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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Has the Federal Govt. rescued Florida's Medicare system?

From the Orlando Business Journal

by Matt Coleman

Federal health officials have put the brakes on the Florida Legislature’s ongoing play to overhaul Medicaid and move to a statewide managed-care program, according to The Associated Press.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services sent a letter Thursday to the Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees Medicaid in Florida, saying the agency would only renew a five-county Medicaid pilot program and not approve a statewide roll out of managed care, the AP reports.

The agency said a new managed-care proposal would have to be submitted by the Legislature that assures quality care for Medicaid patients. Budget negotiations between the House and Senate are currently snarled up as state lawmakers attempt to rectify divergent plans before the May 6 end of the legislative session.

The five-county managed-care pilot program was implemented by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006 and expires June 30. A continuation of the program requires federal approval, but a waiver can’t be issued until the Legislature sorts out its plans to take the pilot statewide.

A study issued this month by the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University and commissioned by the Jacksonville-based Jessie Ball duPont Fund found that the risks tied to managed care have been minimized by Florida lawmakers. The study found “no clear evidence that the managed care pilot programs are saving money, and if they are, whether it is through efficiencies or at the expense of needed care.”

Read more: AP: Feds put brakes on Florida Medicaid overhaul | Orlando Business Journal

Rick Scott good at double talk


by David A. Degnon, Port St Lucie

Scott has shown us he's especially good at one thing only: double talk

Gov. Rick Scott, the CEO whose corporation paid the largest medical fraud payment in history, said during election speeches that tourism is the No. 1 business in Florida. Then he proposed to close half of the state parks and cut funding to put sand on the Florida beaches.

On the election trail, he also said education is a major priority. Now he wants to cut support to school districts even though Florida is ranked one of the lowest in the country for support. Scott also said he will get insurance companies to give policies to more homeowners. Now he wants to close out Citizens Insurance and get people back on regular policies. What a joke.

More than 1 million people will lose their Citizens Insurance and be at the mercy of insurance companies that canceled most of the policies for these people to start off with. The same party keeps screwing up this state yet people keep voting them in and have created a one party system with ultimate power.

Florida holds the record for more convicted crooked politicians than any other state. Scott says he will create 700,000 new jobs? But first he will lay off thousands of state workers and teachers to reach this goal. I am new to this state and do not yet understand the thinking process of many Florida voters.

The Florida legislature, it's not just schools we hate, we hate the enviornment too

From the Seirra Club

Call your Representative TODAY to vote NO on
HB 991 Environmental Permitting by Rep. Patronis scheduled for a floor vote tomorrow (Friday, April 29)

This bill is a developer’s grab bag of bad ideas that will:
Deprive citizens of due process when they try to challenge permits that will hurt the environment

Shift the burden of proof to citizens in challenges rather than leaving it with the applicant who currently has the burden of showing they are in compliance with all permit requirements

Preempt localities from regulating the environmental impact of mining activity (one of the most disruptive land uses imaginable)

Exempt phosphate mines from the development of regional impact process. There is no question that phosphate mines have regional effects from their sheer size to the downstream consequences, and small counties do not have the ability or incentive to consider impacts on their neighbors.

Reduce the information agencies are allowed to request when processing permit applications

Expedite wetlands permits for an inland port

Put into statute that groundwater can be contaminated down to the base of the aquifer all the way out to the property line

HB 991 was supposed to go through two more committees (Appropriations and State Affairs) but House leaders avoided this requirement and put this bad bill on the fast track to passage. Tell your Representative that trashing the environment won’t create jobs but cost them. Our state relies on our landscape and our natural resources to support communities and attract business. Urge them (politely) to vote ‘NO’ on this bad bill.

Please call your member first. You can find them by checking for the House District number on the back of your voter registration card.

While the rich get richer, it has gotten so bad that many can no longer afford Wal-Mart


by Parija Kavilanz

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Wal-Mart's core shoppers are running out of money much faster than a year ago due to rising gasoline prices, and the retail giant is worried, CEO Mike Duke said Wednesday.

"We're seeing core consumers under a lot of pressure," Duke said at an event in New York. "There's no doubt that rising fuel prices are having an impact."

Wal-Mart shoppers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, typically shop in bulk at the beginning of the month when their paychecks come in.

Lately, they're "running out of money" at a faster clip, he said.

"Purchases are really dropping off by the end of the month even more than last year," Duke said. "This end-of-month [purchases] cycle is growing to be a concern.

Wal-Mart brings guns back
Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500), which averages 140 million shoppers weekly to its stores in the United States, is considered a barometer of the health of the consumer and the economy.

To that end, Duke said he's not seeing signs of a recovery yet.

With food prices rising, Duke said Wal-Mart is charging customers more for some fresh groceries while reducing prices on other merchandise such as electronics.

Wal-Mart has struggled with seven straight quarters of sales declines in its stores.

Addressing that challenge, Duke said the company made mistakes by shrinking product variety and not being more aggressive on prices compared to its competitors.

Wal-Mart's ready to do battle on prices
"What's made Wal-Mart great over the decades is 'every day low prices' and our [product] assortment," he said. "We got away from it."

Now, with its strategy of low prices all the time back in place, Duke said making Wal-Mart a "one-stop shopping stop" is a critical response to dealing with the rising price of fuel.

Americans don't have the luxury of driving all over town to do their shopping.

Other than competing on prices and products, Duke said Wal-Mart is focused on leveraging technology -- especially social networking -- more aggressively to drive sales.

"Social networking is much more a part of the purchasing decision," he said. "Consumers are communicating with each other on Facebook about how they spend their money and what they're buying."

Elsewhere, Duke said Wal-Mart is exploring a number of e-commerce initiatives to grow the business such as testing an online groceries delivery business in San Jose.

Standardized testing has crippled education

From NPR

by Diane Ravitch

Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch was once an early advocate of No Child Left Behind, school vouchers and charter schools.

In 2005, she wrote, "We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act. ... All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents' generation."

But four years later, Ravitch changed her mind.

"I came to the conclusion ... that No Child Left Behind has turned into a timetable for the destruction of American public education," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I had never imagined that the test would someday be turned into a blunt instrument to close schools — or to say whether teachers are good teachers or not — because I always knew children's test scores are far more complicated than the way they're being received today."

No Child Left Behind required schools to administer yearly state standardized tests. Student progress on those tests was measured to see if the schools met their Adequate Yearly Progress goals. or AYP. Schools missing those goals for several years in a row could be restructured, replaced or shut down.

"The whole purpose of federal law and state law should be to help schools improve, not to come in and close them down and say, 'We're going to start with a clean slate,' because there's no guarantee that the clean slate's going to be better than the old slate," says Ravitch. "Most of the schools that will be closed are in poor or minority communities where large numbers of children are very poor and large numbers of children don't speak English. They have high needs. They come from all kinds of difficult circumstances and they need help — they don't need their school closed."

In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch criticizes the emphasis on standardized testing and closing schools as well as the practice to replace public schools with charter schools. One reason, she says, is the increasing emphasis on privatization.

"What has happened ... is that [charter schools have] become an enormous entrepreneurial activity and the private sector has moved in," she says. "So there are now charter chains where the heads are paying themselves $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 a year. They compete with regular public schools. They do not see themselves as collaborators with public schools but business competitors and in some cases, they actually want to take away the public school space and take away the public school business."

Ravitch says that charter schools undercut the opportunities for public schools, making public school students feel like "second-class citizens."

"Regular public school parents are angry because they no longer have an art room, they no longer have a computer room — whatever space they had for extra activities gets given to the charters and then they have better facilities. They have a lot of philanthropic money behind them — Wall Street hedge fund managers have made this their favorite cause. So at least in [New York City] they are better-funded ... so they have better everything."

But change in the public schools is possible, says Ravitch, if parents work together.

"In the neighborhood where I live in Brooklyn, there was a school that was considered a bad public school and it enrolled many children from a local public housing project," she says. "But parents in the neighborhood who were middle-class parents and were educated people banded together and decided, 'Well, if we all send our child to the local public school, it will get better.' And it did get better and it's now one of the best schools in the city. So yes, you can change the neighborhood school. ... But school officials have a particular responsibility to make sure there's a good school in every neighborhood. And handing the schools in low-income neighborhoods over to entrepreneurs does not, in itself, improve them. It's simply a way of avoiding the public responsibility to provide good education."

On the Obama administration's Race to the Top program

"Race to the Top is an extension of No Child Left Behind. It contains all of the punitive features. It encourages states to have more charter schools. It said, when it invited proposals from states, that you needed to have more charter schools, you needed to have merit pay — which is a terrible idea — you needed to judge teachers by test scores, which is even a worse idea. And you need to be prepared to turn around low-performing schools. So this is what many state legislators adopted hoping to get money from Race to the Top. Only 11 states and the District of Columbia did get that money. These were all bad ideas. They were terrible ideas that won't help schools. They're all schools that work on the free-market model that with more incentives and competition, schools will somehow get better. And the turnaround idea is a particularly noxious idea because it usually means close the school, fire the principal, fire the staff, and then it sets off a game of musical chairs where teachers from one low-performing school are hired at another low-performing school."

