Rick Scott’s latest villian, college professors

From the Herald Tribune

by Eric Ernst

Parade magazine publishes an annual article looking at what people earn in a variety of jobs across the country.

Each entry includes a thumbnail photo, the subject’s yearly pay and a notation of where he or she lives and works.

It’s one of the magazine’s most popular issues, appealing to the voyeur in all of us, but done playfully, in good humor and with the cooperation of the subjects.

That’s not the case with Gov. Rick Scott’s recent publication of the salaries of state university employees. He requested the top 50 from each school.

In and of itself, the request might seem innocuous enough. But, coupled with the governor’s publicized disdain for liberal arts, his request for other performance data, his announced intention to upend the tenure system and his comments about purging unproductive professors (that definition still to be determined), his salary “revelations” come across less as informational and more as mean-spirited and threatening.

Their publication implies that professors and staff at Florida universities get paid too much, and the governor seems to invite the public to rise up in indignation.

That isn’t happening for several reasons.

First, presidents, medical school profs, deans and coaches dominate the highest-paid list. No surprises there.

Second, if one digs a little below the surface, as reporter Zac Anderson did in a Herald-Tribune article published Wednesday, it turns out that the average salary of Florida professors is about $6,000 less than the average of $86,653 at research universities nationwide.

It’s difficult to draw too much from that considering that the cost of living varies from one area to another, but it does suggest that Florida’s pay is probably not out of whack on the high side.

Third, even if professors at major universities get paid more than most of us, so what? Education of the young is the hallmark of civilized society. Those who engage in it deserve high status and pay to go with it. University professors represent the epitome of that system. They should be paid accordingly.

And fourth, the public has numbers other than professors’ salaries to lament when it comes to disparities in pay.

In 1965, CEOs in major U.S. companies earned about 25 times more than the average worker. Now the ratio is anywhere from 275 to 1 or 350 to 1, depending on whose figures you believe.

That type of discrepancy has some lamenting the decline of the middle class, in which professors are fully embedded.

Eric Ernst’s column runs Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Contact him at eric.ernst@heraldtribune.com or (941) 486-3073.


Florida union challenges amendment that would allow state funding of religious schools

From the Sun Sentinel

The statewide teachers union, backed by other school and religious officials, challenged a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday that would pave the way for state lawmakers to direct tax dollars toward school vouchers or religious-affiliated institutions.

It was the second day in a row that the Florida Education Association was in Leon County Circuit Court arguing against legislation that was passed by Republican lawmakers last spring, following up on Wednesday’s case over changes to the public employee retirement system.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which would go on the November 2012 ballot, would eliminate a constitutional prohibition — referred to as the “Blaine Amendment” — that bars state funding of religious institutions.

But the FEA, which led the suit, did not focus on a church-and-state argument, instead choosing a strategy frequently employed by groups seeking to knock amendments off the ballot. The group contended that the title and summary of the proposed amendment were unclear and would confuse voters.

The ballot title is “Religious Freedom,” which FEA attorney Ron Meyer argued was confusing because it makes no mention of state funding.

“The requirement is that it be clear and unambiguous so that everybody who goes in and reads it understands what it will and won’t do,” he said.

Daniel Nordby, a lawyer for the Secretary of State’s Office, countered that the ballot language and summary did not use terms that were “inconsistent” with the amendment and therefore would not confuse the voter.

A separate part of the case challenged a new law that would allow the state attorney general to rewrite ballot language if a court struck an amendment because it was unclear. Meyer said that raised separation of powers concerns.

Scott Makar, the state’s solicitor general, argued that the attorney general has the right to “repair” defective language and that language in the law assured the changes would not affect the intent of the amendment.

Judge Terry Lewis asked both sides to prepare potential orders for him by next Friday, but he did not indicate when he will issue his ruling.

khaughney@tribune.com or 850-224-6214. Follow her on Twitter @khaughney.


