February 02, 2016

Former NFL, FSU players lobby for payment in Devaughn Darling's death

From the News Service of Florida:

Family members and former teammates of a Florida State University football player who died while working out nearly 15 years ago gathered Tuesday at the Capitol to urge lawmakers to approve a bill that would compensate his family.

Devaughn Darling was a freshman for the Seminoles in 2001, when he collapsed and died during a training session. His family later agreed to a $2 million settlement with the university.

But under the state's sovereign immunity laws, the family could not collect more than $200,000 without legislative approval of what is known as a "claim" bill. Such bills have been filed repeatedly to compensate the Darling family but have not passed.

Devaughn Darling's twin brother, Devard, said it is difficult for his family to have to lobby lawmakers year after year.

"Nothing can bring him back, no amount of money,'' Devard Darling said. "$1.8 million isn't worth Devaughn's life, but like everyone has said, it is just the closure that we are looking for. We have to relive this every year."

Several former NFL players and FSU teammates joined the Darling family at the Capitol. Bills (SB 16 and HB 3513) that call for paying the Darling family have yet to be heard by legislative committees this session.

"I'm going to be here to support them (family members), and I hope that those that will vote on this issue and will bring this issue to the table will just think of the family,'' said Corey Simon, a former Florida State and NFL player.

December 18, 2015

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

@MrMikeVasquez

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.

December 14, 2015

Judge Reynolds starts Senate redistricting trial today -- as each side claims the other drew maps to benefit partisans

Galvano mapThe weeklong redistricting trial scheduled to begin in a Tallahassee courtroom Monday will determine the fate of Florida’s 40 Senate districts and the future of the 29 incumbents seeking reelection.

The rare political scramble is forcing all of them back onto the ballot in November, including many of whom thought they could sit out this election because they were elected to a four-year term in 2014. And they each want to know: Who will have to move to get reelected, who faces new competition and who faces new communities to represent?

The remaining 11 senators are not seeking reelection because they are either leaving because of term limits, or seeking another office.

It is the vestige of the Fair Districts amendments to the state constitution that were approved by voters six years ago, and the districts remain in limbo because legislators admitted to manipulating the political boundaries three years ago to benefit Republicans — in violation of the amendments — then tried and failed to redraw the Senate map during a three-week special session.

Now, the job of preparing a new map is left to Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds, and he has only a week to do it. Both sides have submitted maps and each will accuse the other of drawing a map with improper partisan intent.

More here.

December 03, 2015

Just don't call it climate change in Tallahassee

Miami beach flood

@jenstaletovich

KEY WEST -- Climate change is still a dirty word in Tallahassee.

On the last day of a three-day Key West summit on climate change in South Florida, local lawmakers said they are chipping away at problems tied to rising sea levels and a host of ills linked to a warming planet, as long as they call it something else.

"You’re not allowed to talk about climate change. I don’t think that’s literally the policy, but because of the environment, you're not allowed to openly engage," said State Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, a Miami Democrat.

Rodriguez, along with State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, said in addressing woes projected for the state - from declining coral reefs to a six to 12-inch rise in South Florida seas in the next 15 years - they struggle to delicately describe it as something else. Finding money for projects, they say, is easier than changing policy. Just don't mention the dreaded C words.

"Everyday we’re seeing people accept things that I didn’t think they would," Jacobs said. "Who would have thought Republicans would be for passing marijuana?"

Continue reading "Just don't call it climate change in Tallahassee" »

November 30, 2015

Are Florida lawmakers ready to tackle for-profit college abuses?

@MrMikeVasquez 

After a year of repeated for-profit college scandals — including the recent closure of Dade Medical College — Florida lawmakers are poised to consider new, tougher rules governing the schools.

The change follows several years in which lawmakers loosened standards and opened up more public money to for-profits. For the moment, the buzz is about greater consumer protections at the schools, which rely heavily on taxpayer money but receive little government oversight.

For-profit colleges enroll nearly one in five Florida college students — close to 300,000 students in total.

Though lawmakers are talking about stronger regulations, the proposals so far aren’t as aggressive as what some other states have done to protect students. And some Florida lawmakers may be hesitant to take any action whatsoever against an industry that donates generously to political campaigns, and has many powerful friends.

That’s particularly true in the conservative House. Two House lawmakers who chair important education-related committees were previously honored as “legislator of the year” by the for-profit college industry.

The 2016 legislative session starts on Jan. 12. Committee meetings have already begun.

One for-profit college bill that’s being debated would shut down schools with student loan default rates over 40 percent — resulting in the closure of a handful of beauty schools and barber colleges. It easily passed its first Senate committee stop in mid-November.

Other proposals are directly linked to the fallout from the Oct. 30 closure of Dade Medical College.

More here.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio dominate PolitiFact Florida's Top 5 for November 2015

Jebcnbc

Statements by South Florida’s GOP presidential rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio led PolitiFact Florida’s website in November, touching on taxes and Rubio’s spending while speaker of the Florida House.

Here are the five most-read fact-checks from PolitiFact Florida in November, counting down to the most popular.

November 24, 2015

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

@MrMikeVasquez

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 19, 2015

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

@MrMikeVasquez

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

@MrMikeVasquez

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

November 16, 2015

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

@MrMikeVasquez

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.