On teachers unions

"They're not the problem. The state with the highest scores on the national test, that state is Massachusetts — which is 100 percent union. The nation with the highest scores in the world is Finland, which is 100 percent union. Management and labor can always work together around the needs of children if they're willing to. I think what's happening in Wisconsin and Ohio and Florida and Indiana is very, very conservative right-wing governors want to break the unions because the unions provide support to the Democratic Party. But the unions really aren't the problem in education."

On the film Waiting for Superman

"Waiting for Superman is a pro-privatization propaganda film. I reviewed it in The New York Review of Books and its statistics were wrong, its charges were wrong, it made claims that were unsustainable. One of the charter schools it featured as being a miracle school has an attrition rate of 75 percent. And it made the claim that 70 percent of American eighth-graders read below grade level and that's simply false. ... And the producers of the film are very supportive of vouchers and free-market strategies and everything else. So I think that film has to be taken not just with a grain of salt, but understood to be a pro-privatization film."

Friday, April 29, 2011

Florida the land of incivility, where we balance the budget on the backs of the poor, old, disabled, sick and children

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Scott Maxwell

A lot to talk about in today's edition of Friday files, starting with the latest group of people getting hosed by Tallahassee — the mentally ill.

To be fair, it was probably their turn.

Florida politicians have already gone after the disabled, seniors, veterans and the poor.

And they weren't about to cut costs on things like their taxpayer-subsidized health-care plans — a sweetheart deal with $2-a-week premiums that's one of the most generous political plans in America.

Nor did they want to curb the multitudes of tax breaks for high-end yachts, bottled water or sports-stadium skyboxes. After all, that would upset the powerful lobbyists.Instead, they continue to do what they do best — target the disadvantaged.

They buffer these attacks with a warped sort of "nanny state" war cry, as if paraplegics and schizophrenics are lazy leeches who want luxuries … like wheelchairs and medication.

The truth, of course, is that this state and nation has long kept a balanced budget and managed to care for its most vulnerable residents.

Jeb Bush certainly did. Most civilized societies do.

But Florida's new breed of talk-radio inspired Republicans worships at the altar of goodies for Big Business and special interests and perks for themselves.

Right now, legislators pay about $8.34 a month for their own health care.

Somebody obviously has to pay for that.

The latest budget plan would cut $180 million in mental-health money. That's in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts for the disabled, elderly and medically needy that we've already reported.

These cuts for mental health are bad for more than just humanitarian reasons. There are major fiscal issues at stake as well. Because cuts at the state level now trickle down to local taxpayers later.

Do you know who Orange County's single-biggest provider of mental health services is?

The jail.

That's where those suffering from mental problems often end up. They don't get the help they need there.. So they get out … and go back in … and we pay for it over and over.

Fiscal conservatism indeed.

There's a chance legislators may rethink this. Apparently Speaker Dean Cannon and his colleagues in the House have a budget that won't cut as much for mental-health care.

Hopefully, the Senate will follow suit.

And maybe one day, the politicians who loved to preach about "shared sacrifice" will start asking some of the more powerful members of society to share as well … including themselves.

The rest of the stories

•Did you see where Appliance Direct filed for bankruptcy protection? One strange thing about this company: It used to keep State Sen. Mike Haridopolos on its payroll. Yep, some of the undisclosed income for which Haridopolos recently got into ethics trouble involved more than $180,000 that Appliance Direct's advertising arm paid Haridopolos' one-man consulting firm. Considering the big price tag — and recent bankruptcy news — I think it's safe you say: Appliance Direct, you paid too much!

•Speaking of Haridopolos, kudos to him and his peers in the Senate for unanimously passing the suspect-identification bill, which clamps down on hanky-panky when it comes to investigators steering witnesses toward desired suspects. Concrete standards — like non-leading questions and independent lineup administrators — are key to solid convictions. The motives of anyone trying to water down these standards are questionable. That's why Speaker Cannon and the House should join their Senate colleagues in passing a clean bill that leads to above-board witness IDs.

•And finally, a plug for constituent activism. One of my favorite reader activists is Orlando Republican Phil Fettig. Phil's a Navy vet — and a real pit bull about letting his elected officials know what he thinks. Phil, for instance, has expressed his beefs with State Rep. Eric Eisnaugle R-Orlando, for everything from school cuts to schools to corporate giveaways. Phil is informed, polite and relentless. But what really makes this story unique is that, most every time Phil writes Eisnaugle, Eisnaugle writes Phil back. The responses are personal and polite. In a world full of apathetic voters and form-letter politicians, I like both sides of that equation. Here's the kicker: After all those exchanges, Phil wrote this week to say of Eisnaugle: "While I will never agree with all his positions, I'm actually starting to like him!" There is something other pols could learn from that. or 407-420-6141,0,1446147.column

In Florida insurance companies win, property owners lose, more hidden taxes on the middle class

From the St. Petersburg Times the Buzz.

by Janet Zink

The Senate voted 25 to 12 in favor of a sweeping property insurance bill that would free private insurers from having to offer comprehensive sinkhole insurance. Instead, they would have to offer only coverage in cases about catastrophic ground cover collapse, which represents about 1 percent of sinkhole claims. To address concerns that SB 408 would mean people whose banks require that they have such coverage in the lurch, the bill requires the state-run Citizens Property Insurance to offer comprehensive sinkhole coverage.

"This is an economic disaster waiting to happen," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who read a letter sent from a constituent's bank saying they must have sinkhole insurance. "There will be more foreclosures. More forced insurance on homeowners." Forced insurance, he said, means more people will end up unregulated surplus lines for insurance coverage.

But bill sponsor Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and his supporters have argued that the private sector will continue to offer comprehensive sinkhole coverage if they believe they can make money on those products.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said it's not fair to force insurers to offer a product and then tell them how much they can charge for it.

"I don't think that's the American way. It's not the capitalist way," he said.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, took exception to that, noting that she's a "free-market person" who has run a business with her husband for 30 years. But the insurance industry, she said, is not really a free market.

"People are forced to buy homeowners insurance as a condition of having a home. So it is a hyper regulated market already. It is not the same as every other free market principle," she said. "I believe people will lose their homes."

Storms characterized the bill as a gift to the insurance industry as a gift to the insurance industry by cutting them loose from sinkhole claims so they can shore up profits.

"I don't' mind for insurance companies to make a living," Storms said. "I do mind for them to make a kiling. And I think this bill allows for them to make a killing."

But J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, noted that just as it's difficult to insure property on naturally vulnerable coastlines, it's difficult to insure property sitting on a sinkhole-pocked state.

"We all live on top of Swiss cheese that's below us. There's a sinkhole sitting beneath every single house in this state," he said. "As a consequence, there are issues."

But he said requiring coverage only for damage caused by a sinkhole that leads to catastrophic groundcover collapse is sufficient. As it is now, trial attorneys encourage homeowners to file sinkhole claims for hairline cracks in a driveway, and claimants take payouts and use the money to pay off mortgages instead of making repairs. That's an expensive proposition for insurers, he said.

"You get enough losses in these insurance companies it will eventually perk up in two ways. Either your rates are going to go up, or they're gong to leave," he said. "A competitive market ultimately will deliver the most cost effective goods and services in the world."

Richter disagreed with Fasano's assessment that the bill was one of the most anti-consumer measures of the legislative session.

"This bill is very consumer friendly," he said. "It attacks cost drivers. It attacks fraud. It promotes competition." All of those things, he said, will lower costs for consumers.

Are cuts that the middle class has to make up really taxes? The assult on higher education continues.

A disguised tax on the middle class. -cpg

From the Miami Herald's Naked politics

The House and Senate tonight came to an agreement on proposed higher education spending.

The negotiated deal would hike base tuition by 8 percent at colleges and universities and reduce Bright Future scholarships by roughly 20 percent. Universities would likely seek another 7 percent increase from the Board of Governors.

The two sides agreed to keep H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center funded at $9.6 million for its doctor training program. The Senate had originally cut that amount to $5.4 million.

The deal could always be undone by House and Senate leaders but for, now, higher education spending is one of the few areas close to being ready for a full vote of the legislature.

Read more:

House Speaker Dean Cannon's insidious plan to steal the judicial system

From Post on

by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon’s landmark — and personal — push to revamp the Florida Supreme Court drew some harsh questioning, but is teed-up for an eventual Senate vote.

The Winter Park Republican effectively put budget talks on ice until Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander earlier this week put the court overhaul in play.

The measure would expand the seven-member Supreme Court by adding three justices, divide it into civil and criminal divisions, give the governor authority to appoint chief justices, and the Senate power to confirm new justices.

Cannon’s proposal emerged after the court last summer declared unconstitutional three ballot proposals approved by the Legislature — including one argued personally before justices by the speaker.

“Those who have put together the package of reform believe there is a problem,” said Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, sponsor of the measure (CS/SJR 2084).

But Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, argued the rewrite would leave Florida with the largest Supreme Court in the nation. He also suggested there was no backlog in court cases that demanded the dramatic overhaul.

Before the measure goes to voters — where it would need 60 percent support to become law — it must first draw 60 percent support from senators, a tall order.

While the measure sailed through Cannon’s House, senators are mixed on the idea.

