Thursday, July 31, 2003

A Rare Victory 

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune is happy that one of the area's older structures is rescued from the demolition ball, and calls for local preservationists and government officals to get together and develop a stategy to prevent the loss of historic buildings:
Unfortunately, historic buildings are rarely rescued in Manatee County and many other Southwest Florida communities. Frequently, demolition plans for old or architecturally significant structures are well under way before efforts are organized to save them.

The losses are permanent -- and costly. A study conducted for the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation found that, in 2000 alone, preservation projects helped create more than 123,000 new jobs and more than $657 million in new state and local taxes.

There's also a loss that's more difficult to quantify. Old structures are vital to a community's sense of continuity and accomplishment, and they subtly enhance a community's appeal to residents and tourists.

The saga of the pink house -- and similar stories in recent months -- should prompt local officials and preservation-minded residents to talk about how they can better keep the bulldozers at bay. Waiting until the last minute is far too risky.
That's a good idea for other cities in Florida, too.

But it Gets 28 Nautical Miles Per Gallon 

I've often thought a good way to get rich would be to get to Cuba just ahead of Castro's demise and buy up all the vintage cars that are so common there. But this won't work if the Cubans don't keep the old vehicles on dry land.

The attempt by a bunch of Cubans to make it to Florida in a 1951 Chevrolet truck prompted the Palm Beach Post to look at the larger issue:
Before this week, U.S. immigration policy concerning Cuba was thought to have loopholes big enough to drive a truck through.

On Sunday, the Coast Guard refuted that common wisdom by forcibly repatriating a dozen balseros who were attempting to cross the Florida Straits in a green, 1951 Chevy truck made amphibious by a level of ingenuity America should be eager to import. In particular, policy regarding Cuba has suffered from a lack of ingenuity. The tired economic embargo has not helped Cubans. Washington has created such absurdities as the wet foot/dry foot rule. A policy granting admission to those on unusual watercraft hardly could be more arbitrary.

Political pandering on Cuba is equally tired. Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., have let it be known that the repatriation outrages them. Expressing outrage is easier than crafting a U.S. policy that effectively would assist Cubans who want to employ their ingenuity to build a democracy at home rather than create desperate methods for escape.


The Ocala Star-Banner knows what's really important -- okra. I love it, everyone else in my family hates it (fortunately they all eat grits, otherwise I'd suspect them to be closet Yankees).

For those unfamiliar with the tasty vegetable;
Like so many Southern favorites that have gone mainstream, okra, a relative of hollyhock, hibiscus and cotton, had its origins in Africa. The first seeds traveled in the bellies of slave ships, finding a home on a new continent where okra was embraced so thoroughly that Southerners soon forgot it hadn’t always been their own.

The very words ‘‘okra’’ and ‘‘gumbo,’’ the name of the dish that made okra famous, derive from African names for the vegetable that’s become synonymous with down-home Southern cooking.

Educational Malpractice 

In an editorial with the title "Bush vs. Bush," the St. Petersburg Times tells the sad fate of Gulfport Elementary, which received a bonus payment of $40,000 under Governor Jeb Bush's Florida A+ Education Plan but did poorly enough under the federal guidelines "that its parents must be allowed, less than a week before school begins, to pull their children out."
The question of whether the Florida A+ Education Plan or the federal No Child Left Behind Act more accurately assesses Gulfport and 2,593 other schools in this state assumes, of course, that either one of them really knows what goes on inside the school. They don't. They know only the results of one set of standardized tests, taken by fewer than half the students, once a year. The state takes those results and looks mostly at the bottom line, though it considers the performance of the lowest-achieving students. The federal government takes the results and breaks them down by "at-risk" groups - such as racial and ethnic students, those with limited English skills and those whose families are poor - and flunks an entire school if any single group doesn't measure up.

This is random reform at its worst, pushing and pulling school districts, rewarding and punishing schools based on a narrow appraisal of their work. The FCAT results can provide a revealing glimpse into how well all students are performing, but they don't equip bureaucrats in Washington or Tallahassee to make accurate judgments about whether teachers at each school are doing their jobs. That's where accountability breaks down. A federal government that tells parents to yank their children from Gulfport Elementary, based solely on the results of a standardized test, is engaging in its own form of educational malpractice.
Too bad the our elected officials in Tallahassee don't seem to care about this form of malpractice.

We Still Don't Need No Stinking Oversight (or FCATs) 

What would the chances be for a proposal to take tax dollars away from public schools and give them to private schools, with virtually no strings attached? No, doesn't sound like it would fly. But how about allowing corporations to donate to a fund for private school vouchers and then receive a deduction . . . no make that a credit . . . on their Florida corporate income taxes. OK, that sounds better -- at least to Gov. Jeb Bush and Education Commissioner Jim Horne.

Oh, yeah, and let them skip the FCAT.

An article in today's Miami Herald examines the appalling lack of state oversight for the controversial Corporate Tax Scholarship program. One of the problems is that the corporate "contributions are channeled through nonprofit scholarship-funding groups rather than the state education department."

Although Horne plans to have "discussions" on this issue, he said
private schools already face the most critical form of oversight: parental choice. If families are dissatisfied, they can simply take their children out of the school.

