November 30, 2015

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


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.

November 20, 2015

NRA attacks Miami Rep. Trujillo for 'betrayal' of gun owners' rights

From The News Service of Florida:

Gun-rights advocates are targeting a Miami lawmaker after a bill to broaden the state's controversial "stand your ground" law was scuttled at the Capitol. The National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida emailed its members Thursday calling the actions by House Criminal Justice Chairman Carlos Trujillo an "orchestrated" betrayal of "law-abiding gun owners," as the measure died on a 6-6 vote two days earlier.

Trujillo and Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, joined four Democrats in opposing the measure, which proposed to shift the burden of proof to the state in cases involving the "stand your ground" law. Under the 2005 law, people can use deadly force and do not have a duty to retreat if they think it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.

"It is important to recognize and remember the committee members who were loyal to the Constitution and your right of self-defense --- as well it is the betrayers," said the email from Marion Hammer, an influential lobbyist for both groups.

Hammer told The News Service of Florida she was "shocked" by the vote, but declined further comment, saying her email blast --- with "Betrayal" in its subject line --- spoke for itself. The tie vote came after Democrats were able to attach a pair of amendments to the bill that stripped some enforcement powers from the proposal.

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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

November 11, 2015

Cause damage with your drone? You might have to pay up



As unmanned commercial drones continue climbing in popularity, so does the potential for accidents in which wayward devices might physically harm people or damage property.

Under current Florida law, there’s nothing a victim could do about such an accident, so a Republican state senator from Miami said he wants to fill that “void in the law.”

The proposal from state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla would provide a legal recourse for victims of drone accidents to recoup their expenses should a drone — for example — lose control and hit a high-voltage electric line or tumble into a crowd of people.

“They’re very hard to control and they can cause massive damage if they fall,” Diaz de la Portilla said of the devices, which can have a variety of functions and sizes, ranging from personal cameras that can be lofted into the air to armed military aircraft.

Senate Bill 642 would allow people to recover costs from the owner and operator of a drone if the device “was a substantial contributing factor” in causing the damage. The manufacturer and distributor of the device also could be sued if the damage resulted from a defect or design flaw.

Photo credit: AP

November 10, 2015

Miami-Dade legislative delegation announces new leaders for 2016 session

Jose felix diaz


Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Jose Javier Rodriguez will lead Miami-Dade County's legislative delegation for the 2016 session that begins in January, the delegation announced today.

Diaz, R-Miami, will serve as chairman, replacing Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. Diaz spent the past four years as the delegation's vice-chairman.

Rodriguez, D-Miami, will succeed him in that post.

Both were elected unanimously by the 24-member group, which Diaz called "a surreal honor."

"Miami-Dade's delegation is the strongest, largest, and most united delegation in our great state," Diaz said. "We hope this will be indicative of our delegation's willingness to usher in a new era of cooperation and statesmanship."

The delegation has 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats between the county's six Senate and 18 House seats. The chairman and vice-chairman, elected annually, spearhead the delegation's legislative agenda and priorities.

Photo credit: State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami. Courtesy of

November 09, 2015

Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez gets house arrest, probation


For-profit college operator Ernesto Perez — a big-time donor to South Florida politicians — officially pleaded guilty Monday to illegally bundling more than $159,000 in campaign contributions.

Perez, who owned Dade Medical College, will surrender in January to begin serving house arrest and probation.

Perez’s official sentence is three days in jail, but because the college operator is receiving credit for time already served, there will be no additional days behind bars.

The plea deal was first discussed last week when Perez was arrested on the campaign finance charges. It was postponed until Monday so attorneys on both sides could work out the details.

Perez also receives three years of probation, plus two months of house arrest. The college owner agreed to pay $150,000 to law enforcement for the cost of the investigation — $95,000 of which he has already paid, lawyers announced.

Perez will also make $50,000 in required charitable donations. The college owner will not be required to pay any restitution to his former students — Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ed Griffith said this is because the criminal charges settled on Monday dealt with Perez’s personal conduct, and not the actions of Dade Medical College.

More here.