But getting a deal on the state budget also is likely hinged on Cannon getting his court proposal before voters.

In an apparent signal to fellow senators, Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, gave the proposal veiled support, pointing out that legislators in the past have put ballot measures forward — only to later openly campaign against them.

A final vote is not likely until the waning hours of the session, when Cannon cannot do political damage to Senate priorities that now hang in the balance.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Charter schools in Florida, more about greed less about education...

For profit charter schools, does nobody see a problem with that picture?

From the Miami Herald

A provision tucked into a Florida House charter schools bill has prompted South Miami officials to cry foul on a state lawmaker.

By Patricia Mazzei and Christina Veiga

TALLAHASSEE -- State Rep. Erik Fresen, who sits on several education committees in the Florida House, is again raising eyebrows for his family ties to a prominent Miami-Dade charter school company.

Fresen’s sister and brother-in-law run Academica, a for-profit company that manages dozens of charter schools.

Last week, Fresen slipped language into a bill that would prohibit cities from imposing stricter zoning and building restrictions on charter schools than on traditional public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run.

The provision is aimed in part at South Miami, which recently approved charter school regulations that could directly affect Academica. The company, city Mayor Philip Stoddard said, may be looking to expand Somerset Academy at SoMi, where Fresen’s twin sons go to school. And Academica has expressed interest in building a school in Palmetto Bay.

Fresen scoffed at the idea that he put forth the provision to benefit his family. His brother-in-law, Fernando Zulueta, runs Academica with Fresen’s sister, Maggie. And Fresen is a land-use consultant for Civica, an architectural firm that has designed several Academica schools.

“There’s nothing you can do up here to specifically benefit anyone,” he said. “What you’re really talking about is the entire industry of charter schools.”

State law requires legislators to disclose within 15 days if a vote could benefit them or a relative or business associate. Fresen, who voted for HB 7195 in committee, said he has never had to abstain from a vote because of a conflict of interest with his family’s business.

Lawmakers employed by school districts, he pointed out, still vote on the state education budget: “Those, I think, are more direct conflicts, since you’re voting for the budget of the people that pay you,” Fresen said.

So far, the provision is not in the Senate version of the charter schools bill, SB 1546. Both chambers are expected to vote on the legislation this week.

Fresen’s provision was added by Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, to a wide-ranging bill she is sponsoring that would make it easier for charter schools to expand. Fresen said he suggested the language because he is concerned about a “trend” among municipalities, including South Miami and Palmetto Bay, of passing ordinances he called “illegal.”

Florida law already states that charter schools are public schools — and they should be treated as such, without additional requirements, Fresen said.

But while school districts must meet certain criteria to expand or build a new, traditional public school — such as hold public hearings — charter schools are often exempt. The new provision would prevent cities and counties from setting some of those rules at the municipal level, said Tucker Gibbs, a Miami land-use attorney who is fighting a proposed Academica school in Coral Gables.

“They’re getting the best of both worlds,” he said of charter schools.

Last year, residents who opposed the Coral Gables K-8 school at University Baptist Church, which is in Fresen’s House district, criticized the Miami Republican’s family connections to Academica.

South Miami recently adopted more stringent zoning rules for charter schools, after Academica’s Somerset Academy at SoMi opened its doors in an industrial district in the city. The school has clogged traffic and created a safety problem, Mayor Stoddard said.

“We feel an obligation to protect the neighborhood. We’re not against charter school or private schools,” Stoddard said.

Stoddard thinks the state representative took notice of his city’s ordinance because of his family ties to the school, and because he thinks SoMi Academy has plans to grow.

“He’s got money in the fight. His family stands to lose a profit based on the creation of charter schools in South Miami,” Stoddard said. “There’s no question that he’s serving his personal interests with this legislation.”

Lynn Norman-Teck, a spokeswoman for Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, said she was unaware of any immediate plans for expansion at the South Miami school.

“I know they’re always looking for facilities. Are they looking across the street? I don’t know,” she said.

Norman-Teck admitted the consortium lobbied for Fresen’s provision — not because of the South Miami ordinance, but because charter schools have faced pushback from cities across the state.

“What we’re asking for is clarification of that language,” Norman-Teck said.

Herald/Times staff writers Steve Bousquet, Marc Caputo and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Patricia Mazzei can be reached at

Read more:

Education or oil?


As Americans continue to struggle with outrageous, unstable gas prices, oil companies continue to benefit from them.

BP announced Wednesday a first-quarter profit of $7.1 billion, a 16% increase from last year. ConocoPhilips reported a 44% increase, to $3 billion. Exxon and Chevron are expected to report today $15 billion in first quarter earnings, also an increase of more than 40%.1 In all, the five largest oil companies have reaped nearly $1 trillion in profits in the last 10 years.

But more outrageous than jaw-dropping oil company profits, is the fact that our government actually rewards these companies with even more of our money for maintaining this disastrous system - to the tune of $4 billion a year in tax credits and subsidies. It's time for that to end.

Tell Congress: End oil subsidies.

It is a testament to the influence of polluters, and the power of the money they shower upon Congress, that so many of our leaders have continued to defend these senseless subsidies.

As recently as this March, House Republicans - while simultaneously pleading poverty and fighting for crippling budget cuts elsewhere - voted unanimously against repealing these oil subsidies, at a total cost to us of 45 billion over 10 years.

But in the face of these huge budget cuts, painful gas prices and shocking oil company profits, it is becoming harder and harder for Republicans to defend this policy.

In a surprising move, Speaker John Boehner said Monday that repealing oil subsidies "is certainly something we ought to be looking at" and that oil companies "ought to be paying their fair share."2 While his statement was quickly walked back the next day by an aide who said Boehner was simply trying not to "fall into the trap of defending 'Big Oil' companies"3 it's clear that cracks are beginning to show in the Republicans' brazen defense of senseless oil handouts.

On Wednesday, President Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders asking them to end oil subsidies, and Nancy Pelosi also sent a letter to Speaker Boehner asking him to schedule a House vote next week. Harry Reid announced he will hold a vote in the Senate as soon as possible.

Momentum is building. This is a key moment to keep the pressure on, and force every member of congress to choose: Americans, or the oil companies?

Tell Congress: End oil subsidies.

Between the ruining of our gulf, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events brought on by climate change, and now - once again - astronomical oil company profits and oil prices that literally threaten our economy, we don't need any more reminders that it's time to end our reliance on oil.

Yet we're handing oil companies billions as we slash funding for the investments in clean energy and transit we need to break oil's grip on our lives.

This must end. And if we raise our voices, we can finally end it.

Tell Congress: End oil subsidies.

Education reformers, not big fans of facts

Steve Wise, Jeb Bush and John Thrasher hate them. -cpg

From the Washington Posts Answer Sheet

by Diane Ravitch

One of the most interesting books I have read in recent months is Dan Ariely’s “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions .” I was particularly interested in Chapter 5, where he explains the difference between social norms—where people act because they are motivated by a sense of idealism or purpose, and market norms—where people act because they are motivated by a desire for more money.

As I read his words, I realized that the goal of the corporate education reform movement is to push market norms into education.

The corporate reformers assume that teachers aren’t working hard enough and will work harder if they have the lure of more money and if they compete with one another. Ariely’s studies say this is wrong, and it won’t work.

Last fall, the POINT study from the National Center for Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University also showed that merit pay based on test scores did not produce higher test scores. Curiously, the corporate reform movement likes to talk about data-driven decisions, but reformers ignore any data that doesn’t support what they want to do. For example, when the Vanderbilt study of merit pay was published, the U.S. Department of Education immediately released nearly $500 million for—what else—more merit-pay programs, and promised that another $500 million would be forthcoming.

Data mean nothing when your mind is made up.

Similarly, when data from Milwaukee showed that vouchers don’t improve test scores in either public schools or voucher schools, the corporate reformers didn’t care. When the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, data for Milwaukee showed that African-American public school students there—after 21 years of vouchers—scored below African-American students in the Deep South, the corporate reformers didn’t care.

Our education system is relentlessly pursuing higher test scores, and everyone feels the pressure. When USA Today produced evidence of widespread cheating, the corporate reformers refused to recognize that their policies encourage the pressures that lead to cheating. When the cheating scandal focused on test scores in Washington, D.C., the corporate reformers brought out their heavy guns to argue that it wasn’t true, it couldn’t be true, and even if it were true, it didn’t matter. When the eminent National Research Council said that it was inappropriate to judge the progress of a school district by test scores, the corporate reformers scoffed.

I get letters every day from teachers, principals, superintendents, and parents lamenting how federal policy is ruining their schools, damaging children’s lives, and demoralizing teachers. This one came today from a superintendent: “]My district] borders the Navajo Reservation. Twenty-nine percent of our students are Native American and 29 percent are Hispanic. We have high poverty, mobility, and many single-parent families, and [we] truly struggle to meet the needs of our students. [Average Yearly Progress] ratings discourage our staff. Media blames the schools, and budgets keep going down.”

What do the corporate reformers have to say to this superintendent? Will they fire her and half her staff and send in Harvard and Princeton graduates for two years? Will they close her school or turn it over to a charter chain? Will they do this to thousands of schools? Do they have any ideas that might keep her and her staff from losing hope?