Jeb Bush just can’t help bashing teachers, this time he does it in the name of religious freedom

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Leon County circuit court judge Terry Lewis began hearing arguments yesterday regarding a ballot initiative (Amendment 7) that would strike down the ”Blaine Amendment”. Blaine bars state funding of religious organizations. The FEA joined other religious groups in opposing the measure. In July, Jeb Bush excoriated Florida’s teachers for their suit:

“Amendment 7 is not about vouchers. It is about providing Floridians high-quality public services (social, healthcare, and education), irrespective of the provider’s religious affiliation. The amendment simply aligns the Florida Constitution with protections that already exist in the U.S. Constitution. Unions are more interested in protecting political monopolies than ensuring every Floridian has access to the high-quality services that best fit their needs. By making this about vouchers and educational choice, the teachers unions are again proving they care more about power than equipping Sunshine State students for success.”

Really? Consider this from this morning’s Orlando Sun-Sentinel:

The proposed constitutional amendment, which would go on the November 2012 ballot, would eliminate a constitutional prohibition — referred to as the “Blaine Amendment” — that bars state funding of religious institutions

But the FEA, which led the suit, did not focus on a church-and-state argument, instead choosing a strategy frequently employed by groups seeking to knock amendments off the ballot. The group contended that the title and summary
of the proposed amendment were unclear and would confuse voters.

The ballot title is “Religious Freedom,” which FEA attorney Ron Meyer argued was confusing because it makes no mention of state funding.

“The requirement is that it be clear and unambiguous so that everybody who goes in and reads it understands what it will and won’t do,” he said.

Daniel Nordby, a lawyer for the Secretary of State’s Office, countered that the ballot language and summary did not use terms that were “inconsistent” with the amendment and therefore would not confuse the voter.

A separate part of the case challenged a new law that would allow the state attorney general to rewrite ballot language if a court struck an amendment because it was unclear. Meyer said that raised separation of powers concerns.

Scott Makar, the state’s solicitor general, argued that the attorney general has the right to “repair” defective language and that language in the law assured the changes would not affect the intent of the amendment.

Judge Terry Lewis asked both sides to prepare potential orders for him by next Friday, but he did not indicate when he will issue his ruling.

Jeb Bush has done more than anyone else to besmirch the reputation of the state’s teachers. He just doesn’t seem to be able to help himself when he has the opportunity. Be sure to understand that if Bush says its not about vouchers…its about vouchers. If they are so virtuous, why not try to do it above board?

Bush and his republican legislative allies know that vouchers – when standing alone – have already been struck down by state courts. Amendment 7 is another transparent, back-channel attempt to impose vouchers on the state. This gambit has nothing whatsoever to do with religious freedom and its disingenuous for them to imply otherwise. By labeling it in such a misleading fashion they are demonstrating their contempt for voters and their need to trick them.


Follow the money, right to the Bush family as they profit off of education reform

From Common Dreams

by Walter F. Roche Jr.

A company headed by President Bush’s brother and partly owned by his parents is benefiting from Republican connections and federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students under the No Child Left Behind Act.

With investments from his parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and other backers, Neil Bush’s company, Ignite! Learning, has placed its products in 40 U.S. school districts and now plans to market internationally.

At least 13 U.S. school districts have used federal funds available through the president’s signature education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, to buy Ignite’s portable learning centers at $3,800 apiece.

The law provides federal funds to help school districts better serve disadvantaged students and improve their performance, especially in reading and math.

But Ignite does not offer reading instruction, and its math program will not be available until next year.

The federal Department of Education does not monitor individual school district expenditures under the No Child program, but sets guidelines that the states are expected to enforce, spokesman Chad Colby said.

Ignite executive Tom Deliganis said that “some districts seem to feel OK” about using No Child money for the Ignite purchases, “and others do not.”

Neil Bush said in an e-mail to The Times that Ignite’s program had demonstrated success in improving the test scores of economically disadvantaged children. He also said political influence had not played a role in Ignite’s rapid growth.

“As our business matures in the USA we have plans to expand overseas and to work with many distinguished individuals in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa,” he wrote. “Not one of these associates by the way has ever asked for any access to either of my political brothers, not one White House tour, not one autographed photo, and not one Lincoln bedroom overnight stay.”

Funding laws unclear

Interviews and a review of school district documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act found that educators and legal experts were sharply divided over whether Ignite’s products were worth their cost or qualified under the No Child law.

The federal law requires schools to show they are meeting educational standards, or risk losing critical funding. If students fail to meet annual performance goals in reading and math tests, schools must supplement their educational offerings with tutoring and other special programs.