''It's a powerful accountability measure,'' Horne said in a phone interview Wednesday. ``A free marketplace type of accountability made us the most powerful nation on the planet."
The non-profits receiving the funds are not anxious for greater accountability either:
``If the parent is satisfied, why should [taxpayers] even care? said Tina Dupree, director of Florida Child, the Miami organization that accepts the corporate donations and turns them around to parents and private schools.

Florida Child was the middleman for roughly 7,400 vouchers last year, she said, and transmitted about $24 million.

Dupree and her allies have especially balked at the idea of requiring voucher students to take the FCAT, saying the exam is incompatible with the curriculum at some private schools.
Another problem cited is that this program is not entirely in the Sunshine:
Democratic leaders have also objected that the identities of the corporations that donate to the program are not made public. Florida has liberal laws that open government records to the public, but the state's tax code prevents the release of information from tax returns, said Department of Revenue spokesman Dave Bruns.

Klein said that law should be changed, and noted that Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, has commissioned a study of the entire corporate voucher program before next year's legislative session.
Miami-Dade School Board Superintendent Merrett Stierheim said the district would lose about $18,000,000 as a result of what he called a "stealth attack" on public education.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

We Don't Need No Stinking Oversight! 

The Daytona Beach News Journal sees a disturbing trend in state government -- increased privatization and decreased oversight:
Florida's budget, based on shaky revenue sources such as sales tax and stretched thin in crucial areas such as public education, has never been strong. But Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature have elevated the art of budgetary myth-making to unprecedented heights. One prime example is the mistaken notion that private enterprise can perform any government function cheaper and better and still turn a profit.

At the same time, anyone who talks about the reality of Florida's budget -- like the need to close the most wasteful tax loopholes -- gets shouted down.

But there's something else going on under the surface.

Florida has always balanced its loopy financial planning with reasonably tough oversight. Any individual can demand financial records from any state agency, checking expenditures down to the penny. State government also self-polices through two small but vital agencies that perform spot-checks and audits.

Over the past few years, however, that oversight has been eroded. Increasing amounts of state money are being spent "out of the sunshine," through private contracts. Prime examples: corporate-tax credit vouchers, which take money away from public education and send it to private schools, and private correctional facilities, which have come under fire for security flaws and abuse.

Last month, the state inspector general warned that oversight over state contracts was in "a state of disrepair." Billions of dollars in state money are being spent, yet almost half of those contracts showed some sort of performance problem in audits -- such as shoddy goods, failure to fulfill the terms of the contract or outright fraud.
The News-Journal's bottom line: "Florida's leaders are compounding bad spending policy by weakening fiscal oversight. If this trend continues, today's leaders will have created a legacy that will stink up the state's books for decades to come."

It seems Gov. Bush and the Legislature are running Florida's government like a business -- unfortunately that business seems to be Enron.

Herald to Governor -- "Get Creative" 

Today's Miami Herald editorials include a call for Governor Bush to stop ignoring the growing crisis in Florida higher education.
Affordable, quality university education is becoming more elusive in Florida. If the presidents of the state's 11 universities decide on Aug. 15 to initiate enrollment caps next fall, thousands of students will pay the consequences. We hope that the presidents look for other alternatives to caps and, if none exist, limit the number of students for whom university doors will close.

Florida has a responsibility to students, families and businesses to make higher education available to the greatest number of students possible. An educated workforce is a powerful economic advantage. It helps to attract new businesses, improves the labor pool and makes the state more attractive to families considering relocation. These factors help create jobs and stimulate the economy.
The editorial points out that as otherwise qualified students are unable to enroll at one of the state's four-year universities, they "...likely will inundate the state's already crowded 28 community colleges, which also are experiencing funding cuts. In the last two years, Miami-Dade College enrollment has grown by 20 percent, while the school has lost $64.5 million in state funding."

Governor Bush hopes that the universities can get by with "flexibility" and by using reserves. This reminds me of a joke that was supposedly common in Italy during World War II:
Mussolini received a message from one of his military commanders, "Send food and ammunition."

Mussolini replied, "Times are tough, tighten belts."

Before long Il Duce received another message from the commander, "Send belts."
The Herald editorial concludes, "We realize that Florida has many obligations, and many hands are open, begging for funds. Nevertheless, it's time to get creative and find ways to pay for education growth."

Seems to me that's what leadership is all about.

Florida Ghost Towns 

Andytown, Fort Lonesome, Lulu and Peru are just a few of about 150 Florida towns of the past whose histories are recorded on the website, Florida Ghost Towns. Actually, it's just part of a larger site dealing with ghost towns throughout the United States and Canada.

Not all listed towns are abandoned. In fact a few, like Cedar Key, are small but flourishing. Most are gone as viable towns, though.

Each ghost town has its own page with location, short history and (in most cases) historic and current photographs. They provide a fascinating look at Florida's past.

For a unique aspect of Florida's history, check out the Yamato Colony, an early 20th century community of Japanese farmers in Palm Beach County.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

See Ya Later Alligator 

Oops. Let's hope that University of Florida football coach Ron Zook is paying attention to details. At least more so than the media people who published the 2003 football media guide with a crocodile, rather than a gator, on the cover.
"We asked for an alligator, we paid for an alligator and unfortunately we did not get an alligator," [Florida spokesman Steve] McClain told The Associated Press late Tuesday in a telephone interview. "It's unfortunate, it's somewhat embarrassing obviously, but the bottom line is we thought we were getting an alligator."
As all good Floridians should know,
"American crocodiles have pointy snouts and are found mostly in mangroves where fresh and saltwater mix. They are a light, olive-green color.