If we drive out those who are motivated by social norms, who will teach? How can we hope to have a stable education profession if we lose those who want to make education their career knowing full well that they will never get rich?

This superintendent and her teachers did not go into teaching to compete with the school in the next county or to fight one another for dollars. They entered what they thought was a profession where they could make a difference in the lives of children. They, and hundreds of thousands of educators like them, don’t understand how they became Public Enemy No. 1.

Perhaps the best letter that I received about the clash between federal policy and the realities in the schools was written by California teacher Paul Karrer. (The letter first appeared in Education Week’s Commentary section.) I and many others posted it on the Internet, because it so poignantly expressed what so many teachers experience. Please read and share it.

Many years from now, when No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top have long been forgotten or remembered only by historians as a disgraceful chapter in the history of American education, people like the superintendent who contacted me and her staff will still be struggling to meet the multiple needs of the forgotten children of our society.

Someday, after this dark era has fallen into the dustbin of history, into that place where ignoble ideas go, I hope we will learn from our mistakes. If we are wise, we will have better ideas about improving our schools. Instead of the risky schemes now so popular among certain economists -- like firing 5 to 10 percent of the teachers every year; or the punishments associated with NCLB and the Race to the Top, like firing staff and closing schools — we will hopefully have an education system where those who give their lives to the education of children get the respect and honor they deserve. And where parents, educators, and policymakers alike understand the difference between higher test scores and genuine education.

Synonyms, snake oil and school reform

It's nationwide folks. -cpg


by Tony Lux

New legislation under consideration this year by the Indiana Legislature is nothing more than snake oil intended to create the illusion of school reform without any verifiable degree of probability that school reform actually will be achieved.

The true target of school reform is getting the bottom 20 to 25 percent of the state's schoolchildren to grade level and eliminating achievement gaps. The state "school reform" plan, however, is nothing more than flight from, and financial abandonment of, public schools without any verifiable degree of probability that the bottom 25 percent of students will do better because of it.

The illusions started with the notion that since some public schools are doing poorly, then all public schools basically are inadequate. The reality is that eight out of 10 academic indicators, including state test results, attendance rates and graduation rates, are at or near the highest levels ever.

The next illusion was that school choice -- i.e. charter schools -- and tax vouchers for private schools will result in closing achievement gaps. The reality is that nationally, only 17 percent of charter schools are even as successful as the average public school.

Regarding private school vouchers, the reality is that private schools have entrance criteria that are very selective, and for the prices private schools charge, they are not going to allow low-achieving students of different religions in their schools. Even charter schools that start with low-performing students can and will send any uncooperative and special needs student back to public school.

The third illusion has been that schools do not need additional funding. In fact, small public schools are told to consolidate to save money.

Despite universal acknowledgment that mandatory funding for kindergarten, full-day kindergarten, summer school and preschool is needed (and provided in most other states), low state revenue cannot cover them, and cuts are unavoidable.

The reality is that the proliferation of hundreds of charter schools creates more financial loss to public schools, as well as inefficient spending due to more staffing and profit-taking sponsors. The reality also is that millions of state tax dollars that could go to new education programs would not be collected because of private school vouchers.

The fourth illusion is there are too many ineffective teachers and not enough highly effective teachers. The reality is that the disadvantages some students have are so great that only significantly more time for instruction will make up for being two or more years below grade level. On a related note, where is the proliferation of charter schools going to find highly qualified teachers?

The fifth illusion is merit pay. Teachers and administrators supposedly will work harder if they get individual financial rewards for better student performance. Opposing this conclusion are the results of a major study in Nashville, Tenn., where $10,000 financial incentives were promised and awarded. There was no difference in student achievement between teachers getting financial incentives and those not getting financial incentives.

Snake oil salesmen, like the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City, don't want anyone looking behind the curtain to see their illusion. They also want to be out of town before the pubic realizes the illusion.

New charter schools will have five to seven years to prove they aren't any better, if not worse, than public schools. Plenty of time to get out of town. The public needs to look behind the "school reform" curtain of illusion in this state before it's too late.

Tony Lux is superintendent of Merrillville Community School

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Some help for the Duval Partners for Excellence

What was originally created to help fund raise and find mentors for our four most struggling schools, Duval Partners for excellence has now been changed into an education management organization. Since none of the hand picked cronies, sycophants and quite frankly out of their depth board members have been in a modern public school I thought maybe they could use some suggestions how to turn those schools around if it comes to it.

The first thing they should do is start a come home campaign. At a recent school board meeting Becki Couch said there were over 3000 students who could be attending those schools but had chosen to go elsewhere. I would try and get those kids back and I would do so by convincing them and their families that those schools would become academically rigorous and safe schools to attend.

The next thing is to make those schools safe and academically rigorous schools to attend.

They should tell the teachers that they were trusted and no longer would there be an arbitrary percentage of students they could not fail. I would have them teach the material and make it rigorous, which would mean that if somebody passed a class it was because they earned it and not because a teacher gave them a grade or pushed them through. I would tell the teachers they could go as slow as they felt their kids needed, they could reteach if necessary and that the pacing guide was a suggestion and that nobody was going to get in trouble for being more than five days behind. After a few weeks I would move kids around and have groups that were quickly moving through the material and groups that needed extra time.

Then at the same time the board should make sure the teachers and students had good learning environments. Rudeness, disrespect and violations of the code of conduct would not be tolerated and consequences would be swift and strict. If you came to learn you would have nothing to be afraid of. If you came to cut up or steal learning time from your peers or teachers then you would have a tough time. The adults not the children would be running the schools.

I don’t think they should dismantle the staffs but everybody should be teaching. Academic coaches would have nearly full loads and even assistant principals would be expected to teach a class or two. It would be all hands on deck and this would stop admins and psuedo admins from losing touch with the jobs that teachers do. It would also help keep classes smaller and hopefully allow us for some electives. If kids have fun classes or classes to look forward to then they would do better; we can’t make schools dreary places and expect them to do well.

They should tell the teachers to be prepared to work long hours but not to be worried about volumes of data notebooks, two-page lesson plans and complicated board configurations. Put up a daily agenda and then go. Spend the time you have been doing those things the last few years figuring out how to connect with the kids and keeping their families involved. I would want my principals and A.P.s in the classrooms looking for quality instruction not word walls.

Then the principals can’t be afraid to upset parents. If they are doing what is right and the kids aren’t and suffer consequences (failing, suspensions etc.) for it, well that’s okay.

Finally not only would I instruct my teachers not to teach to the F-Cat but I would tell them not to even mention it. About a week before it was taken the principals could have an assembly to discuss its importance and that would be it.

That is how I would turn around those schools. Not splitting the schools into two theme schools each or having a board of I am sure concerned but I can’t see how they are qualified, take over. Hey look Jacksonville we (the school board) haven’t been able to fix those schools, so we are going to hand pick some of our friends to do it. Why am I not optimistic?

If the school board had tried the ideas above we probably wouldn’t be in this mess now.

Chris Guerrieri

The destruction of the middle class, collateral damage of capitalism

Do public sector workers really make more than private sector workers?

From Politifact

Count Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels among skeptics of government workers having collective-bargaining rights, the issue that cleaved Wisconsin this year.

Daniels, a Republican presidential prospect, told PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley March 28 that government workers are better off than others: "There may have once been a time, Tavis, in the old days of patronage and so forth, where government workers were put upon and vulnerable, but that's a long time ago. Now, in 41 states out of 50, they are better paid than the taxpayers who support them. In the federal government they're almost twice as well paid. This doesn't even count the benefits and the almost complete job security they have."

Never mind that government workers are taxpayers too. We note also that in November, PolitiFact Ohio rated False a claim that average federal workers make double the pay of average private-sector workers. The fact check cited a statement placed online by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis noting the private-sector workforce includes a broader range of jobs than the federal government, from minimum-wage positions to CEOs, while federal civilian jobs focus on professional areas like law, accounting and economics that require higher education.

We’re focusing here on whether state and local government workers are better compensated than private-sector counterparts.

To our inquiry, Daniels’ office pointed us to a March 2 news article in USA TODAY. The story, citing figures obtained from the bureau, says state and local government employees in 41 states earned higher average pay and benefits than private workers in those states in 2009. The national average for the government workers was $57,775, $2,511 greater than private-sector counterparts.

But not in Texas, which ranked last among states in benefits for public employees. Its average compensation to state and local government workers, $51,310, placed the state 30th nationally, according to the article, but its government workers trailed private-sector Texans by $3,580.

For more Texas-centric information, we turned to the latest comparison of state government and private-sector positions by the Texas State Auditor’s Office. The August report says that in fall 2009, nearly three quarters of 150,000-plus state workers were paid 10 to 20 percent less than private sector employees and another 19 percent fared worse.

"Some states that limit the right of public employees to unionize — such as Texas, Georgia and Virginia — pay less in compensation than the private sector," the article says. "Massachusetts and New Hampshire generally permit unions but pay less than the private sector in those high-income states."

The story says the newspaper’s analysis included full and part-time workers and did not adjust for specific jobs, age, education or experience. It says that in an earlier job-to-job comparison, USA TODAY found that state and local government workers make about the same salary as those in the private sector but get more generous benefits.

