November 24, 2015

Miami for-profit college owner goes to prison, had ties to U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings


Miami for-profit college operator Alejandro Amor had a 54-foot yacht, a $2 million waterfront home, and his own private plane.

Now he’s headed to prison.

On Tuesday, a Miami federal jury convicted Amor of 12 counts of theft of government money, and one count of conspiracy. He will be sentenced on Feb. 3.

Before being raided by the FBI in 2012, prosecutors say FastTrain admitted roughly 1,300 students who didn’t have high school diplomas — using fraud to make the government think the students were eligible for financial aid.

In return, FastTrain received $6,560,000 in Pell grants and student loans for those students. For-profit colleges are known for aggressive recruiting, but FastTrain turned it up a notch. Ex-employees told investigators that Amor boosted enrollments by hiring former strippers as recruiters, some of whom wore “short skirts and stiletto heels” to work.

Amor allegedly told one employee to “hire some hot mommas” and “hire the sluttiest girls he could find.”

When it came to high school diplomas, FastTrain took advantage of lax federal rules that are vulnerable to abuse. A college that wants to enroll non-eligible students can accept diplomas from a “diploma mill” school — and there is no federal or state of Florida list that identifies known diploma mills.

Some accreditors allow their colleges to simply take a student’s word that they finished high school. The student signs an “attestation” that they have a diploma, and no further verification is done.

More here.

November 23, 2015

Under governor's plan, local taxpayers would bear most of $500M increase to K-12 education


One of Gov. Rick Scott's main initiatives in his 2016-17 proposal is more investments in education -- specifically $500 million he proposes to add to funding for K-12 public schools.

But Scott is getting swift blow-back from critics, because 85 percent of that extra funding would be shouldered not by the state, but through local property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay.

Of the $507.3 million suggested increase, $80 million -- or 15 percent -- is state dollars, while $427.3 million would come from the "required local effort."

In touting his proposal to make an "historic investment in education," Scott vows that Floridians' "will not see an increase in your millage rate."

However, that doesn't mean businesses and homeowners won't see a larger tax bill. As property values rebound statewide, the amount property owners pay in taxes also increases, even if the tax rate remains the same.

When reporters asked Scott about this Monday, he responded: "Property values, when they go up, that's good for us."

One senior Democrat in the Legislature accused Scott of caring "a lot more about corporations than he does the people of Florida," because Scott's other big initiative is a $1 billion tax cut, mostly benefiting businesses.

Continue reading "Under governor's plan, local taxpayers would bear most of $500M increase to K-12 education" »

Universities would bear half the cost to increase performance funding, under Rick Scott's budget proposal


In his 2016-17 budget proposal the Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott wants to continue holding the line on tuition for Florida's 12 public universities and 28 state colleges, while also devoting $120 million more toward performance-based funding for those institutions.

But half of the $100 million Scott wants to add to university performance incentives next year would actually come from the universities themselves.

Only $50 million of the proposed increase would come from new funding, while the other $50 million is proposed to come out of the 12 universities' base operating budgets.

Performance funding is doled out to each university based on how well each institution "performs" on 10 metrics, including average cost per graduate, percent of graduates employed or continuing education and the institution's six-year graduation rate.

Continue reading "Universities would bear half the cost to increase performance funding, under Rick Scott's budget proposal" »

November 20, 2015

Republicans want Florida education commissioner elected again



Two Republican lawmakers have filed bills seeking a constitutional amendment to make Florida's education commissioner an elected position once again and to do away with appointed citizens' oversight of the state public education system.

The proposal from Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, calls for restoring the education commissioner to the governor's cabinet and for re-designating the governor and the cabinet as the State Board of Education, starting in January 2019.

That's how leadership of Florida's education system used to be organized until 1998, when voters approved a constitutional amendment restructuring the cabinet and creating the State Board of Education. The commissioner is appointed by the state board, which is made up of seven members chosen by the governor.

There have been four education commissioners in the past five years. Current commissioner Pam Stewart ascended to the post in 2013, after former commissioner Tony Bennett resigned.

