.

Lucy Morgan, Times senior correspondent

Court strikes down prison privatization again, says lawmakers can't delegate job

For the second time in over a year, a state judge has ruled that the Florida Legislature violated the law when it tried to privatize the state’s role in operating prisons.Download Corizon and Wexford

Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper on Tuesday struck down an attempt by the Florida Legislature to privatize prison healthcare by using a budgetary process instead of making the change through a full vote of lawmakers.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Department of Corrections said they would appeal the ruling, warning that the state now faces a $90 million deficit because they had counted saving that much over the next two years by having private contractors provide prison healthcare.

Continue reading "Court strikes down prison privatization again, says lawmakers can't delegate job" »

Gaetz said Deutsch's resignation was 'right decision'

Senate President Don Gaetz told reporters Tuesday that Hunting Deutsch, the governor's new chief of the Department of Economic Opportunity, made the right call when he announced today he would resign from the post. The online web site The Current reported he had accepted unemployment benefits before taking the job and while he was on a trip to Europe, but didn't disclose that to the governor.

"Mr. Deutsch made the right decision in resigning and he made the wrong decision -- I think it was bad form for him to seek unemployment while he was off on a trip to Europe,'' Gaetz said. "We've got people in Florida who are really hurting, for whom unemployment checks make the difference between staying in their home and having groceries on their table or not. 

"I think those of us in public life should have a higher standard in performance. I think Mr. Deutsch made the right decision for himself; the right decision for the governor."

Deutsch's resignation was the second time in less than a year that the governor's head of his economic development agency resigned. The governor's first head of the agency, Doug Darling, resigned in January under pressure from the governor's former chief of staff, Steve MacNamara.

Continue reading "Gaetz said Deutsch's resignation was 'right decision'" »

PolitiFact announces 2012 Lie of the Year finalists

PolitiFact will soon announce our Lie of the Year -- the most significant falsehood of 2012, as chosen by our editors and reporters.

We're also inviting PolitiFact readers to vote for the coveted Readers' Choice award.

Here are our 10 finalists and a link to our survey so you can vote for your favorite. We accept write-ins.