January 08, 2016

Gov. Scott wants university presidents to meet with Cabinet


Republican Gov. Rick Scott has invited the presidents of Florida's 12 public universities to the next Florida Cabinet meeting, so that they can present their ideas on how to meet a charge he recently issued.

Starting in November, Scott rolled out "Ready, Set, Work" challenges to the state's 28 community colleges and 48 technical colleges, as well as the public universities, encouraging them all to improve post-graduation employment rates for their students.

He wants the universities to ensure 100 percent of the students graduating from each institution's two most popular degree programs land full-time jobs within one year.

Most every university and college president accepted his challenges, but the catch is that they're on their own to fulfill it. Scott is not offering any money or other resources to assist the institutions in reaching their goals.

Scott wants to hear what the university presidents have come up with during the Jan. 21 meeting in Tallahassee.

It's unknown whether he plans to solicit similar presentations from the state and technical college presidents as well.

January 07, 2016

Legislature to consider allowing alternatives to controversial FSA

Florida Legislature(2)


Although Florida lawmakers don't plan to revamp the beleaguered Florida Standards Assessments this session, they're likely to consider a related proposal to let students take other standardized tests -- like the ACT or SAT -- instead.

State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, filed this week a highly anticipated plan to let students make use of "rigorous alternative assessment options" in lieu of taking the controversial FSA, which had a rocky debut last year that fueled a mounting resistance to standardized tests and high-stakes exams.

"The FSA has been, at best, a mixed bag," Gaetz told the Herald/Times last month, as he was drafting his proposal. "The implementation problems associated with FSA have eroded the public’s confidence in the result. The fact that the FSA was developed by an entity that is not well known and is therefore not well-respected by the public has had a negative consequence."

Gaetz's plan would allow parents and students to choose from a variety of national name-brand assessments that measure students' knowledge on given subjects. The options he puts on the table include various ACT exams for students in third grade through high school, and also for high-schoolers: the pre-SAT, SAT, Advanced Placement tests and industry certification exams, among others.

It’s unclear yet how well Gaetz’s bill will be received. At least one Democrat is on board, and other lawmakers from both parties have said they’re interested in the concept.

“It is certainly worthwhile, and it is an appropriate step especially in terms of the recent history of the FSA and the difficulties we’ve had,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who also works as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “Florida has embraced the idea of choice, so why not give parents and students a choice?”

Gaetz said Thursday he is talking with “influential members of the House” to also get it considered there, possibly through a committee bill.

The bill (SB 1360) calls for implementing the use of alternative assessments as early as next school year. School boards throughout the state would have the power to choose which options to make available in each district, but the FSA would continue to be the uniform option statewide, Gaetz said.

Continue reading "Legislature to consider allowing alternatives to controversial FSA" »

January 02, 2016

Feds: Higher One used 'deceptive' tactics at Miami Dade College, hundreds of other schools


Emblazoned with a glittering skyline and the Miami Dade College logo, the OneCard debit card has long been the way most MDC students receive their financial aid refunds — the money left over from Pell grants and loans after tuition has been paid.

“Your refunds are easier with the new MDC OneCard,” says the promotional material. Higher One, a campus card company, has been at MDC since 2006.

But for students who didn’t read the fine print, the MDC OneCard was a minefield of unusual — and critics say predatory — account fees.

Choosing the “debit” option when paying at a merchant? That carried a 50-cent-per-transaction fee. Withdrawing cash at a non-Higher One ATM? $2.50 per withdrawal (on top of the fee charged by the ATM machine). Haven’t used your card in six months? Get ready for an “Abandoned Account Fee” of up to $10 per month.

“It bothered me,” said MDC student Yanara Justo, 27, of Westchester. “Because that was my money, and I was getting charged just to use debit, I’ve never been charged that.”

Over the past three years, Justo said, she has been charged the debit fee about 40 times.

Connecticut-based Higher One says students can avoid this transaction fee by choosing the “credit” option when swiping their card — it’s accepted as a MasterCard that way. But Higher One’s customers are college students, who might be as young as 18 years old, and who might have little experience with banking in general.