Continue reading "Republicans want Florida education commissioner elected again" »

November 19, 2015

Double whammy: Dade Medical College may have broken state, federal laws


Dade Medical College’s Oct. 30 closure was sudden and messy — and it also may have violated state and federal law.

Under Florida law, for-profit colleges that close must provide the state oversight agency a “teach out” plan for students to finish up their degree program at another school. The federal government also requires a teach out plan before a college shuts its doors.

In Dade Medical’s case, that didn’t happen. College owner Ernesto Perez simply closed up shop and left roughly 2,000 students in limbo.

On Thursday, a prominent for-profit college attorney called for Perez to be prosecuted for how the closure happened.

“It is a crime in the state of Florida to close a school improperly,” said Bob Harris, a Tallahassee attorney who represents multiple for-profit colleges. Harris’ public comments came during a meeting of Florida’s for-profit oversight agency, the Commission for Independent Education.

“This commission can go to the attorney general’s office, or a local state attorney’s office, provide them the documents to show that the owners of the school did not properly close the school,” Harris told CIE board members. “Those are criminal acts in the state of Florida.”

Florida law states it is a second-degree misdemeanor for “an owner, director or administrator who fails to notify the commission at least 30 days prior to the institution’s closure, or who fails to organize the orderly closure of the institution and the trainout of the students.”

More here.

November 18, 2015

Dade Medical College files bankruptcy-like petition in court


Dade Medical College has filed a court petition to sell its assets — setting in motion a process that could lead to paying some of the money owed to creditors and ex-employees.

It’s the equivalent of a bankruptcy filing, but in state court

Students who attended the school may qualify for some money as well, though students who file a claim will likely end up in the back of the line, getting paid only after secured creditors, government agencies and ex-employees who are owed back wages.

Roughly 2,000 students were displaced by Dade Medical’s sudden closure on Oct. 30 — many left tens of thousands of dollars in debt, with college credits that won’t transfer to traditional colleges.

Additionally, there are students who graduated or dropped out before the closure and who say the college deceived them about the accreditation of its programs, or failed to deliver the quality of education that it promised.

A recent Miami Herald investigation, Higher-Ed Hustle, highlighted how Florida lawmakers have strongly encouraged the growth of for-profit colleges. The Legislature has weakened academic standards, allowed for-profits to access additional state money and stifled the growth of competing public community colleges, which charge much lower tuition.

More here

Miami congressman, a former school board member, will help rewrite No Child Left Behind law


U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo will have a seat at the table to work out the final details of the overhauled No Child Left Behind education law, a massive, controversial piece of legislation that has taken years for lawmakers to reform.

House Speaker Paul Ryan appointed Curbelo, a Miami Republican and former Miami-Dade School Board member, to the conference committee on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as the legislation is formally known. The committee of House and Senate members will try to agree on the wording of the law. Both chambers have passed different versions.

"Building a better education system for every child in America is one of my great passions. I began this work five years ago as a member of the Miami-Dade County School Board and have been able to continue it on the Committee on Education and the Workforce here in Congress," Curbelo said in a statement.

"This reauthorization of the ESEA puts children at the center of America's education system, reduces burdensome regulations on school districts and teachers, and promotes school choice. On the conference committee, I will fight for a strong but fair accountability system and to protect the interests of English language learners and the teachers and districts who serve these students -- a major priority for our schools in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties."

Earlier in the legislative process, Curbelo passed an amendment giving students learning English more time to achieve proficiency in reading and math.

November 16, 2015

Miami-Dade schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho may get a raise, promises to donate his salary


Speculation about the future of Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho may help him land a raise.

But Carvalho insists he’s not leaving before his contract is up in 2020, and on Monday he offered a bold promise: that he’d donate his salary back to the school district in his last year of service.

“I want that to be my gift to the community -- one year’s worth of salary,” he said, noting the end of his contract will mark 30 years of service with the school district. 


Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times called Carvalho a top contender to lead that city’s school system, the second largest in the country. That prompted Miami-Dade school board chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman to ask Carvalho at a committee meeting Monday whether the 2014 Superintendent of the Year was contemplating the offer.