November 07, 2015

FL lawmakers kept soaking up freebies at Dade Medical College - until the bitter end


Five weeks before for-profit Dade Medical College collapsed, the liquor was still flowing.

It was open bar at a ribbon-cutting for a new outdoor terrace at Dade Medical’s smaller affiliate school, the University of Southernmost Florida. The location: downtown Coral Gables.

There was hors d’oeuvres. There was paella. And there were politicians.

Ernesto Perez, Dade Medical’s principal owner, donated big to scores of political campaigns, sometimes backing both candidates for the same seat. He steered jobs and contractual work to nearly a dozen local politicians, and invited them and their colleagues to events like this one. In those moments, Perez made it a point to shoot photos of himself with the politically powerful, which he liked to splash on the Internet and share on the school’s Facebook page.

The political prestige gave the college credibility, which raised the school’s profile, which helped to recruit more students. That, in turn, boosted profits, which allowed for even more political contributions, and even more influence. Prosecutors say Perez spent more than $750,000 on political contributions.

Perez’s school had luxury suites at Miami Heat games, and Miami Dolphins games.

“If I was at a Heat game and ran into him, they might have handed me a wristband,” acknowledged state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, who also attended the September ribbon-cutting.

More here.

October 30, 2015

For-profit Dade Medical College implodes


Dade Medical College, the homegrown for-profit school that rose from humble origins to become an educational juggernaut, announced Friday it is closing its doors, effective at the end of the day.

Majority owner Ernesto Perez issued an afternoon memo informing employees and students.

Perez once wielded enormous political power both locally and in Tallahassee. But amid heightened federal scrutiny and mounting debts, he was unable to keep his college from going out of business.

All six Dade Medical campuses, stretching from Homestead to Jacksonville, are affected. Also closing are the two campuses of Dade Medical’s smaller affiliate school, the University of Southernmost Florida.

“Since the school’s opening in 1999, Dade Medical College contributed to the community through the training of thousands of Nursing and Allied Healthcare workers that graduated and are working in their field,” Perez wrote in his memo, adding “I, for one, will definitely miss working alongside you and witnessing all the positive outcomes we’ve built together.”

Some former Dade Medical students don’t consider their outcomes positive. They accuse the school of selling an overpriced, poor-quality education. And Dade Medical’s graduates have low passage rates for license exams in nursing and physical therapy assistance — the 2014 nursing passage rate at the Hollywood campus was 13 percent.

The bad news for Perez is likely to continue. As early as next week, he is expected to be arrested in connection with alleged campaign finance violations, multiple knowledgeable sources told the Herald. Perez also remains under criminal investigation for financial irregularities involving student loans.

Perez is a high school dropout and onetime rock musician who saw his colleges as an educational alternative for students who might not prosper at a traditional institution.

He made powerful friends along the way. Dade Medical has contributed more than $170,000 to state and federal candidates, through Perez’s companies, relatives and employees at various affiliated firms. Nearly a dozen South Florida politicians were either put on the college payroll or hired on a contractual basis.

More here.

October 21, 2015

New details revealed on soccer deal between Beckham and Miami; School Board may get involved


David Beckham and the city of Miami are getting closer to a possible 60-year, $51 million deal that would pave the way for a Little Havana soccer stadium next to Marlins Park, according to city officials and a draft stadium operating agreement obtained by the Miami Herald.

Under the terms of the agreement, Miami Beckham United or a wholly owned subsidiary would be allowed to build a 30,000-seat stadium on about 10.5 acres of land currently owned primarily by the city. Presuming Beckham's group follows through with plans to purchase private property located on parts of the proposed stadium site, he and his partners would pay the city a "management fee" of $850,000 a year over an initial term of 60 years, and potentially two additional 20-year terms at the team's option.

Half of the fee could be paid by a foundation associated with the team's ownership, and would be used to promote "youth education and athletics," and to "construct, operate and maintain soccer facilities within the city," according to the document.

The city, in exchange, would spare Miami Beckham United from paying annual property taxes by deeding 6.5 acres of its land and vacated streets to Miami-Dade County, or -- in a new, politically intriguing possibility -- the Miami-Dade School Board, both of which have tax-exempt status.

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