"Alligators have broad snouts, live mainly in freshwater surroundings and are nearly black. They are found throughout Florida and vastly outnumber the state's stock of crocs."

Who's Watching the Vouchers? 

The St. Petersburg Times asks what the Florida Department of Education is doing, since it doesn't seem to be keeping track of the fitness of schools for which state vouchers are being used.

Federal agents, claiming it was a front for Palestinian terrorism, raided the Islamic Academy in Tampa five months ago. Florida Edcation Commissioner Jim Horne has just now gotten around to addressing that issue.
Just a few days earlier, Horne had defended his oversight of the vouchers by writing that "DOE maintains identification records for each private school and works closely with the (funding organizations) to review and approve school eligibility." Of those who criticize DOE, he wrote further, "fortunately for students in the program, we're more thorough when assessing schools for our voucher dollars."

Thorough? Really? Then if the suspension of vouchers at the Islamic Academy was related to criminal investigations, as Horne said, why didn't DOE act when federal agents raided the school five month ago? Why wait for [other agencies] and news stories and angry legislators?

The Islamic Academy incident only reinforces the image of DOE as a spectator to its own voucher program.
If the Department of Education can't deal with a situation such as this, what with Federal action and on-going media coverage, what is the chance it is catching the little fly-by-night schools that might have popped up throughout the state?

Bob Hope 

Florida Today editorial cartoonist Jeff Parker has one of the better takes on the death of Bob Hope.

Cut Taxes then Cut Programs 

Although the Broward County School Board admits that funds are tight, it will cut school taxes for the 2003-04 budget year. Actually, its hands are tied by state regulations that cap how much money local school boards can raise from property taxes.

Among the ways the School Board proposes cutting expenses is to "eliminate $114,000 to pay teachers to coach after-school inter-school athletic competitions in middle schools."

No Preservationist for Ft. Lauderdale 

Big budget shortfalls have caused the City of Fort Lauderdale to forego creating a new staff position to handle historic preservation issues. Rapid development, particularly in the downtown and nearby residential areas, has led to the demolition of several historic structures recently.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Florida History Documents 

The Florida State Archives has digitized two collections that both historians and genealogists will find useful -- Florida Confederate Pension Application Files and World War I Service Cards.

Both set of records are searchable (I found the application for my great-great-grandfather's pension).

(via Florida Blog)

Visitors Center Proposed for Castillo 

Bill Adams, St. Augustine's director of historic preservation and heritage tourism, is leading the charge to build a visitors center for the Castillo de San Marcos, one of the nation's most significant historic sites.

The proposed center will allow visitors to learn about the fort -- its history and architecture -- before they enter its walls. "The lessons of the past are, I strongly suspect, lost upon most (visitors)," said Adams.

The visitors center is projected to cost over $8 million, with the federal government paying $4 million, state and local governments contributing $3 million in land, and $1 million being raised from private sources.

By the way, there are few, if any, Floridians with as much experience in all phases of our state's history as Adams. He has worked in academic, government, non-profit and private settings, and has been responsible for preserving important parts of Florida's past.

What About Our Problems? 

A Florida Times-Union editorial calls a proposal being considered by the California Board of Regents a bad idea. It's not clear how likely the plan is to being implemented, but it would require "[s]tudents whose families make more than $90,000 a year at the University of California would pay up to $3,000 more to attend . . ." [I assume the editorial writer meant students at the University of California will be subject to the surcharge, and not families who earn their money at UC.]

I agree this is a questionable idea, but would be happier if the Times-Union spent a little time worrying about Florida's universities before trying to solve California's problems.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Bottom Line Education 

The St. Petersburg Times's Bill Maxwell is one of the better columnists around. Today he writes about what he considers to the be "meaning, value and purpose of higher education." Not surprisingly, he is not happy with what's going on in Florida:
Higher education in the Sunshine State is being done on the cheap, without serious thinking and planning. Without sufficient funding. Those in charge apparently want only students on our campuses who have money and high SATs; they want freshmen to declare their majors immediately; they want students gone from our campuses in three to four years if, in the name of so-called "accountability," they can pass a high-stakes exit examination.

No dillydallying, either physical or intellectual. In and out. Sounds reasonable? Not to me. Not if we are talking about real learning.


The Republicans in charge of Florida's colleges and universities disdain intangibles - fluffy things that are not measurable by the heft of dividends or by cut-off scores on the latest made-to-order standardized tests.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of Floridians with financial means and political clout with the GOP power structure have bought into this increasingly popular, albeit wrongheaded, system of what I call abbreviated education on the cheap.
Maxwell suggests that education is about making sense of the world, and is more than narrowly-focused vocational training.