Last month, just two days before Christmas, a pair of federal agencies announced that Higher One’s methods were improper, and the company would have to pay.

The Federal Reserve, which acts as the nation’s central bank, ordered Higher One to pay back roughly $24 million to students at schools nationwide, including Miami Dade College. About 570,000 U.S. students in total will receive money, which the Federal Reserve called restitution for Higher One’s “deceptive marketing practices.”

That same day, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) announced a settlement forcing Higher One to pay back $31 million to about 900,000 students. A bank that Higher One partnered with, Utah’s WEX Bank, is also on the hook for the $31 million.

The feds say Higher One’s “misleading” practices included prominent use of school logos, which suggested to students the accounts were endorsed by their school; Higher One’s failure to properly disclose its fees and Higher One’s failure to fully inform students of alternative ways they could receive their financial aid (such as direct deposit into their personal checking account, or simply getting a check mailed to them).

More here.

December 29, 2015

Education board vice-chairman proposes alternative school grades formulas


State Board of Education Vice-Chairman John Padget says a new formula proposed by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to calculate school grades doesn't meet the "high standard" lawmakers asked for, so he's proposing three alternatives of his own.

The board is scheduled to decide a new school grading formula, as well as cut scores for the new Florida Standards Assessments, during its meeting Jan. 6.

How school grades are calculated is important, in part, because the Department of Education uses those grades to dole out school recognition dollars. In 2014, $124.1 million went to high-performing schools across Florida.

Under Stewart's proposed rule, released earlier this month, schools would need to earn only 62 percent of possible points in order to receive an "A" grade. Schools would get a "C" if they received between 41 and 53 percent. A simulation the Department of Education produced showed that the distribution of school grades under her new formula would be largely unchanged from 2014 to 2015.

In a letter to Stewart and the rest of the state board on Monday, Padget said "it is disingenuous to expect the same results" when the Florida Standards Assessments -- student performance for which is one of the factors in determining school grades -- are supposed to be more rigorous.

Padget also criticized Stewart's proposed formula as "not user-friendly" because the difference in percentage points between grades varies and the bar isn't set high enough for schools to receive good grades.

"The bar to be a top-rated 'A' school should be challenging, meaningful and higher than the 62 percent in the proposed rule," he wrote. He also took issue that schools with a score of less than 50 percent could get a "C," which state law defines as "making satisfactory progress."

"A simple, transparent, and logical A-F scale is a precondition to ensuring that our Board of Education delivers the result that the Legislature intended," Padget wrote.

He provided his fellow board members with three alternative formulas to consider in advance of the January meeting. The one he said he personally favors -- "Option 1" -- would set the benchmark for an "A" grade at 70 or above, with 10 percentage points separating A's from B's, B's from C's, etc., and all "C" schools would score 50 percent or higher.

Padget is also resisting Stewart's recommended cut scores, because he says they aren't tough enough. On that issue, some board members appear ready to side with Stewart.

Here's Padget's letter to the board:  Download JRPletter28Dec15

And here are the options he's presenting in more detail:  Download GradingScaleOptions123

December 21, 2015

FEA alleges discrimination over 'Best and Brightest' teachers bonuses


Florida's largest teachers union is accusing the Florida Department of Education and the state's 74 school districts of age and racial discrimination against teachers because of how the controversial "Best and Brightest" bonus program has been implemented.

In a complaint today to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations, the Florida Education Association alleges the program discriminates against teachers who are older than 40 and those who are minorities.

Only teachers who are rated "highly effective" and who achieved certain high marks on their SAT or ACT are eligible for the program, which was initiated this year. First-year teachers -- who wouldn't have been evaluated -- are exempt from the "highly effective" requirement. Lawmakers included $44 million in the 2015-16 state budget to fund the bonuses, with eligible teachers getting up to $10,000 each.

“Too many high-quality teachers in Florida were denied access to this bonus program because of the unfair and discriminatory rules and short timeline set up by lawmakers,” FEA President Joanne McCall said in a statement. “This bonus plan wasn’t thought out very well and wasn’t properly vetted in the Legislature and that has resulted in many good teachers unfairly denied access to this bonus.”