Carvalho, once again, said no.

“I love this community. I love what we’re doing,” he said. “I cannot see myself doing my work with anybody else.”

But the latest speculation about Carvalho’s future was enough for Hantman to recommend opening up the superintendent’s contract for renegotiation. In response, the board lavished Carvalho with praise for his work -- Marta Perez Wurtz described him as being as close to perfect as possible -- and multiple members suggested he’s due for a raise.

“There is a price you pay for not having someone like you. So with that, I would like to say that we have to address you. We have not given you a raise,” said board member Lubby Navarro.

Carvalho’s base salary is $318,000, according to his contract. That’s less than his predecessor, who made $345,000. Carvalho, who became superintendent in 2008, said he wants to keep it that way.

He also said he has already given back the equivalent of one year of his salary through a variety of ways, like allowing vacation time to expire, donating speaking fees and sticking with the same SUV his predecessor drove.

“It is the fair thing to do,” he said.

Hantman said she plans on bringing an agenda item to discuss the superintendent’s contract to the board’s December meeting.

Another for-profit college chain in trouble: EDMC to pay $95M


The nation’s second-largest for-profit college company, Education Management Corp., will pay more than $95 million to settle multiple lawsuits alleging the company broke federal law in how it paid its recruiters.

The settlement deal, announced by the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday, also includes loan forgiveness for some students who enrolled at EDMC schools. The company, which did not acknowledge any wrongdoing, operates the Art Institutes, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College and South University.

There are seven Florida campuses: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Sarasota, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville. A spokesman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said that Florida students would receive $6.5 million in loan forgiveness.

In a Washington news conference carried on C-SPAN, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the settlement a “historic step forward in our collective and ongoing fight against fraudulent and abusive practices in the for-profit education industry.”

But Lynch acknowledged that the $95 million payout would have been higher if not for EDMC’s current financial problems. The gigantic company has been closing campuses and laying off hundreds of employees — a dramatic fall from a few years ago, when it counted Goldman Sachs as one of its owners, and was trading at $18 a share on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

“An important part of this settlement was factoring in the company’s ability to pay,” Lynch said. “So it does not reflect the total amount of federal funds that we believe were fraudulently obtained.”

Pittsburgh-based EDMC still enrolls more than 100,000 students, and still gets about 90 percent of its revenue from taxpayer-funded financial aid programs such as Pell grants and federal student loans, Lynch said. Over the years, EDMC received billions of dollars in Pell grants and loans — a U.S. Senate Committee found EDMC received $1.8 billion in federal funds in a single year, 2010.

“That’s all of our money, all of us, as taxpayers,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Monday.

More here.

November 12, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott, Florida colleges team up to raise graduation rates - but no specifics attached


Rickscott111215Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued a challenge to the state's 28 colleges today: Graduate 100 percent of their full-time students to either attend a four-year university or land a job.

The colleges say they're unanimously on board -- but it'll be up to them to figure out how to more than double the current statewide average graduation rate of 43 percent.

The governor says they'll have his support, but he's offering no money or other specific resources behind his “Ready, Set, Work” College Challenge, which he announced Thursday.

Instead, Scott told reporters in Lynn Haven that he wants colleges to find an inexpensive solution, much like a business would be required to reach a goal without raising costs.

"We have record funding for our state college system, but I'm going to challenge all of them to do this less expensively," Scott said.

"My expectation in business was every customer had to succeed," he added. In this case, he said colleges need to look at students and the businesses wanting to hire them as their "customers."

He encouraged colleges to find out what businesses want from future employees and provide students with internships or other programs to fulfill those needs.

"Every child is important, so we need to have a program at every state college that they're focused on every, every, every student getting a degree or going on to university and finishing with a great job," Scott said.

He said he doesn't want colleges to increase their tuition or fees; "I want to make sure whatever capital dollars we put into the system get a return, and you know what the return should be? It should be good-paying jobs," he said.

Photo credit: The Florida Channel