Raise Your Right Hand 

The Palm Beach Post recommends that the Legislature begin swearing in witnesses on a regular basis:
Why? Consider Sandra Mortham, former secretary of state, briefly Jeb Bush's 1998 running mate, now executive vice-president of the Florida Medical Association, the doctors' lobbying group. Asked about "frivolous lawsuits," Ms. Mortham testified, "I don't feel I have the information to say whether or not there have been frivolous lawsuits in the state of Florida." Senators passed out copies of earlier FMA news releases under her name. They began, "Due to the explosion in frivolous lawsuits... "

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Destruction of Florida's Universities 

A Tampa Tribune editorial, "The Reckless Undermining Of State's University System," sums up many of the problems plaguing Florida's public universities. It's a sad list of misguided policies, power grabs, political arrogance and an unnecessary fiscal crisis. Few state officials are blameless.

The liquidation of the Board of Regents is a good example of how things now work in Tallahassee:
The governor pushed for the hasty elimination of the state Board of Regents, the 14-member, governor-appointed body that had coordinated higher education policies.

Governor-appointed local boards of trustees were given jurisdiction over each university. The state Board of Education was given ultimate oversight. The seven-member, governor-appointed panel was charged with overseeing all public schools, community colleges and universities - a cumbersome, illogical setup.

Lawmakers also were eager to get rid of the Board of Regents, which had angered Tallahassee heavyweights by occasionally opposing their plans for their favorite universities. The reorganization gave lawmakers more freedom to dictate university policy. It also gave the governor plenty of patronage power. So, with little planning or public debate, the regents were summarily eliminated.

Florida quickly gained a national reputation for a politicized university system and it became more difficult to recruit scholars, even university presidents.

In desperation, opponents of the restructuring proposed Amendment 11. The constitutional amendment called for the restoration of a state university oversight board and 13-member boards of trustees at each university to monitor most local decisions. The 17-member Board of Governors was to provide overall guidance, making sure there was no wasteful duplication.

This was a solid plan and voters overwhelmingly endorsed it last year. Alas, the governor high-handedly ignored the amendment's intent. He appointed a Board of Governors headed by the woman who led the campaign against Amendment 11. And the board, rather than guiding university policy, has been timid, if not worthless.

Department of Education chief Jim Horne handpicked the chancellor without complaint from the board, which should have made the choice. The chancellor and the board did little to guard universities from the fiscal assault during the legislative session.

Does anyone think that the universities would have been treated so contemptuously if the state had a governing board truly dedicated to advancing higher education?

Now university presidents face the prospect of slamming the door in qualified students' faces. And Florida's academic reputation is in shambles.

The universities will muddle along one way or another. But a high price will be paid by Florida's students, whose higher education options are going to be severely curtailed. And the consequences for the state's long-term economic prospects are likely to be negative and substantial

No Liberal Media Here 

Florida Politics , quoting the Orlando Sentinel, reports that the Florida News Channel refused to accept two ads from the Democratic Party that criticise Governor Bush and Speaker of the House Johnnie Byrd on the continuing medical malpractice stalemate. The story ran the same day in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Both papers are owned by the Tribune Corporation.

FNC's managing partner, Bob Brillante, said "We're not comfortable putting them on the air. We can't corroborate the accuracy based on the network's previous reporting," he said. "That's not to say it's not accurate, but as a news [network] we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard."

Linda Kleindienst, the Sun-Sentinel's Tallahassee bureau chief, reported:
Democrats said they used published reports in the state's newspapers to put together the ad package. One spot targets Bush, who has threatened political reprisals against Senate Republicans who have refused to embrace his plan to end what he insists is a malpractice insurance crisis that is driving doctors from the state.

The other ad is aimed at Byrd, who has actively sought contributions from lobbyists and companies involved in the malpractice battle to fund a committee that will help Republican legislative candidates
The ads will run the Tallahassee Comcast cable network.

Steve Bousquet, St. Petersburg Times staff writer (and long-time observer of Florida politics), reports on this, too:
"I just think it's inappropriate to put allegations on the air that we cannot confirm the accuracy of," said Bob Brillante, managing partner of Florida News Channel, who personally pulled the ads off the air.

He said Democrats failed to back up claims in the ad, such as a reference to Bush using "threats of reprisals and strong-arm tactics" and Byrd holding fundraisers while the Legislature was in session.

"That's news to me," Brillante said.

Bush's hardball approach with senators has been outlined in e-mails, including one bearing the governor's name. The governor disapproved of an e-mail written by a deputy chief of staff who endorsed the idea of unseating some GOP senators.

Byrd has never disputed that he has hosted or supported legislative fundraisers during special sessions.

UPDATE: The Florida News Channel's website doesn't provide much information, but Non Stop News, a website devoted to "24-Hour Cable News Channels," has some background on FNC.

Shortchanged (again) 

Florida's so-called leaders were faced with what was for them a perplexing problem. They were committed to lowering taxes, but in the November 2002 elections state voters approved an amendment to Florida's constitution that mandated a reduction in public school class sizes. What to do, What to do?

How about reducing the credits needed for graduation? If students would just get out of school earlier, there would less of them in the classrooms. Although this sounds like it was taken from the script of a South Park episode, Gov. Bush and the Florida Legislature thought this was a great idea and put it into law.

An article in today's Sun-Sentinel points out that students opting for the three-year high school plan may have trouble getting into some of the more competitive colleges and universities. And, of course, the costs of administering this program is carried by the local school districts.

The Sun-Sentinel quotes a high school student on this: "The state should represent the principle that education is paramount, and unfortunately this legislation demotes the importance of the learning experience since it implies that knowledge must be sacrificed because of a budget."