The article also quotes economist Jeffrey Keefe of the liberal Economic Policy Institute saying the analysis is misleading because it doesn't reflect factors such as education that result in higher pay for public employees.

For our part, we consulted Austin economist Stuart Greenfield, a retired state worker who has long advocated on state employee issues. Greenfield guided us to a Texas Watchdog article playing off the USA TODAY story and a 2010 study commissioned by two Washington-based groups.

The March 3 Watchdog article says the $10,760 average benefits package for the average public worker in Texas compares to the $9,190 average benefits that average private employees receives, according to the federal bureau’s figures.

The 2010 study, comparing worker earnings and benefits across and between private, state and local sectors, was written by Keith Bender and John Heywood, economists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The study was undertaken by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, whose mission is to "help state and local governments become knowledgeable and competitive employers so they can attract and retain talented, committed, and well-prepared individuals to public service," and the National Institute on Retirement Security, which says it was established to foster understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers, and the economy.

"Public and private workforces differ in important ways," the authors write. "For instance, jobs in the public sector require much more education on average than those in the private sector. Employees in state and local sectors are twice as likely as their private sector counterparts to have a college or advanced degree.

"Wages and salaries of state and local employees are lower than those for private sector workers with comparable earnings determinants (e.g., education). State employees typically earn 11 percent less; local workers earn 12 percent less," they write. In Texas, the gap was even greater for local government workers, who made nearly 18 percent less between 2000 and 2008.

"Over the last 20 years, the earnings for state and local employees have generally declined relative to comparable private sector employees," they say.

In the study, the economists air what they refer to as Simpson’s Paradox: "The average state worker appears to earn more only because the state hires more of those in the highly educated categories that tend to earn more, not because workers with the same education earn more in the public sector." They say too that compensation specialists "repeatedly show that the typical state and local public sector worker has more education, more tenure, and greater responsibilities... the fact that public sector workers receive greater average compensation than private sector workers should be no more surprising than the fact that those with more skills and education earn more."

In fact, the study says, "if we limit our data to college-educated workers, those in state government earn 13 percent less than those in the private sector, while those in local government earn 11 percent less than those in the private sector."

The study also isolated benefits, including pension, insurance and paid leave differences, finding that from 2004 to 2008 benefits comprised a larger portion of compensation in state and local government "although not dramatically different, particularly when compared to larger private sector firms."

Incorporating "benefits makes state and public workers appear somewhat less poorly compensated, but our estimate suggests they still receive less total compensation than similar private sector workers," the study says. "Benefits should be expected to be higher if the public sector workers are more highly educated and doing jobs that command higher earnings."

Big picture: "Although a comparison of unadjusted average earnings will show that wages are higher among jobs in state and local government, this result is largely due to the fact that the workers in those sectors have more education. Holding education and other characteristics the same, typical state and local workers earn an average of 11 percent less and 12 percent less, respectively, than comparable private sector workers," the study concludes. "Workers in the state and local sector receive a slightly larger share of their compensation in benefits, but it is not dramatically larger."

Next, we wondered if there was an inherent weakness in the USA TODAY analysis Daniel cites. If most government jobs are of the professional, white-collar variety -- with requirements and compensation to match -- that would skew comparisons with the private sector, with its larger share of low-wage and service-sector jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 6.5 percent of private sector workers in 2010 were paid at or below the minimum wage, compared to 2.8 percent of government workers.

As we closed out this review, we asked the Wisconsin economists if they’d compared government to non-government workers in every state. By e-mail, Bender said the "data for our study were such that we were uncomfortable reporting results for any but the largest 10 (states) or so because of sample sizes," but he guided us to a Feb. 25 New York Times’ state-by-state comparison breaking out employees with and without college degrees. Based on median salaries, state workers lacking college degrees fared better than their counterparts in the private sector in 30 states. But private-sector workers with such degrees earned more than degreed state workers in all but four states.

Bender also called the method employed by USA TODAY inaccurate. "Both earnings AND benefits vary greatly by educational level (and other personal characteristics) and without explicitly taking this into account, the vast majority of economists would think that these numbers are essentially meaningless," he said. "If one group of workers has more education or experience than another group, it makes economic sense that that more highly educated and experienced group get paid more on average...

"In sum, do I know whether there are 41 states where earnings plus benefits are greater in the public sector once you compare similar workers? No -- the number may be lower or higher. I haven't seen any research that does this convincingly. What I do know is that the analysis in the USA TODAY doesn't come close."

Daniels’ message, that government workers are better paid than those in the private sector, traces to an egregiously simplistic comparison, ignoring meaningful differences in the public and private sector workforces largely due to education. Factoring those in, many state and local government workers lag behind their private-sector counterparts. We rate his statement False.

It's class warfare in Florida and the poor and middle class are losing

From the Huffington Post

by Shawna Vechner

It's official. The newly-proposed budget from Florida's newly-crowned king has been unveiled and the agenda is nothing short of class warfare.

Medical care for seniors is too expensive. The unemployed are not trying hard enough. Money spent on domestic violence and rape victims is a waste. Parents that cannot afford private school are not worth considering. The homeless programs should be completely exterminated... I mean eradicated.

Forget a birth certificate. Floridians who elected this man in the hopes of him representing our best interests apparently should have demanded an eye exam. This plan to "open Florida for business" is the most short-sighted monstrosity we've seen in decades.

Pretend for a moment that the strategy of luring big companies with thousands of jobs to Florida is a solid plan (even in a vacuum) and ignore for the time being the fact that EVERY state is working to woo the same companies for the same reasons. Let's talk only about the future quality of life for those of us here now. You know, the Floridians.

What will crime rates look like when fifty thousand homeless people have nowhere to go and nothing to eat? Would a pan handling ban be any match for the human instinct to survive? How big of a deterrent is prison when it means having shelter and meals on a consistent basis?

Of course, the prison budget is in danger too. Perhaps they could be rehabilitated to not crave food.

How fast will our police officers respond when something does happen? Keep in mind there will less of them and they will be working for less money. Also, they will be busy dealing with the increase in domestic violence fatalities and repeat rape offenders.

I know my job performance would suffer if I just took a pay cut for the pension program.

But, hey, we'll have these new companies here, right? However, with a failing education system and an end to the state's scholarship programs (and the double-whammy of the inevitable tuition hikes) our residents won't be qualified enough for those jobs. People will have to move here to fill the higher-skilled positions. Those are the ones that pay more.

Maybe we will be allowed to wait on them when they arrive to make ends meet.

Speaking of people moving here, how badly are we taking our senior population for granted? Florida doesn't have the market cornered on a warmer climate. If they cannot receive proper medical care or go to an emergency room without a twelve-hour wait, they just won't retire here. The last time I checked, seniors have pretty big purchasing power.

And they vote.

I am not a "snobby liberal" just because I do not believe that people who suffer should just be told to fend for themselves. I should not have the label of "Obama Elitist" spat at me simply because I want for every child to have at least a fighting chance at a future that doesn't involve back-breaking labor. It's not unpatriotic to take a realistic look at a diverse and fractured population and want to make an earnest attempt to find a way for us to make it work better.

The last time I checked Darwin didn't build this country. Immigrants and Native Americans and former slaves and inventors and artists and, yes, wealthy business visionaries did.

I am deeply concerned about the callousness that this budget shows our fellow human beings. I am scared about what this could mean for our state's struggling middle class. I am frightened at how long it might take to reverse the damage this will do to our state and to our spirit if things proceed on this path.

I think I'll have that cake now.

Follow Shawna Vercher on Twitter:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hundreds of school clerks to lose their jobs in south Florida, thanks jobs govenor Rick Scott

By Marc Freeman, Sun Sentinel

Palm Beach County school principals are recommending the elimination of 289 clerk jobs in media centers and offices to help the school district save nearly $10 million and reduce a budget shortfall, officials said on Monday.

But a proposed merger between the School District Police Department and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office is a dead issue and will not be considered among ideas to reduce school system expenses next year.

The School Board's budget advisory committee discussed both developments during a meeting at district headquarters. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw notified the committee that he "respectfully declines" to make a formal bid to handle school security.

In a letter dated April 20, Bradshaw said the committee's perception of a possible merger had become "tainted by unsubstantiated, erroneous and self-serving statements" by District Police Chief Jim Kelly.

Last week, Kelly told the committee that a merger would add $3 million to the cost of patrolling campuses. Bradshaw, in his letter, responded that there would be "cost savings and enhanced service."

Ken Cohen, vice chairman of the seven-member volunteer citizens committee, said Monday he was "troubled by the inconsistencies" between Kelly and Bradshaw and still wants to explore a merger.

"I just want to find out what the truth is," Cohen said.

None of the other four other members in attendance on Monday expressed an interest in continuing the merger discussion, putting the focus on the potential school cuts for the 2011-12 school year.

The committee reviewed the principals' recommendation to eliminate: 109 attendance clerks and 50 media center clerks in the elementary schools; 33 attendance clerks and 33 media clerks in middle schools; and 23 secretary clerks and 41 media clerks in high schools.

In schools, media center is the term used for the library. Clerks assist media specialists in managing the centers.