The FEA -- which represents more than 250,000 teachers -- says the program is discriminatory, because of the following reasons, which they also list in their complaint:

-- "No percentile data is available from ACT or SAT for teachers who took these tests before 1972, such teachers are disqualified from receiving the bonus."

-- "The Oct. 1 deadline for submitting applications for the bonus further discriminates against teachers older than 40 years old, because a disproportionate number of them took the ACT and SAT many years ago and were unable to get access to their scores from the testing programs before the deadline."

-- "The exemption of first-year teachers from the requirement that they provide evidence of being rated 'highly effective' under the respondent employers’ performance evaluation system further discriminates against and has a disparate impact on teachers older than 40 years old.  First-year teachers are overwhelmingly younger than 40 years of age."

-- "The bonus program also discriminates against African-American and Hispanic teachers by using the SAT and ACT as qualifiers. It has been well-established in the courts and peer-reviewed scholarship that the SAT and ACT are a racially and culturally biased tests that disparately impact test-takers on the basis of African-American and Hispanic race."

The FEA is seeking damages, including attorney's fees and costs. The school districts charged in the complaint include those of the state's 67 counties and seven special and lab districts recognized by the state. Read the full complaint here:  Download 12.21.15 EEOC Charge - FEA

Department of Education spokeswoman Meghan Collins said in a statement to the Herald/Times that the department had not received a copy of the FEA's complaint as of Monday afternoon.

"The department has no comment other than to state that, as always, the department will cooperate fully with any required regulatory process or review," Collins said.

Republican lawmakers want to renew the "Best and Brightest" program through legislation they're pursuing in the 2016 legislative session, which begins in January.

December 18, 2015

For sale: Ernesto Perez's fancy $2 million Coral Gables home


Former Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez is selling his luxurious Coral Gables house. Asking price is $2.15 million.

The two-story Spanish-style home has five bedrooms, six and a half bathrooms, and boasts “Desert Bloom marble floors from Dubai,” according to the sales listing on the Zillow real estate website.

The photos of the 5,291 square-foot home provide a window into how Perez’s for-profit college empire provided a comfortable lifestyle. The master bedroom has a skylight feature, and the room appears to be roughly the size of a studio apartment.

Other amenities: a “stunning gourmet kitchen with Turkish stone counters,” a large pool/jacuzzi, and a “unique Zen Garden.”

Perez’s college suddenly shut down on Oct. 30, after the U.S. Department of Education placed the school under heightened financial scrutiny. For years, some Dade Medical students had complained that the college enrolled them with false promises, and failed to deliver a quality education. At the Hollywood campus, only 13 percent of nursing graduates last year passed the state’s required license exam.

More here.

Miami health care executive appointed to Florida university system board

@ByKristenMClark F_J_Valverde_MD

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has appointed a health care executive from Miami -- and one of his former policy advisers -- for a three-year term to the State University System's Board of Governors.

Dr. Fernando Valverde, 56, of Miami, fills a vacancy left by Elizabeth Webster, who resigned. Valverde is state regional president of Humana and previously was associate dean with the Florida International University College of Medicine.

After Scott was first elected in 2010, Valverde served as a senior advisor and member of Scott's transition team for the Department of Health.

Valverde's appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate. Valverde will finish out Webster's term, which ends Jan. 6, 2019.

The Board of Governors oversees Florida's 12 public universities with an enrollment of more than 300,000 students, more than 60,000 faculty and staff, and an annual operating budget of more than $8.5 billion.

Photo credit: Businesswire

FSU announces $100M gift to create Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship


Florida State University received its largest gift in school history this week: a $100 million pledge from the family of the late Jim Moran and the Jim Moran Foundation.

The money will be used to create a school of entrepreneurship named after the nationally known car dealer, who founded JM Family Enterprises and whose family is known for their philanthropic efforts in South Florida.