Hey, let's send her to Tallahassee, and let the Governor and legislators go back to high school.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003


Perhaps it's time to test Florida's Board of Governors. They don't seem to be all that bothered about the lack of funding for higher education in the state, but appear willing to waste time and money trying to "grade" state universities. Of course one problem with this approach is obvious: it assumes that all state universities should be uniform in their educational mission, course offerings and the students they accept.

There's quite a difference between the University of Florida with its 40,000+ student body, extensive graduate and professional programs and fairly high standards for accepting incoming students and, say, the University of West Florida in Pensacola which enrolls under 10,000 students (almost half of whom come from two adjouning counties), concentrates on undergraduate education and has a sizable commuter population. Both are fine institutions that serve the needs of their students, but are hardly comparable.

Moreover, other than though particular circumstances, no one is forced to attend any specific state university. A graduating high school senior has plenty of options, both within and outside the state university system (of course with potential enrollment caps, the options may increasingly be outside the state system).

But "accountabilty" and "performance standards" sell well politically, even if the result is a Procrustean effort to measure everyone (and every institution) with one standard. I guess it would be a little more palatable if the Board of Governors knew exactly what it was testing for before it decided to do the testing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Enrollment Caps 

Florida Today doesn't like how the legislature and governor are treating our universities -- and our students:
Thousands of Florida's high school graduates may find themselves shut out of higher education if cash-strapped public universities resort to enrollment caps in 2004.

But without caps the quality of that education will decline, as universities slash course offerings and increase class sizes.

Neither of those options -- direct consequences of the state Legislature's refusal to adequately fund higher education -- is acceptable, and Gov. Jeb Bush is disingenuous in saying he opposes caps, because he believes access to education is important.

Under his watch, the great challenge facing Florida's universities, that of providing a quality education to the growing population of students who represent the state's future citizenry and work force, has turned into a crisis.

A Model Blog 

Geitner Simmons, an editorial writer for the Omaha World-Herald, has some kind words to say about South of the Suwanee on his blog, Regions of Mind. Geitner is a self-professed conservative, but one which gives that side of the political spectrum a good name. His writings show an intelligent and curious mind. More important, he is a gentleman. Read his blog, it's the best there is.

Preserving Seminole History and Culture 

It's not in an urban area or on a college campus, the places you would expect to find a first-class museum. To get to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum you have to drive west from Fort Lauderdale (or east from Naples) on Alligator Alley about half-way through the Everglades and then take a two lane road north for 17 miles to the Big Cypress Reservation. An unlikely spot if you don't know the history of this fascinating project.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida decided on this location because it is near where the great 19th century Indian warrior and spiritual leader Abiaka, also known as Sam Jones, is buried, although the exact site of his grave is unknown. The tribe was also running out of land on their reservation lands in Hollywood.

The exhibits in this official museum of the Florida Seminoles measure up to those in any history museum I've visited, and on display are a number of one-of-a-kind artifacts. Recently the Naples Daily News ran an article about the museum:
The museum collection consists of rare Seminole artifacts, some of which are on loan from the Smithsonian Institution. Gallery exhibits depict the lives of the Seminoles in south Florida during the late 1800s, with displays on gardening, hunting, cooking, transportation, marriage, folklore and spiritual beliefs. You'll also find two impressive displays depicting events at the annual Green Corn Dance, a four-day sacred ceremony which ensures the well-being of the Seminole tribe. The event is held at an undisclosed location each spring and is not open to non-Indians.
It's well worth the trip.

Infectious Liberalism 

Ron Cunningham of the Gainesville Sun takes on a variety of politicians, including Bob Graham and Jeb Bush, and he finds that Frank Brogan has had a change of heart:
Let's see now; back when he was Lt. Governor, Frank Brogan happily conspired with Jeb Bush and the Republican Legislature to break up the old State University System in favor of a sort of Academic Law of the Jungle — whereby each university would be free to exercise its entrepreneurial spirit and, not coincidently, take full advantage of its relatively political influence. In this Brave New World of Florida higher education, it would be every institution for itself.

But now that he's President of Florida Atlantic University (Motto: We're an equal political opportunists employer) Brogan is shocked that the University of Florida, Florida State and a few other universities are exercising their entrepreneurial spirit with a proposal to go semi-private and contract with the Legislature for services.

“I'm worried about any plan that would fund a small number of entities to a greater extent, to the exclusion of others, without the responsibility of funding the others in the same way,” Brogan said in a conference call with other presidents this week.

Gee, Frank, that's what members of the old Board of Regents used to say before you and Jeb bumped them off and turned the university “system” into a political free-for-all.

Is it just my imagination, or is Frank “treat us the same way” Brogan starting to sound like a liberal? I've heard you can catch that sort of infection in academia on account of being thrown into regular close contact with radicals and socialists and tenured professors and such.

Friendly Advice 

The Tampa Tribune, noting that it twice endorsed Jeb Bush for governor, urges him to take the advice of a Republican "of another era."


Speaker of the Florida House, Johnnie Byrd, responding to a St.Petersburg Times editorial decrying his fundraising tactics, says the following:
"It would be a sad day indeed if voters were limited to the liberal, biased media for their information. Political contributions are a valuable form of participation in the process and help assure that everyone's voice is heard".