Leigh Manasevit, a Washington attorney who specializes in federal education funding, said that districts using the No Child funds to buy products like Ignite’s would have to meet “very strict” student eligibility requirements and ensure that the Ignite services were supplemental to existing programs.

Known as COW, for Curriculum on Wheels (the portable learning centers resemble cows on wheels), Ignite’s product line is geared toward middle school social studies, history and science. The company says it has developed a social studies program that meets curriculum requirements in seven states. Its science program meets requirements in six states.

Most of Ignite’s business has been obtained through sole-source contracts without competitive bidding. Neil Bush has been directly involved in marketing the product.

In addition to federal or state funds, foundations and corporations have helped buy Ignite products. The Washington Times Foundation, backed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the South Korea-based Unification Church, has peppered classrooms throughout Virginia with Ignite’s COWs under a $1-million grant.

Oil companies and Middle East interests with long political ties to the Bush family have made similar bequests. Aramco Services Co., an arm of the Saudi-owned oil company, has donated COWs to schools, as have Apache Corp., BP and Shell Oil Co.

Neil Bush said he is a businessman who does not attempt to exert political influence, and he called The Times’ inquiries about his venture — made just before the election — “entirely political.”

Big supporters

Bush’s parents joined Neil as Ignite investors in 1999, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission documents. By 2003, the records show, Neil Bush had raised about $23 million from more than a dozen outside investors, including Mohammed Al Saddah, the head of a Kuwaiti company, and Winston Wong, the head of a Chinese computer firm.

Most recently he signed up Russian fugitive business tycoon Boris A. Berezovsky and Berezovsky’s partner Badri Patarkatsishvili.

Barbara Bush has enthusiastically supported Ignite. In January 2004, she and Neil Bush were guests of honor at a $1,000-atable fundraiser in Oklahoma City organized by a foundation supporting the Western Heights School District. Proceeds were earmarked for the purchase of Ignite products.

Organizer Mary Blankenship Pointer said she planned the event because district students were “utilizing Ignite courseware and experiencing great results. Our students were thriving.”

However, Western Heights school Supt. Joe Kitchens said the district eventually dropped its use of Ignite because it disagreed with changes Ignite had made in its products. “Our interest waned in it,” he said.

The former first lady spurred controversy recently when she contributed to a Hurricane Katrina relief foundation for storm victims who had relocated to Texas. Her donation carried one stipulation: It had to be used by local schools for purchases of COWs.

Texas accounts for 75% of Ignite’s business, which is expanding rapidly in other states, Deliganis said.

The company also has COWs deployed in North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, California, the District of Columbia, Georgia and Florida, he said.

COWs recently showed up at Hill Classical Middle School in California’s Long Beach Unified School District. A San Jose middle school also bought Ignite’s products but has since closed.

Neil Bush said Ignite has more than 1,700 COWs in classrooms.

Shift in strategy

But Ignite’s educational strategy has changed dramatically, and some are critical of its new approach. Shortly after Ignite was formed in Austin, Texas, in 1999, it bought the software developed by another small Austin firm, Adaptive Learning Technology.

Adaptive Learning founder Mary Schenck-Ross said the software’s interactive lessons allowed teachers “to get away from the mass-treatment approach” to education. When a student typed in a response to a question, the software was designed to react and provide a customized learning path.

“The original concept was to avoid ‘one size fits all.’ That was the point,” said Catherine Malloy, who worked on the software development.

Two years ago, however, Ignite dropped the individualized learning approach. Working with artists and illustrators, it created a large purple COW that could be wheeled from classroom to classroom and plugged in, offering lessons that could be played to a roomful of students.

The COWs enticed students with catchy jingles and videos featuring cartoon characters like Mr. Bighead and Norman Einstein. On Ignite’s website, a collection of teachers endorsed the COW, saying that it eliminated the need for lesson planning. The COW does it for them.

The developers of Adaptive Learning’s software complain that Ignite replaced individualized instruction with a gimmick.

“It breaks my heart what they have done. The concept was totally perverted,” Schenck-Ross said.

Nevertheless, Ignite found many receptive school districts. In Texas, 30 districts use COWs.

