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Rubio: Feds should end Bright Futures probe

Sen. Marco Rubio is asking the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to end its probe into Florida's Bright Futures scholarship program.

The office is investigating claims that the eligibility criteria have the effect of discriminating against black and Hispanic students.

But Rubio, in a letter to Assistant Secretary Catherine Lhamon Friday, said the federal government had "no legitimate legal basis for investigating such a program."

"Further, forcing bureaucratic changes in the parameters of eligibility for this scholarship would not only degrade the fundamental purpose of this scholarship, but also render the program financially unstable," Rubio said.

The education department was reviewing the letter, Press Secretary Dorie Nolt said.

Most Bright Futures scholarships are valued at about $2,300 a year for a full-time student. Top students can receive about $3,100.

The program has long shouldered criticism for awarding an outsized share of scholarships to white and affluent students. The allegations prompted the federal investigation more than a decade ago.

The probe appeared to be dormant — until state lawmakers raised the eligibility criteria for winning a scholarship during the 2011 legislative session.

The University of South Florida responded with an analysis showing that the new Bright Futures standards would benefit half as many students. They predicted the number of Hispanic scholarship recipients would drop by 60 percent, while the number of black scholarship recipients would drop by more than 75 percent.

Democratic lawmakers floated proposals to maintain the old standards in 2013 and 2014. Both efforts failed.

In his letter, Rubio implored the education department not to change the eligibility criteria. He noted that the Bright Futures program was designed "to assist Florida's most promising students based solely on merit."

"To the credit of the students of Florida, the standards and achievement levels have risen across the entire state, and the number of students eligible for the program has also increased," Rubio said. "While I am proud of the strides Florida's students have made, the logical conclusion is that the standards of the program must rise with the achievements of our students."

Rubio also said changing the eligibility requirements would make the program financially insolvent.

Rubio is not the only Miami-Dade lawmaker who feels that way.

State Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who chairs the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee, also opposes changing the standards in order to serve more minority students.

"Bright Futures, from its inception, has always been race, gender and creed blind," he said in March.


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Ed Slavin

Our federal Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 (APA) and United States Senate Rule XLIII(3) (Rule 43) prohibit U.S. Senators from placing improper pressures on federal agencies.
Senator MARCO ANTONIO RUBIO (Florida Bar Number 102946) reportedly demanded the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights dismiss a pending civil rights complaint, without further investigation. The Miami Herald reports that Senator RUBIO claims there is "no legitimate legal basis for investigating such a program." In a letter to the Assistant Secretary of Education, Catherine Lhamon, Senator RUBIO goes on to say, "forcing bureaucratic changes in in the parameters of eligibility for this scholarship would not only degrade (sic) the fundamental purpose of the scholarship, but also render the program financially unstable."
Data from the University of South Florida determined that the 2011 changes would slash the number of minority students receiving Bright Futures scholarships by 60-75%.
The Department of Education is looking at whether African-American and Hispanic students are being discriminated against by the 2011 changes in Bright Futures.
Senator RUBIO is just a tad too close to the subject, having been Speaker of the Florida House.
Fortunately, Senator MARCO ANTONIO RUBIO is not deciding facts in administrative law cases.
Congress entrusted that to administrative agencies and administrative law judges, like the two for whom I clerked, Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge Charles P. Rippey and Department of Labor Chief Administrative Law Judge Nahum Litt.
Those judges, and administrative agencies, were too often subject to subtle and not-so-subtle pressure during the depths of depravity of the Reagan-Bush years.
Senator RUBIO's letter is about as subtle as a cockroach crossing a white carpet.
Hands off administrative law adjudications, Senator RUBIO.
Your ham-handed intervention is exactly why Congress enacted the APA in the first place, and why Senate Rule XLIII(3) is on the books.
This appears to be a demand to "fix" a pending federal administrative law case.
The case-fixing demand is in support of his former legislative colleagues, who amended Bright Futures in 2011, over Democratic opposition, in a manner predicted to adversely affect minority students by reducing the number of scholarships.
Whether this demand is illegal is up to others to determine.
Whether the Bright Futures scholarship changes violate civil rights laws is a question of law and fact.
It is not up to a young U.S. Senator who has no civil rights law experience to issue a ukase.
It should not be the subject of political pressure.
This is a pending administrative law case.
That case must not be be "fixed."
This is federal law in Washington, D.C.
This is a question of constitutional law.
This is a question of civil rights law.
Those civil rights laws were adopted in 1964 thanks to the courage of the people of St. Augustine and visiting helpers like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ambassador Andrew Jackson Young, who were beaten, jailed, fired, blacklisted and run out of town here in St. Augustine.
Here in St. Augustine, we now have two civil rights monuments in our Slave Market Square (Plaza de la Constitucion), one to Ambassador Young and the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers who helped to enact those civil rights laws.
Those civil rights laws are a national treasure.
Those civil rights laws are the light of the world, emulated everywhere, leading to equality everywhere for ethnic groups, religions, genders and gender preferences, and sexual orientations.
Those civil rights laws ought not to be a punch line in a politician's press release.
Those civil rights laws are a subject of the current Journey exhibit at our VIC, which just won honors from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation -- not one federal elected official, including Senator RUBIO, has yet shown up to see the exhibit.
This is not some Minor League zoning case in Hialeah or Palatka subject to influence.
This is not a moribund state agency in Tallahassee, subject to the "Whim of Iron" of our state legislators.
This is the Department of Education -- our United States Department of Education -- and its Office of Civil Rights.
Senator MARCO ANTONIO RUBIO's longtime Chief of Staff is Cesar Conda. Conda was once domestic policy chief advisor to Vice President Richard Richard Cheney. This appears to be very much a Dick Cheney move -- if you don't like what the bureaucracy is doing, spew hatred and if you don't like whistleblowers, go after them with criminal investigations. Dick Cheney was not a lawyer. Senator RUBIO is a lawyer. We expect better from Senator RUBIO.
Has Senator MARCO ANTONIO RUBIO stepped outside the role of a U.S. Senator to obstruct justice in a civil rights case?
Has Senator MARCO ANTONIO RUBIO possibly violated Senate Rule XLIII, APA, his January 3, 2011 oath of office as a U.S. Senator pursuant to Article VI of the United States Constitution, and his Florida Bar oath as an attorney?
Senator MARCC RUBIO seeks to substitute the "pull" of influence for the process of administrative law investigation, seeking headlines in his race for the presidency.
This may be both unethical, and unseemly.
Senator RUBIO must drop the oyster and leave the wharf.
President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan should tell RUBIO to "buzz off."
Senator RUBIO has much bigger fish to fry. He's running for president. But here in Florida, we need his help to enact the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore, www.staugustgreen.com. "America's Best Idea" needs and deserves Senator RUBIO's sponsorship and support.
What do you reckon?>
Ed Slavin
Box 3084
St. Augustine, Florida 32085

Ed Slavin

Today is the 60th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's Brown v. Education decision. It was unanimous. We should unite in our opposition to efforts to halt a pending civil rights investigation.

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