Also, all schools would cut funding by 10 percent for supplements awarded to department chairpersons and teachers who work with after-school clubs. Schools also would drop from the annual district calendar four extra working days for elementary school assistant principals and two extra working days for secondary school guidance counselors.

All of these proposed changes would result in $9.8 million in savings — reducing a significant portion of the school district's projected $30 million to $50 million operating budget shortfall, Chief Financial Officer Michael Burke said.

The shortfall is based on cuts in the pending state education budget and rising local school district costs, such as health insurance and diesel fuel. The administration also has set aside $8.4 million in raises for about half of the district's 12,000 teachers.

Charged with the task of reducing spending, principals made their recommendations over several other less-desirable options. They rejected closing schools with small enrollments; eliminating bus transportation for students in magnet/choice school programs; unpaid furloughs for teachers; and other actions.

The clerks aren't the only employees in jeopardy. Superintendent Bill Malone previously announced the elimination of 244 school hallway and cafeteria monitor positions, to save $6.4 million. There also will be a drop of 10 workers in the alternative education division, due to shrinking enrollments, saving $510,000.

All of these school-based reductions total $17 million, representing 1.6 percent of an estimated $1.1 billion operating budget.

Still more district-level job cuts are to be revealed next week as part of $21 million in department budget reductions.

Principals were to notify all affected clerks by the end of school on Monday.

Still, hope remains that most of them will be able to continue employment with the district through different positions. Similar efforts will be made to reassign the monitors, but officials have said layoffs are likely to result from all of the job cuts.

"We're going to see if we can find a home for the people in these jobs," Burke said. "At this point I don't know how many people we'll be able to successfully place in the district."

The proposed school and department cuts total about $38 million, putting the district in range of a balanced budget.

Other big savings — if the shortfall winds up being closer to $50 million — involve the transfer of $5 million in copier leasing to the capital projects budget, and $4 million from an untapped reserve for class-size reduction, Burke told the committee.

The School Board, which will review these proposals during the next two months, is scheduled to tentatively approve the district's new budget on July 27. or 561-243-6642,0,3044651.story

Rick Scott's education plan, fire teachers, stop programs, close schools

From the St. Augustine Record

by Lilly Rockwell

TALLAHASSEE -- Completely virtual 7th period classes. Teacher furloughs. Layoffs of hundreds of school employees. Four-day school weeks. Fewer school buses.

Those are just a few of the options schools districts across the state are mulling to close budget gaps that range from $6 million to $144 million. The budget holes are blamed in part on falling property tax revenue, the disappearance of federal stimulus dollars and proposed reductions in state funding for schools of nearly 7 percent per student.

Florida lawmakers want to cut funding to K-12 schools statewide by about $1 billion, one of the largest cuts in recent memory. Though school districts won't know their final numbers until the governor and Legislature agree on a budget, districts across the state are beginning to craft budgets based on legislative estimates.

For districts, these budget cuts come on top of five years of strict belt-tightening. Already districts have closed schools, eliminated thousands of jobs and in some cases, charged for popular after-school programs like sports.

"We've had economic downturns in the past, but they lasted a year, maybe two. They didn't have such a negative impact that we're seeing now because schools had reserves and were able to buffer themselves against a state budget cut," said Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow.

While most districts have avoided any cuts that impact classrooms so far, such as laying off large numbers of teachers, Pudlow said next budget year schools are examining teacher layoffs and furloughs.

Republican lawmakers in charge of the state education budgets defend these cuts as the product of a tough economic climate and the consequence of losing $1.2 billion in federal stimulus dollars.

"We've had to make some tough choices on the state level," said Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, who is in charge of the House budget committee on education. "I completely understand that the local school board members along with the superintendents will make equally tough choices, but that will be up to them."

The size of each district's budget hole varies widely. Some districts chose to levy local tax increases, others didn't. Some districts used all or most of their federal stimulus dollars, others socked it away.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, argued that schools can't blame the state for their budget problems. He takes into consideration unused federal stimulus dollars and savings from pension reform into his budget calculations.

"Based on the fact that most of the school districts kept their (stimulus dollars), in general there is an almost even funding from last year," said Simmons, the head of the Senate's education budget committee.

Preparing for worst

Still, school boards are preparing for worst-case scenarios. The populous Miami-Dade County Schools are bracing for a $144 million budget cut, on top of $400 million trimmed from the district's budget in the last four years.

The district has turned to its maintenance and construction departments to close the gap, with a proposal to cut maintenance worker salaries by 20 percent and lay off hundreds of district employees.

In Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, the school board is pondering turning its high school seventh-period classes all virtual. This would save the school district $1 million out of a possible $10 million cut.

District spokesman Chris Petley said 7th period is optional and only about 10 percent of students take classes that period anyway.

In Southwest Florida, the Lee County schools may have to cut the budget by more than $30 million, on top of cuts of $86 million over the last four years. Spokesman Joe Donzelli the district has already cut 700 positions over the last three years. For next year, the school board may choose to eliminate more than 50 "support staff" jobs.

"Our philosophy has been we don't want to start meddling with the classroom," said Donzelli said. "But there's no guarantee we won't lay off teachers. That is sacrosanct -- the last place the board wants to go."

Duval weighs furloughs

Meanwhile in Duval County, where Jacksonville is located, the school system is looking at a budget shortfall of $82 million. The district is considering several controversial measures to close the shortfall, including four-day school weeks, furloughs, increasing class sizes and reducing bus transportation to magnet schools.

Most school districts are reluctant to dip too extensively into their reserves for fear of damaging their credit ratings.

In Volusia County, which includes Daytona Beach, school board members had to cut deeply into their budget earlier in the recession.

In the last three years, Volusia County Schools have cut $75 million from the budget. Their budget troubles were compounded by the loss of students. State funds are tied to the number of students a district enrolls.

"We've been struggling," said Volusia County schools spokeswoman Nancy Wait. The school board has already tried the obvious cuts: cutting 1,000 jobs, eliminating some bus routes and closing schools.

Charging for sports

But the district also tried more unusual budget-whacking methods. It began charging for high school sports. It now costs $75 a sport and $100 for multiple sports at Volusia County high schools.

Now the district once again has to find a way to plug a $13 million budget shortfall.

"We have done just about everything you can think of," Wait said.

This year, the district hopes to maintain the roughly 500 jobs funded through federal stimulus dollars.

"The superintendent has gone on the record saying we will do everything we can to, number one, protect the classroom and number two, protect jobs as much as we can," Wait said.

In Pinellas County, where St. Petersburg is located, the school board is estimating a $60 million shortfall.

The district wants to eliminate roughly 400 jobs, though many of those could be cut through attrition.

"We have taken a real hard look at big ticket items, such as transportation, energy, health insurance and staffing," said Pinellas County Schools spokeswoman Andrea Zahn. The district has already cut $118 million over five years. "When you cut that much in five years and are targeting $60 million in one year it is drastic."

Where's the beef, make that rigor in U.S. schools

I have been writing about this years. Upping graduation requirements has produced less rigorous classes. -cpg

From the New York Times

by Sam Dillon

More students are taking ambitious courses. According to a recent Department of Education study, the percentage of high school graduates who signed up for rigorous-sounding classes nearly tripled over the past two decades.

Linda Self teaches a pre-Advanced Placement chemistry class at Lakeside High School in Hot Springs, Ark. Students at the school took eight times as many A.P. exams last year as in 2004.

But other studies point to a disconnect: Even though students are getting more credits in more advanced courses, they are not scoring any higher on standardized tests.

The reason, according to a growing body of research, is that the content of these courses is not as high-achieving as their names — the course-title equivalent of grade inflation. Algebra II is sometimes just Algebra I. And College Preparatory Biology can be just Biology.

Lynn T. Mellor, a researcher in Austin, Tex., who has studied the phenomenon in the state, compares it to a food marketer labeling an orange soda as healthier orange juice.

“Like the misleading drink labels, course titles may bear little relationship to what students have actually learned,” said Dr. Mellor, who has analyzed course completion, test records and other student data in Texas. “We see students taking more and more advanced courses, but still not performing well on end-of-course exams.”

The 2009 results — the most recent available — of the federal test that measures change in achievement levels over decades showed that the nation’s 17-year-olds were scoring no higher in reading and math than in 1973. SAT scores have dropped or flat-lined, too, since 2000.

But a federal study released this month of nearly 38,000 high school transcripts showed that the proportion of graduates completing a rigorous curriculum rose to 13 percent in 2009 from 5 percent in 1990.

Arnold A. Goldstein, a director at the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, which administered both the federal test and the transcripts study, suggested possible causes for this apparent contradiction.

“There may be a ‘watering down’ of courses,” he said. Also, high school seniors may not try hard when they take the federal tests, because there are no consequences based on how they perform, he said.

Schools apply vaunted names to courses in part, researchers said, because administrators want to help students satisfy tougher requirements for high school graduation in many states. They point to parents’ interest in rigorous-sounding coursework for their children, and to administrators’ vanity in offering ambitious classes.

Some educators also argue that students benefit from being exposed to more difficult coursework, even if they do not perform well.