In Houston, where Neil Bush and his parents live, the district has used various funding sources to acquire $400,000 in Ignite products. An additional $240,000 in purchases has been authorized in the last six months.

Correspondence obtained by The Times shows that Neil Bush met with top Houston officials, sent e-mails and left voice mail messages urging bigger and faster allocations. An e-mail from a school procurement official to colleagues said Bush had made it clear that he had a “good working relationship” with a school board member.

Another Ignite official asked a Texas state education official to endorse the company. In an e-mail, Neil Bush’s partner Ken Leonard asked Michelle Ungurait, state director of social studies programs, to tell Houston officials her “positive impressions of our content, system and approach.”

Ungurait, identified in another Leonard e-mail as “our good friend” at the state office, told her superiors in response to The Times’ inquiry that she never acted on Leonard’s request.

Leonard said he did not ask Ungurait to do anything that would be improper.

Houston school officials gave Ignite’s products “high” ratings in eight categories and recommended approval.

Some in Houston’s schools question the expenditures, however. Jon Dansby was teaching at Houston’s Fleming Middle School when Ignite products arrived.

“You can’t even get basics like paper and scissors, and we went out and bought them. I just see red,” he said.

In Las Vegas, the schools have approved more than $300,000 in Ignite purchases. Records show the board recommended spending $150,000 in No Child funding on Ignite products.

Sources familiar with the Las Vegas purchases said pressure to buy Ignite products came from Sig Rogich, an influential local figure and prominent Republican whose fundraising of more than $200,000 for President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign qualified him as a “Bush Ranger.”

Rogich, who chairs a foundation that supports local schools, said he applied no pressure but became interested in COWs after Neil Bush contacted him. Rogich donated $6,000 to purchase two COWs for a middle school named after him.

Christy Falba, the former Clark County school official who oversaw the contracts, said she and her husband attended a dinner with Neil Bush to discuss the products. She said Rogich encouraged the district “to look at the Ignite program” but applied no pressure.

Mixed reviews

Few independent studies have been done to assess the effectiveness of Ignite’s teaching strategies. Neil Bush said the company had gotten “great feedback” from educators and planned to conduct a “major scientifically valid study” to assess the COW’s impact. The results should be in by next summer, he said.

Though Ignite’s products get generally rave reviews from Texas educators, the opinion is not universal.

The Tornillo, Texas, Independent School District no longer uses the Ignite programs it purchased several years ago for $43,000.

“I wouldn’t advise anyone else to use it,” said Supt. Paul Vranish. “Nobody wanted to use it, and the principal who bought it is no longer here.”

Ignite’s website features glowing videotaped testimonials from teachers, administrators, students and parents.

Many of the videos were shot at Del Valle Junior High School near Austin, where school district officials allowed Ignite to film facilities and students.

In the video, a student named India says: “I was feeling bad about my grades. I didn’t know what my teacher was talking about.” The COW changed everything, the girl’s father says on the video.

Lori, a woman identified as India’s teacher, says the child was not paying attention until the COW was brought in.

The woman, however, is not India’s teacher, but Lori Anderson, a former teacher and now Ignite’s marketing director. Ignite says Anderson was simply role-playing.

In return for use of its students and facilities, a district spokeswoman said Ignite donated a free COW. Five others were purchased with district funds.

District spokeswoman Celina Bley acknowledged that regulations bar school officials from endorsing products. But she said that restriction did not apply to the videos.

“It is illegal for individuals to make an endorsement, but this was a districtwide endorsement,” Bley said in an e-mail.


After budget cuts, P.E. one of the first things to go

From the St. Petersburg Times

by Jeff Solochek

Fifth- grader Noah Hauser loves his physical education classes, whether riding the stationary bicycle in the school fitness center or pushing himself on a monthly 2-mile challenge run.

It doesn’t bother him a bit if it’s just his class participating, or if 80-some kids from four classes are out in the field together.

“It’s still fun to play,” said Noah, 10. “We always do fun things in P.E.”

That’s the goal at Wesley Chapel Elementary, Pasco County’s only elementary school to win a Bronze Award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. But with budget cuts since then, including the elimination of 13 physical education teacher jobs district-wide, keeping up has become more difficult, P.E. teacher Chris Gorman said.