Monday, July 21, 2003

More Higher Ed Woes 

Florida's community colleges were created to provide all Floridians with access to higher education. For many students going to a community college is an economic necessity -- tuition is cheaper and you can live at home. Others, who might not have taken a scholarly path during their high school years, find it a good way to catch up and learn some study habits.

Unfortunately, these issues take a back seat in Tallahassee to tax cuts. The Treasure Coast Tribune provides an example of what this means for Indian River Community College:
The much-publicized money crunch at Florida's universities has hit home on the Treasure Coast. Despite the region's rapid growth, funding for IRCC is stagnating. And that's slamming shut the community college system's "open door."

The school's campuses — which serve Indian River, Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties — reduced class offerings by 20 percent last year. Even with a 7 percent tuition increase this year (about $110 more for a full-time student), courses will not be expanding this year.

College officials estimate that enrollment will inch up just 1 percent this fall, as it did a year ago. These modest increases fall far short of actual demand, with crowded health science and computer technology classes expected to turn away large numbers of students

Considering that Florida is ranked 41st in total state taxes paid per capita, this is little short of criminal. 

Virtual Sweat 

It sounds like a joke, but a number Florida high school students are taking physical education on-line. The Naples Daily News highlights the Florida Virtual School, a state-sponsored internet high school established by the legislature in 1997.
Nationally, 16 states have either established virtual high schools or plan to do so in the coming school year, according to Education Week's "Technology Counts 2003" report.

But the Sunshine State's remains the largest. The state-funded Florida Virtual School was started as a complement, rather than a competitor, to the traditional public school system since starting as a pilot program in 1997.

The online school logged 10,273 enrollments in the 75 courses it offered this academic year, and served 6,896 individual students, including some from other states and countries, school officials said.

The majority of students attend their hometown high schools for the bulk of classes. Home schoolers made up 14 percent of students this school year, while private school students numbered just less than 5 percent.

I guess "my ISP was down" will replace "the dog at my homework."

Take Note 

The Sarasota Herald Tribune finds that Bob Graham has at least one thing in common with Thomas Jefferson.

Rule Britannia . . . For A While 

St. Augustine was nearly 200 years old when the Spanish relinquished its rule to the British 240 years ago today.

This past weekend reenactments of the surrender of Castillo de San Marcos, the Spanish fort guarding St. Augustine, were held in the Old City to mark the event:

The ceremony was re-enacted Saturday at the Castillo in 90-plus degree heat.

Re-enactors from the Spanish Garrison, the 60th Royal Americans of St. Augustine, 42nd Highland Regiment and special detachments of the Royal Navy all dressed in period clothing made out of linen and wool.

To say it was just "hot" is perhaps the understatement of the century.

"I think it's amazing to get these volunteers to dress up in those outfits in this heat and to still be enthusiastic about it," said Patti Castellaw, Atlanta, Ga. Castellaw, her husband and two sons visited the Castillo Saturday afternoon.

In 1784 the Spanish came back as Britian gave up Florida following the Revolutionary War.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Outsourcing the Past 

The Tallahassee Democrat doesn't think much of the Bush administration's (the one in Washington) plan to privatize the archeological work of the National Park Service. The move would affect Park Service's Southeast Archaeological Center in Tallahassee.

"The center - which protects archaeological and cultural resources in 67 national parks in the Southeast - employs only about 50 full- and part-time archaeologists and other staff members. But its cooperative agreements with Florida State, Florida A&M, the University of Florida and several other institutions provide on-the-job training for students.

"In a government town already smarting from the effects of "outsourcing," yet another Bush-inspired privatization is further insult to the conscientious efforts of dedicated public employees

History Around the State 

The City of Ocala refused to sell the historic Marion Theatre to private developers, a move that was applauded by the Ocala Star-Banner:

"Why should Ocala hold on to Marion Theatre? Because if it sold this building, there are no guarantees that a private owner would preserve its historical exterior.

"This is something the city needs to address — ensuring that historical structures are protected through ordinances, policies and guidelines. Hopefully the master plan now in the works for downtown Ocala will shed some light on historical preservation of important buildings in the city, especially on its square

Farther south, the City of Dania Beach is planning to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its incorporation. But some residents, while acknowledging that it is the oldest municipality in Broward County, claim it is only 77 years old.

Another Broward County city, Coral Springs, has about sixty years to go before its centennial, but it has just had a new book published about its history.

Real Pirates 

What with the popularity of the recently released movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, David Ballinger of the St. Petersburg Times takes a look at what the buccaneers of old were really like.

Buccaneers? Haven't I heard that name before?

Miami's Lucky Day 

In sports, there have been a number of important games for Miami, but they have usually involved the Dolphins, Hurricanes, Heat or Marlins. Yesterday's soccer match between the United States and Cuba in Foxboro, Massachusetts, though, probably produced as much anxiety among Miami's city officials as any previous game, because if Cuba won they would then play in the Orange Bowl.

The American side was expected to win, and they did, 5 - 0. But just imagine the political passions that would have been stirred up had the Cuban national team come to Miami -- after all, there have been near riots when Cuban musicians have tried to perform there. I'll bet Mayor Diaz slept a lot better Saturday night than he did on Friday.