“It’s a great day for Florida State and, I believe, for our students who will really get the benefit of this incredible gift down the road,” said FSU President John Thrasher, when he announced the gift Friday during a conference call with the university’s board of trustees. “The gift is truly transformational.”

The $100 million pledge includes $80 million over 20 years, or $4 million a year, and a $20 million charitable bequest, administrators said.

FSU officials said they believe it’s the largest private donation ever to a public university in Florida and that it matches the largest ever to any university in the state. The University of Miami in 2004 also received a $100 million private donation.

Jim Moran and his family have been donors to FSU for 20 years, already giving more than $9 million to the university, said Tom Jennings, vice president for university advancement.

The trustees unanimously voted to name the new school the “Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship.” The vote was required because the family’s gift deviates from the school’s naming policy that requires gifts to be paid out within seven years.

The entrepreneurial school is scheduled to open Aug. 8, 2018, which would have been Moran’s 100th birthday.

Moran died in 2007, but his wife, Jan, has continued the family’s philanthropic efforts. That work has had a particular impact on South Florida, where Moran moved in the 1960s.

The Deerfield Beach-based Jim Moran Foundation, founded in 2000, has invested more than $60 million — mostly in Broward, Palm Beach and Duval counties — in education, elder care, families and youth transitional living facilities, according to its website.

“Jim believed, ‘The future belongs to those who prepare for it,’ ” Jan Moran said in a statement. “With this gift, we forever secure the legacy of Jim Moran and his passion for supporting entrepreneurism, so that current and future generations will have the knowledge and skills they need to be successful.”

A portion of the family’s gift will continue to fund the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship, which was founded 20 years ago within the FSU College of Business. The institute will remain as part of the college for five years, FSU Provost Sally McRorie said.

FSU’s entrepreneurship program is small and highly competitive. Only 41 students out of 200 applicants were accepted this year, said Michael Hartline, interim dean of the College of Business, where the program is currently housed.

Breaking it out into a separate school will allow it to blossom, Hartline said, adding “we expect within a year, we’ll have 100 [students].”

The school will operate independently of the business college, acting much like a college itself, but it will include interdisciplinary programs that interact with other colleges within FSU, administrators said.

It will be located in downtown Tallahassee near the Capitol and other local businesses. Thrasher said the university is still in negotiations for the property but he expects to make an announcement about the specific location in the coming weeks.

December 17, 2015

Florida state colleges want $74M to improve campus security

Miami-dade's wolfson campus


Regardless of what happens to a controversial plan to allow guns on Florida's 40 state college and public university campuses, college presidents say they want to take steps to make their campuses safer.

The Council of Presidents voted Thursday morning to ask the Legislature to fund a $74 million, three-year plan to beef up campus security and pay for training, other resources and equipment at the 28 colleges.

The request -- which wasn't previously part of the college system's budget request -- is $37 million (or 50 percent of the total) for 2016-17 and $18.5 million for each of the following two years.

The guns-on-campus bills moving in the Legislature brought to light the need to "recognize and offer alternatives -- through this investment -- to address the campus security problem short of arming our students," Michael Brawer, executive director of the Association of Florida Colleges, said during the council's conference call meeting Thursday morning.

"It’s what we think we have to do to minimize damages as it relates to the whole new world we live in and the potential for active shooters," agreed Carol Probstfeld, president of State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota.

Continue reading "Florida state colleges want $74M to improve campus security" »

South Florida school districts receive threat, deem it 'less than credible'

via @ChuckRabin

A day after two of the nation's largest school systems received email threats against students and property, Miami-Dade and Broward schools received a similar threat.

In South Florida, the news had many worried parents expressing fear and keeping their kids home from school.

The emails to New York and Los Angeles were deemed “less than credible,” though the Los Angeles superintendent chose to shut down a school system with more than 600,000 students for the day.

In Miami-Dade, school police deemed Wednesday night’s threat “less than credible” in an email alert to parents and students.

Miami-Dade, Broward and Houston — which received the same threat — are open Thursday.

The local school districts contacted federal, state and local authorities and are deploying additional security to campuses on Thursday.

More here.