“We have taken a huge step backwards,” said Gorman, a past district teacher of the year finalist who also was the first Pasco elementary P.E. teacher to earn National Board certification. “This year is definitely more challenging.”

While slashing spending by $54 million this year, the Pasco School Board made every effort to at least maintain “specials” classes such as physical education, art and music, as well as support in media centers and instructional technology. That meant cuts without elimination.

For that, instructors are grateful.

“I know at some schools it’s a lot worse than at mine,” said Vivian Garner, a P.E. teacher at Mary Giella Elementary School.

But as principals created schedules to focus on increasingly demanding academic standards, with fewer teachers on their staffs, they had to make choices about how to assign everyone’s time.

For many schools, nothing changed in the way they offered P.E. The certified physical education teachers taught 90 minutes weekly to each class, while the classroom teachers made sure their students met the rest of the state-required 150 minutes of weekly physical activity.

“It’s just caused us to be creative,” Calusa Elementary principal Kara Merlin said. “It’s always been tight.”

But for others, including Wesley Chapel Elementary, getting all the students in with the P.E. teachers for even 90 minutes a week has proven “virtually impossible,” principal John Abernathy said.

“Our district has been really good in trying to give us what we need,” he said. “Where it falls short is in state funding. … We have to balance quality with quantity at some point, and sometimes the quality suffers.”

To attain rising reading requirements, Wesley Chapel assigned its P.E. teachers to 30 minutes of daily reading instruction. The school at the same time lost one of its two-day-a-week P.E. teachers.

That meant the P.E. teachers realistically could be scheduled to work only 80 minutes each week with every class, often with them doubled or tripled up.

“It does make it difficult to give positive, specific feedback to every student when you’ve got a 40-minute period, especially when you’re teaching a skill,” Gorman said. “Instead of our students getting more exercise, they are getting less.”

Garner said she has been helping with reading lessons at Mary Giella Elementary, too — three days a week for 20 minutes each time.

“I’m not certified in reading. I’m certified in P.E.,” she said, noting that the school faces a lot of pressure to perform.

Meanwhile, the P.E. staff is bare bones, having lost a part-time teacher as well, and the classes have swelled (P.E. is not subject to class-size rules) while the funding for new equipment shrank.

“The quality of your instruction goes down,” said Garner, a 25-year teaching veteran. “You have to play crowd control.”

The teachers said they initially welcomed legislation requiring elementary children to have at least 150 minutes of physical activity at school every week, in blocks of no less than 30 minutes. It was good for kids, and they looked forward to making it happen.

They’ve never been able to fully implement the program themselves, though, because of budget limitations and other academic demands. And things don’t look to be getting any better. Already economic forecasters are predicting a dim 2012-13.

“You wonder, if they’re doubling us up now, what are they going to do next year if we’re short?” Gorman said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.


Florida’s GED programs being closed because of a lack of funding

From the St. Petersburg Times

by Justin George

In his early 20s with no high school diploma, Gino Voltere was languishing at North Boulevard Homes, a public housing complex south of downtown. He wanted to move away from the hopelessness and corner drug deals, a place where he, too, had been pinched for a drug-selling charge in 2005. The last place he thought he’d find a ticket out would be on the same streets — and from a drug dealer. The peddler saw Voltere and his brother looking aimless and handed them a flier he had found. It was an advertisement for the federally funded YouthBuild program, which offered a GED, construction classes and a career. The dealer apparently wanted a legitimate, steady job, too, but had looked into the program’s details and found that he was too old to join.

“I took that as a sign,” Voltere said. “A drug dealer actually telling me I should do it.”

Voltere enrolled but almost quit multiple times. YouthBuild kept bringing him back until he succeeded.

“I used to walk around with my head down, but now I can walk around with my head up,” he said. “I have a job.”

Voltere became part of YouthBuild’s first class of students when he joined early last year. The program turned his life around, and he hoped his brother might give it a chance.

But he may never get that opportunity. YouthBuild’s funding has dwindled and, while it won’t completely run out until next summer, the program cannot accept new applicants. Now local organizers are looking for a way to save a program that they say has rescued men like Voltere from the streets.