Friday, July 18, 2003

True To His Words 

As far as I can tell, only two state governors have committed suicide while in office. The last to do so was Florida's John Milton, who was governor 1861 - 65. Milton was a fierce supporter of secession and worked hard as governor to make Florida a "supply house" for the Confederacy.

With the defeat of the southern armies imminent, Milton declared "death would be preferable to reunion" and soon thereafter (April 1, 1865) shot himself.

The first state chief executive to kill himself was Missouri Gov. Thomas Reynolds, who, following breakfast on February 9, 1844, walked into his office and shot himself.

Two Bush Stategies at Odds? 

Lisa Cramer writes in the Palm Beach Post that Florida's FCAT standards may be out of sync with the Federal "No Child Left Behind" guidelines, and questions whether the Bush brothers are truely committed to improving education, or to destroying public schools:

"...President and Gov. Bush get to hide behind slogans that promise to leave no child behind while requiring "A-Plus accountability" of educators. Students, teachers, parents and administrators get to battle criticism while muddling through conflicting standards and remaining fixated on tests to avoid disgrace. And observers gain fuel for their decreased confidence in public education."

Perhaps Ms. Cramer gives the Bush brothers too much credit for forward thinking, but from my observations (of an offspring who just graduated from a public high school) the FCAT has perverted the education process -- it is an example of not counting what's important, but rather counting that which is easy to count.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Liberalism Misguided? 

The late comedian (and much more), Steve Allen, used to have a bit on his show in which he would read actual letters to the editor in a passionate voice, eliciting shouts and cheers from the audience. Too bad he isn't around to use the following missive from a Mr. Dole to the Bradenton Herald:

"Neo-liberalism has clearly become the ideology of human catastrophe, threatening the destruction of America's very soul. Its post-modern apologists are the very same spoiled "boomers" and brooding refugees from the Savage Sixties who have lost their way in the putrescent swamps of socialism, narcissism, cowardice and dishonesty. Neo-liberals have learned nothing from the past. They are dismissive of reality, and they slander, lie and rewrite history whenever it suits their purpose. They have a preternatural passion for craven policies structured for failure, and have been consistently wrong for the past 50 years. Their legacy of ideological bankruptcy during the Cold War should have decomposed their credibility; however, their boundless shamelessness and genetic inability to admit error have mutated them into sophistic charlatans.

"Neo-liberals are New Age elitists - the anti-God left from which all arrogance flows. They are effete, self-anointed intellectual sophisticates whose anti-Americanism compels them to cheer for national failure so that they can lead us into an Orwellian version of Huxley's "Brave, New World."

"Forever fantasizing, neo-liberals smugly claim cerebral and moral superiority over all beings in the sentient universe, and so eschew any guidance from the creator. Moral relativism has become their credo - ever since they repealed natural law. To them the end justifies the means: they are intellectually disordered

There's more, read the whole letter.

We're Number, uh, 34! 

Florida is ranked 18th in the nation in terms of per capita income, but is ranked 34th in the well-being of its children. The Gainesville Sun editorializes that this is nothing to be proud of. Virtually everyone admits that many of the problems are the result of chronic underfunding of the Department of Children and Families. And yet . . .

"Jerry Regier, secretary of the Department of Children & Families, asked for a $473 million budget increase in the coming year for his agency.

"Gov. Jeb Bush recommended a $255 million increase, of which $138 million was to be earmarked for child welfare. The Legislature approved a $91.8 million increase for the agency; $80 million will be targeted to children."

How Did This Guy Get Elected? 

Johnnie Byrd, Speaker of the Florida House, is originally from Alabama. Too bad for Floridians that he didn't stay there.

Now he plans to run for the U.S. Senate, and the Palm Beach Post has an editorial on the ethics of his fundraising for higher office while trying to deal with legislative issues.

UPDATE: A St. Petersburg Times editorial call Byrd's fundraising an "exercise in political extortion".

UPDATE II: The Ocala Star Banner also comments on this: "That Byrd and Co. are busy collecting checks from special interests when Florida's taxpayers are paying tens of thousands of dollars a day for them to tend to vital public business is troubling, at best. That they are doing it so brazenly and so unapologetically is unnerving and offensive to a people who pride themselves in openness in their state government."

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Dark Mutterings 

Daytona Beach News-Journal columnist Mark Lane has a great Florida blog . . . how have I missed this before?

Freshman Enrollment Caps? 

The presidents of Florida's eleven state universities are considering freezing freshman enrollments if a solution to the funding problem is not forthcoming, according to an article in today's Sun-Sentinel.

Some of the smaller schools, such as Florida Gulf Coast, the state's newest university, are reluctant to arbitrarily limit admissions. It is expected that the presidents will make some decision on August 15th.

"By holding off on Tuesday, the presidents put pressure on the state's new Board of Governors, which oversees Florida higher education. The board, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, will make funding recommendations next month to the state Board of Education, an agency Bush also controls."

JEB Holding Up Med Malpratice Compromise 

"We could have had an agreement with the House and could have had it for some time now if not for the governor." This spoken not by a Democrat, but by a Republican legislator.