Mark S. Schneider, a vice president of the American Institutes for Research who headed the Education Department’s research wing under President George W. Bush, said the disconnect became apparent a decade ago, after two nationwide surveys showed that the proportion of high school seniors taking trigonometry, precalculus or calculus more than doubled from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

“Students were taking more rigorous-sounding courses, but there was no evidence they had mastered the content,” Dr. Schneider said. Researchers at Michigan State University began studying the issue for a 2001 paper that drew on the test scores of 13,000 American eighth-grade students who participated in an international math and science exam known as Timss.

They compared the schools’ math courses — ranging from remedial through “enriched” to Algebra I — with the content of the textbooks used in them. In about 15 percent of the cases, the textbook covered less advanced areas of math than the course name suggested, said William H. Schmidt, who led the Michigan research.

In 2008, Dr. Schmidt surveyed 30 high schools in Ohio and Michigan, finding 270 distinctly labeled math courses. In science, one district offered Basic Biology, BioScience, General Biology A and B — 10 biology courses in all.

“The titles didn’t reveal much at all about how advanced the course was,” he said.

Course-title inflation is easier to document in math and science, researchers said, but they suspect it is happening in English and other subjects, too.

Growing skepticism among parents and policy makers about the rigor of high school coursework has been a factor, experts say, in the rapid growth of Advanced Placement, the College Board’s program of college-level courses.

Over a decade, the number of A.P. exams taken by American high school students has more than doubled, to 3.1 million in 2010 from 1.2 million in 2000.

Politicians and educators in many states have promoted the program, hoping to provide more rigor beyond the traditional curriculum. But the failure rate is also higher on A.P. exams, which are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. The proportion of exams earning low scores of 1 or 2 rose to 42.5 percent in 2010, up from 36.4 percent in 2000.

Trevor Packer, a College Board vice president, said his organization was wrestling with whether access to A.P. should be expanded even if that meant more students failed. For now, the proportion of low scorers is “tolerable,” he said.

Mr. Packer spent a recent week visiting A.P. classes in low-income schools in California, where, he said, he found the level of instruction surprisingly high and students well motivated.

“It was also clear that many students were being placed in A.P. who didn’t have the preparation,” he said. But the California principals argued that even students who score poorly in A.P. were better off than if they had taken only standard coursework, Mr. Packer said.

Bruce Orr, the principal of Lakeside High School, in Hot Springs, Ark., agreed. Mr. Orr’s students took 297 A.P. exams last year — eight times as many as in 2004.

“It’s about adding rigor,” Mr. Orr said about his campaign to increase A.P. enrollments.

Across Arkansas, the number of A.P. exams has nearly sextupled since 2000. The proportion of Arkansas students who score a 1 or 2 has surged, too, and is now the nation’s highest: 70 percent in 2010.

Mr. Orr said he was not concerned about how many Lakeside students each year earned high A.P. scores.

“Just being in that rigorous course environment does these kids a world of good,” he said.

Down a hallway, Corey Boby, a math teacher, was drilling his A.P. calculus students in derivatives, preparing for their exam next month.

“They’ll do fine,” Mr. Boby said. But he worried whether some students were fully prepared to take A.P. courses, which he likened to running a marathon.

“My concern is that we may push kids into marathons when maybe they are only ready to run a mile,” he said.

Brandi Davis, a student in Mr. Boby’s third-period class, Transitions to College Math, struggled to catch up, she said, after taking a chaotic eighth-grade math course in a neighboring district.

The course had a catchy name, she recalled: “Jungle Gym Math.”

“It had some geometry, some algebra,” Brandi said. “It jumped around.”

Care about Florida schools? Take time to contact the legislature and let them know

Hrom the Florida Times Union

By Topher Sanders

Making funding cuts to public education is "just plain stupid."

That's according to 14-year-old Zachary Morris, a ninth-grader at Stanton College Preparatory School who participated in a news conference Monday to launch the Reach 10 for Education campaign.

The campaign asks the public to use the next 10 days to call 10 lawmakers to ask them to make funding public education a priority. There are 10 days left in the legislative session.

Duval County Public Schools, facing a possible $82 million shortfall, are discussing reductions in magnet school transportation, employee furloughs and holding back on buying some science textbooks.

Colleen Wood, executive director of Save Duval Schools, said Florida's future is riding on the decisions being made now by lawmakers.

"And if we want our children to be a priority, we must be heard now," she said. "One thing is certain, if we do nothing our children will get nothing."

The initiative is a joint venture between Wood's organization, Duval County Council of PTAs, Fund Education Now, The Gifted Network of Florida, and 50th No More.

For more information, go to the initiative's website at, (904) 359-4169

- Gov. Rick Scott: (850) 488-7146,

- Sen. Mike Haridopolos: (850) 487-5229,

- Rep. Dean Cannon: (850) 488-2742,

- Sen. Stephen Wise: (850) 487-5027,

- Sen. David Simmons: Appropriations (850) 487-5050,

- Sen. J.D. Alexander: (850) 487-5044,

- Rep. Denise Grimsley: (850) 488-3457,

- Rep. Marti Coley: (850) 488-2873,

- Rep Bill Proctor: (850) 488-2977,

- Rep Erik Fresen: (850) 488-4092,



Monday, April 25, 2011

Awake the state, how Florida doesn't care about women and children

The people have spoken, leave medicare alone and those at the top should pay their fare share

From Politifact

Paul Krugman said large majorities favor higher taxes for the rich and no cuts to Medicare

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The debate to balance the federal budget and reduce the nation's debt has raged in recent weeks, with Democrats and Republicans arguing about spending, taxes and entitlements such as Medicare.

Paul Krugman wrote recently in his New York Times column that a knock-down, drag-out fight may be inevitable, given that the two parties have such different visions for the country.

"So when pundits call on the parties to sit down together and talk, the obvious question is, what are they supposed to talk about? Where’s the common ground?" Krugman wrote.

Krugman, who sides with the Democrats over Republicans on budget issues, said the Democrats have a winning case to present to the public.

"For what it’s worth, polls suggest that the public’s priorities are nothing like those embodied in the Republican budget," Krugman said. "Large majorities support higher, not lower, taxes on the wealthy. Large majorities — including a majority of Republicans — also oppose major changes to Medicare. Of course, the poll that matters is the one on Election Day. But that’s all the more reason to make the 2012 election a clear choice between visions."

We decided to check Krugman’s numbers on the polls after a reader asked us to look into it. Let’s take the issues one at a time.

"Large majorities support higher, not lower, taxes on the wealthy."

Different polls phrase the question differently, but the bottom line is the same. We found three recent polls that back up Krugman’s point.

"In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose raising taxes on Americans with incomes over 250 thousand dollars a year?" Support: 72 percent. Oppose: 27 percent. Unsure: 1 percent. (ABC News/Washington Post Poll. April 14-17, 2011)

"Do you support or oppose doing each of the following to deal with the federal budget deficit? … Increase taxes on income over $250,000." Support: 64 percent. Oppose: 33 percent. Unsure: 3 percent. (McClatchy-Marist Poll. April 10-14, 2011.)

"Now looking ahead to next year's federal budget, do you think it should or should not include higher taxes for families with household incomes of $250,000 and above?" Should: 59 percent. Should not: 37 percent. Unsure: 4 percent. (USA Today/Gallup Poll. April 11, 2011.)

Krugman seems on firm ground here.

Large majorities "also oppose major changes to Medicare."

Again, we found several recent poll questions addressing this point.

"In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose cutting spending on Medicare, which is the government health insurance program for the elderly?" Oppose: 78 percent. Support: 21 percent. Unsure: 1 percent. (ABC News/Washington Post Poll. April 14-17, 2011.)

"I'm going to read you two statements about the future of the Medicare program. After I read both statements, please tell me which one comes closer to your own view. Medicare should remain as it is today, with a defined set of benefits for people over 65. OR, Medicare should be changed so that people over 65 would receive a check or voucher from the government each year for a fixed amount they can use to shop for their own private health insurance policy." Should remain as is: 65 percent. Should be changed: 34 percent. Unsure: 2 percent. (Also from the ABC News/Washington Post Poll. April 14-17, 2011.)

"Do you think the government should completely overhaul Medicare to control the cost of the program, make major changes to Medicare but not completely overhaul it, make minor changes to Medicare, or should the government not try to control the costs of Medicare?" Not try to control costs: 27 percent. Minor changes: 34 percent. Major changes: 18 percent. Completely overhaul: 13 percent. Unsure: 8 percent. (USA Today/Gallup Poll. April 11, 2011.)

"In order to reduce the federal budget deficit, would you be willing or not willing to reduce spending on Medicare, the government health insurance program for seniors?" Not willing: 76 percent. Willing: 22 percent. Don't know/No answer: 2 percent. (CBS News Poll. March 18-21, 2011.)

"Do you think it will be necessary to cut spending on Medicare, the federal government health care program for seniors, in order to significantly reduce the federal budget deficit?" No: 54 percent. No opinion: 27 percent. Yes: 18 percent. Not sure: 1 percent. (NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll. Feb. 24-26, 2011.)