• • •

YouthBuild, a 23-year-old national program, helps low-income 16- to 24-year-olds earn diplomas at 273 chapters spread across 45 states. There are offices in St. Petersburg and Lakeland. Most local offices are funded by U.S. Department of Labor grants.

YouthBuild programs last between six and 24 months. Participants learn job skills and receive stipends, as well as bonuses for benchmarks. They are placed in colleges or jobs and have caseworkers supporting them over several months.

In Tampa, the program opened last year, partnering with the Tampa Housing Authority. It was funded by a $1 million Department of Labor grant that allowed the program to reach 60 participants over two years of programs and one year of followup.

The Tampa program, however, based in a strip mall at 1803 N Howard Ave., helped 67. Of those, about 80 percent remain in their jobs or in colleges they were placed in, program manager John Arroyo said.

Participants came from throughout Tampa. Each class of qualifying applicants was put into a two-week “Mental Toughness” boot camp, where applicants were required to show up — sometimes at 6 a.m. — and perform mental and physical challenges. They ran about a mile to MacFarlane Park, up and down hills, and back. They were given hammering, sawing, ladder-climbing and other construction skill challenges. It was a weed-out process to see who wouldn’t give up. Some quit. Others stopped showing. The field whittled down to about 20 in each of three consecutive classes.

On the last day of boot camp, participants were put to a test that included construction challenges and math problems. Voltere finished first in his class.

He was in. In the back of YouthBuild’s office, he learned to install mock tile floors, working toilets, electrical switches, a ceiling fan, stoves, cabinets and water heaters. His colleagues and he put epoxy on a concrete floor, stuccoed walls and shingled a fake roof.

“I’ve worked with nonprofits for 12 years,” YouthBuild case manager Kelly Huff said, “and this is the closest thing that does what it says.”

But money problems at home prompted Voltere to drop out repeatedly and look for full-time jobs. Each time, the program director he called “Mr. John” found him riding his bike on nearby streets and talked him into returning.

“The last time I was going to leave, he stopped me and said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, do it,’ ” recalled Voltere. ” ‘But YouthBuild has something better.’ “

He finished the program and started a maintenance job with the Tampa Housing Authority at North Boulevard Homes, where his six-month probationary status ended last week.

He changes light bulbs, installs light switches, repairs stairwells, peels linoleum, paints walls and buffs floors. He said he can’t wait to invest in a retirement plan. He feels proud helping his mother with her bills.

“I feel like I’m the role model to all my friends,” Voltere, 24, said.

Other YouthBuild graduates also have found jobs at the complex. Two others have worked as assistant superintendents on the 40-acre Encore building project downtown for more than a year, Arroyo said. Some are in college.

But for a reason Arroyo and other officials don’t know, Tampa’s YouthBuild program’s funding wasn’t renewed. A call to YouthBuild USA officials this week was not returned.

Right now, the Tampa program can only do case management and support program graduates. It cannot start new classes even though applicants repeatedly come by the West Tampa office daily looking for spots.

The program will completely cease June 30, 2012, unless it comes up with new funding sources.

The Tampa Housing Authority has pledged to try to keep the program alive in some form, and Arroyo is in discussions with the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance and construction companies, looking for help.

“Instead of society complaining about our kids,” he said, “let’s do something about it.”

Wesner Toussant, 20, said he’s proof the program works. Like Voltere, he is a maintenance worker at North Boulevard Homes.

Last week, both men cleaned and remodeled a vacant unit, scraping roach waste from cabinets, peeling and replacing damaged linoleum and buffing floors.

“I love the job,” Toussant said. “I really didn’t have anything before I went to the program.”

In 2006, he had been shot and run over. For the past few years, he said, he has been looking for opportunities off the streets.

“I never wanted to sell drugs,” he said.

Since being hired, he bought a car and said he also helps his mother with bills and bought his younger siblings their first birthday presents.

He had ridden his bicycle several miles from East Tampa to West Tampa daily during YouthBuild and had perfect attendance.

“I feel like this was such a blessing to me,” Toussant said. “They should help keep the program going. I know it can help someone else.”

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.


The Florida ethics commision makes me vomit

The state of Florida’s ethics commission proved they had no understanding of the meaning of the word ethics when they said Representative Eric Fresen didn’t violate them when he voted for House Bill 7195. House bill 7195 greatly expanded the privileges given to charter schools and Fresen’s brother in law operates charter schools (his sister also works for them). He didn’t disclose this until 9 days after the vote and then only after the Miami Herald did a story on it.

How is this not an ethics violation? At the very least he should have revealed his family members stood to profit greatly and disqualified himself.

With this obvious disregard for what is right, the deck is stacked against public education.

Only in Florida is this not an ethics violation. Only in Florida.

Rick Scott working overtime to make Florida less appealing

From the Sun Sentinel’s editorial board

Is Gov. Rick Scott trying to make Florida less appealing to top-notch research professors? Because he seems to be working overtime to get the job accomplished.

There is his idea — based on what is being done in Texas by Gov. Rick Perry — to base some tenure decisions on student ratings of a professor’s effectiveness, along with the number of students that professor has taught.

Then there was the governor’s decision to post the salaries of professors at public universities online, in what one has to conclude was an obvious attempt to have the public question whether the professors are worth their pay.

Gov. Scott has also said the state should spend less on education programs that aren’t related to current workforce demands — he particularly singled out anthropology. He said more money and time should be spent on fields like technology and engineering and math.

The fact is, University of Florida President Bernie Machen, among others, has said that eliminating tenure would threaten UF’s recruitment of faculty. That is hardly a way to keep Florida’s universities competitive with the rest of the country.

The posting salaries of backfired on Gov. Scott, too. He claimed it was simply a matter of transparency, not politics. But it turns out the average salary of full-time professors in Florida — about $80,879 — is about $6,000 below the national average, according to the American Association of University Professors.

Yes, the salaries are public record, but the only thing transparent about putting them online in such an abrupt, unexplained way is the attempt to sway public opinion about overpaid professors.

As for Gov. Scott’s ideas about what subjects students should be studying, the American Anthropological Association responded by questioning whether the governor understands the contributions to biological and medical research that the anthropology field has made.

Now, whether one agrees with the governor’s positions on these individual issues is not the point. Certainly, the public needs to know how we spend faculty pay money, and whether across-the-board tenure is feasible. And it’s worth scrutinizing whether universities are properly prioritizing academic disciplines.

Our beef with the governor is this: He’s throwing out ideas and making decisions without fully thinking them through.

An example: When the governor visited the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board last month, we pressed him on the tenure issue. We pointed out that unlike Silicon Valley or North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park or the Austin region in Texas, Florida’s university enclaves haven’t matured into world-class research centers. Eroding tenure, we said, could undermine our ability to attract professors needed to build our own hubs.

The governor’s answer? He threw up his hands and immediately conceded, “Then we don’t do it.”

In his inability to defend his position, the governor displayed a disturbing lack of depth on the very issues he is raising. He simply isn’t thinking them through.

Florida’s state university system needs reform, and modernization. But that can’t be done with half-baked measures.


In Florida how well Charter Schools do doesn’t matter

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said Tuesday the state application for opening charter schools doesn’t need to address performance.

The application doesn’t take into account whether a charter organization already has schools open and how those schools are performing.

KIPP Jacksonville has applied to open two new elementary schools in the Duval County even though KIPP Impact Middle earned an “F” after its first year.

Robinson was in Amelia Island Tuesday as part of a panel at the annual National Association of Charter School Authorizers Leadership Conference. The association focuses on improving the policies and practices of organizations responsible for authorizing charter schools.

Oh NO HE DIDN”T! Even the host director of the charter school organization wouldn’t go that far.

Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said a poorly performing school shouldn’t be approved to open new schools.

“KIPP nationally is a great organization, but every school still has to earn its own way,” Richmond said.

“So if you’re an ‘F’ school, you’ve got to bring that grade up before you can start talking about opening some more schools.”

Someone needs to call Robinson on this. Maybe it will be Sen. David Simpson who’s been expressing concern for the high number of failing charter schools. The education commissioner is going to have to walk back this comment as he gives the appearance of running interference for his boss. It’s Rick Scott’s KIPP schools cronie,, Gary Chartrand, who’s seeks to open more charter schools. Why on earth – in this climate of hyper accountability – would Robinson in any way infer that performance doesn’t matter?