"For each (government program), please tell me if you think significantly cutting the funding is totally acceptable, mostly acceptable, mostly unacceptable, totally unacceptable: Medicare." Totally unacceptable: 46 percent. Mostly unacceptable: 30 percent. Mostly acceptable: 16 percent. Totally acceptable: 7 percent. Unsure: 1 percent. (Also from NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll. Feb. 24-26, 2011.)

Those numbers express widespread opposition to cutting Medicare. And indeed, when the Wall Street Journal reported its results in February, Republican pollster Bill McInturff said the results were "a huge flashing yellow sign for Republicans on how much preparation will be needed if they propose to change Social Security and Medicare."

As we were working on this report, a new poll was released suggesting that the public might not be so opposed to changes in Medicare. We should note that these results were released publicly after Krugman's column appeared. As explained in the Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter, our rulings are based on the information known at the time the person made the remarks.

"In order to reduce the budget deficit, it has been proposed that Medicare should be changed from a program in which the government pays doctors and hospitals for treating seniors to a program in which the government helps seniors purchase private health insurance. Would you approve or disapprove of changing Medicare in this way?" Approve: 47 percent. Disapprove: 41 percent. Don't Know/No answer: 12 percent. (New York Times/CBS News Poll. April 15-20, 2011.)

The New York Times noted in its story that the response was at odds with other recent polls, and concluded that results may vary depending on how the question was asked.

When we contacted Krugman for a comment, he noted that the poll came out after his column was published and that it's at odds with the other previous polls. "I strongly suspect that the Times result is an outlier -- it looks so different from everything else we're hearing," Krugman said via e-mail.

We should note that Krugman parenthetically added that a majority of Republicans also opposed major changes to Medicare. We were not able to find party breakdowns for all of these polls, but the ones we did see showed that Republicans opposed changes to Medicare as well. A CBS News Poll from March showed that 67 percent of Republicans were not willing to reduce spending on Medicare. In the USA Today/Gallup poll, 33 percent of Republicans said the government should not try to control the costs of Medicare, with another 28 percent of Republicans said the government should make only minor changes.

Our ruling

Krugman said that "large majorities" support support higher, not lower, taxes on the wealthy, and recent polls support that point. On Medicare, several polls suggest that large majorities, including a majority of Republicans, oppose major changes to the program. One poll, released after Krugman wrote his column, showed an advantage for the Ryan plan. But the preponderance of evidence at the time Krugman made his statement bears him out. We rate his statement True.

Is Corporate Welfare in Florida working? Nobody seems to know, yet we still keep giving money away

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Aaron Deslatte

TALLAHASSEE — As the 60-day lawmaking session winds to a close next month, Gov. Rick Scott is relentlessly promoting his "jobs" agenda and exuding confidence that he'll get a massive infusion of tax dollars to reel in new employers.

But behind the scenes, Scott's office and lawmakers are jockeying over who should control hundreds of millions in tax breaks that Florida has been doling out to biotech companies, retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores and Walgreens, and television producers.

Leery of appearing to support "corporate welfare" while cutting nearly $4 billion from education, health-care and social-service spending, Republican budget writers have been pushing the Governor's Office to prove the effort will produce a bigger bang for the buck.

Scott's office is pushing back that Florida already moves too slowly in the high-stakes game of enticing corporations shopping for the best state tax deals.

"We ought to be able to make a deal for job creation quickly," said Gray Swoope, the former Mississippi economic-development director whom Scott hired in February to lead Florida's job-creation arm, Enterprise Florida. He's pressing for more money — and less legislative oversight.

"North Carolina, Texas, those are states that can move a lot quicker than we can," Swoope said.

Although neither chamber has embraced Scott's call for cutting Florida's corporate-income-tax rate, they are trying to offer him something. The House has passed a proposal that would create his economic-development superagency and fund it with $427 million, but not until 2012.

"It's going to give us more money to do the right things," Scott said recently about the House plan.

But critics say there is mixed evidence that the millions in tax breaks Florida has already doled out actually created jobs.

"It doesn't seem wise to us to let tens of millions of dollars more a year go uncollected for the benefit of a few select corporations or industries," said Alan Stonecipher, with the liberal Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy research group.

"There's little evidence that these so-called economic-development incentives actually produce new jobs."

Millions doled out

During the past decade, Florida invested billions of dollars in tax breaks to get employers to relocate to Florida or build in blighted neighborhoods.

But when the economy stalled, so did the spending spree.

In 2007, Florida sank $458 million into a host of tax-incentive programs. By last year, the total had shriveled to $220 million.

And this year, Senate and House budget writers are poised to approve $171 million to $210 million — far less than the $300 million Scott requested.

"The more money we trim out of [economic development], the more dollars available for education and health care," said House economic-development budget ChairmanMike Horner, R-Kissimmee.

One of the biggest differences between the two chambers is how much cash to give the governor in a fund designed to pledge tax breaks to coveted companies willing to relocate, called the Quick Action Closing Fund. The Senate puts $45.8 million in it; the House $14.7 million.

House and Senate leaders are going along with Scott's request to construct a giant new economic-development agency that would combine space, tourism, sports, minority-business and other job-creation agencies.

But the Senate's version would require Scott's office to develop better measurements of the programs' "performance and competitive value to the state."

"If we're going to go forward with economic incentives, we need to know which ones work, why they work and under what conditions they work," said economic-development budget chief Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican slated to be Senate president in 2012.

"You can't be a prophet. But what is the general return on investments that we ought to have here? If we're investing in Florida Inc., that's what we're asking the governor to do."

Gaetz asked Scott's office in February for a "business plan" to justify therequest for $300 million and says he was given "a fairly uneven report."

Scott's inner advisers recommended against agreeing to any "return-on-investment" requirements.

"I think that locking ourselves into statutory ROI measurements or even a business plan at this point would be difficult," Scott's chief lobbyist, Jon Costello, wrote in a Feb. 28 email.

Swoope said last week that Enterprise Florida already does a good job.

"There are some good measurements in place. Do they need better aligning? Absolutely," he said. "We will build that trust with our legislators, that they'll have confidence in what we're saying."

Lawmakers' skepticism has been building for years, driven in part by the fact that some of the highest-profile projects have been slow to produce results.

Lawmakers doled out $449 million through one "innovation incentive" fund to seven biotechnology-research institutes — including Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studiesin Port St. Lucie and Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute at Lake Nona — but it may take decades to deliver the technology clusters lawmakers were promised.

The latest update in December said that, although the biotech industry was growing faster in Florida than nationally, the seven projects had created 644 jobs — fewer than half of the 1,488 positions they ultimately will be mandated to add.

Tax breaks for TV

Other tax breaks appear to be suffering from their own success.

Last year's "Jobs for Florida" bill devoted $242 million during five years to tax credits for film studios and digital-production companies. The bill included other components — tax credits for hiring the unemployed, selling yachts and other activities — that can't be measured for results yet, according to the Department of Revenue.

But by spring, $227 million of the film breaks already had been committed, 60 percent to "high impact" television shows such as USA's "Burn Notice," A&E's "The Glades" and MTV's recently announced remake of the British comedy "The Inbetweeners," to be shot in Central Florida.

But House finance and tax Chairman Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, is miffed that so many of the credits have been committed to television shows that might spread their impact over five seasons, as opposed to one-time movie productions.

"Those are credits that could be used by film productions or digital media to do work today," Precourt said.

Earlier this month, the House approved $30 million more in tax credits but effectively capped what can go to television shows. Critics said the cap would also have the effect of steering more tax credits to film-production studios owned by Universal Orlando, in Precourt's home county.

Florida Film Commissioner Lucia Fishburne said Florida's tax package for television production has been the envy of the country, and other states have tried to duplicate it.

If Precourt's changes pass, "we would never be able to sell our state. That eliminates all the certainty for productions," she said.

Tax refunds for jobs

Another popular program is the 17-year-old "Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund," which gives a $3,000-minimum tax refund to companies for every "high-wage" job they create.

In the past four years, Florida has directed more than $57 million to the likes of Coca-Cola, JetBlue, video-game maker Electronic Arts Inc. and Ruth's Chris Steak House.

Although the law specifically excludes "retail," Wal-Mart Stores got $1.1 million in 2007 for opening distribution centers in DeSoto County and the North Florida town of Macclenny.

Chico's, the clothing chain headquartered in Lee County, got $600,000.

Enterprise Florida spokesman Stuart Jacob said every company has to demonstrate it has created the jobs promised. The problem is, many of the companies might have created jobs without the incentives.

In 2003, Senate staff surveyed businesses getting the break. Of those that responded, 20 of the 38 said they "probably" or "definitely" would have relocated to or expanded in Florida even without the incentive.

Horner defended the program, saying it had helped land needed jobs in less-affluent communities.

"Those are good jobs. They're high-paying jobs," he said, although companies are only required to pay "relatively high wages compared to statewide or area averages."

Last year, lawmakers tweaked the program to exclude telemarketing call centers and ordered Enterprise Florida to develop better measurements for whether the law was working. This year, the program would get $18 million to $23 million in the competing budget plans.

"In a lot of ways, these dollars are the required ante in order to get into these high-stakes economic-development games," said Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness. But, he acknowledged: "There's no guarantee that success is going to come quickly." or 850-222-5564. Follow him on Twitter at @adeslatte.,0,6854914,full.story