An article in the Orlando Sentinel reports that since "insurance executives, medical lobbyists and lawyers" have begun to testify under oath, a different picture of the state of health care in Florida is emerging:

"Senators heard this week that more doctors are licensed in Florida than five years ago and that applications to practice medicine are up. Witnesses also testified that hospital emergency rooms are not closing because of rising insurance premiums, and that so-called "frivolous" lawsuits are not an issue in the state."

So why did Gov. Bush call the legislature into special session to address this problem? Oh, right. Trial lawyers.

Monday, July 14, 2003

More Problems for Florida Universities 

The University of Florida expects to lose about 230 professors before the fall term begins, according to an article in the Independent Florida Alligator. This is about three times the normal rate of attrition, and is the result of a state retirement incentive program for senior faculty.

University representatives claim that the departing professors will be replaced, albeit with less experienced faculty. But a former chair of the sociology department admitted, "At some level, this will weaken the university."

"Gov. Strongarm" 

The Lakeland Ledger has a strongly-worded editorial about Gov. Bush's tactics regarding the medical malpractice issue. Among other Florida newpapers calling Bush to task were the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Tampa Tribune.

Why Can't I Visit Cuba? 

Our government won't let most of its citizens travel to Cuba. If you want to go to North Korea, Iran or Syria, that's your right, but not Cuba.

In Sunday's edition of the Sun-Sentinel, its correspondent based in Cuba, Vanessa Bauza, discusses the U.S. government's new restrictions on the already limited travel allowed to that island nation. Come January, there will be no more travel under the "people-to-people" category. You'll still be able to visit Cuba if you have relatives there, or can qualify under "journalist, academic, humanitarian, religious and other licenses."

According to a Treasury Department spokesman, "people-to-people" visits are being ended because they were being abused -- that these trips were just tourist jaunts. But Joe Garcia, head of the Cuban American National Foundation, was probably more on target when he worried that "people-to-people" visitors saw "all of the accomplishments of Cuba's revolution and none of its victims."

Others believe that because people who travel to Cuba return as "advocates for a change in policy," the administration would just as soon keep them from going to Cuba in the first place. Of course in the forty-years or so of preventing most Americans from visiting Cuba, this has been pretty much a bipartisan issue.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

At War With Higher Education in Florida 

Governor Bush likes to portray himself as a champion of education, but he and the legislature seem to be doing just about everything they can to strangle higher education in Florida. The St. Petresburg Times has an editorial today on the state's bad faith in failing to provide promised funds to match private donations to state universities:

"But a matching program that has brought the universities $365-million for scholarships and other support since its creation in 1979 is struggling, thanks to lawmakers who have allowed the state's contributions to lag. A St. Petersburg Times report shows that the state owes its 11 public universities $105-million in matching grants for academic programs, and another $35-million for construction projects. The backlog affects 500 donations and has held up scholarships, research programs and construction projects.

"This penury is worse than bad financial planning. It amounts to a perverse breach of faith. It cheats universities and taxpayers, and it tells the small circle of six- and seven-figure donors to take their philanthropy elsewhere. This is indefensible policy even in good economic times. It's reckless in these tough economic times."

One major donor has already taken back his $750,000 contribution to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

This problem is in addition to decreased funding for the state universities that will restrict new admissions and threaten the viability of Florida's popular prepaid college program.


UPDATE: The Gainesville Sun editorializes on this issue.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Will Florida Formula Work for Graham? 

Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel political columnist Buddy Nevins questions whether or not the campaign tactics that brought Bob Graham success in Florida will work in the Democratic presidential primary. Nevins claims critics think Graham needs to act more presidential.

"The jokes, the songs and the workdays were introduced during the 1978 governor's campaign to make sure voters weren't put off by Graham's pedigree. He is a Harvard Law School graduate whose family of dairy farmers became multimillion-dollar land developers."

His "just one of the boys" appearance made him more acceptable to rural and north Florida voters (many of whom are naturally suspicious of anyone from Miami). But will this play well in Iowa and New Hampshire?

They All Look Alike? 

The Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web describes John Kerry as a "haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Democrat, who by the way served in Vietnam." [my emphasis].

Friday, July 11, 2003

Florida Counties Named for Governors 

Although Florida has 67 counties, only six are named for governors. The first two counties that took a governor's name (Jackson and Duval) were were formed in 1822, soon after Florida became a territory.

It took almost a century before another county was named for a Florida governor when Broward County was created in 1915.

In the 1920s the last three were established: Hardee (1921), Gilchrist (1925) and Martin (1925). None since.

Three of the counties were named for sitting governors -- Duval, Hardee and Martin. Apparently none of these governors lived in counties for which they loaned their names.

Degrees of Importance 

Eugene Volokh has been posting on misleading headlines in the Washington Post. I would think that he should be more concerned that, at best, the president wasn't getting important information rather than whether the headline said "Bush" when it would have been more precise to use "White House."

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Are We Not Better Than This? 

Moronic anti-French behavior has reached a new low, according to this New York Times article.

Monday, July 07, 2003

The Law Nobody Supported 

A column in the Miami Herald by Paul Crespo provides the usual intemperate rant against the recent Supreme Court decisions on sodomy laws and affirmative action. Like many who oppose the majority opinion regarding anti-sodomy laws, Crespo takes pains to state "... few will argue that state anti-sodomy statutes are rationally defensible, but the fact is that most of the few statutes left were ignored or simply not enforced."

It is somewhat amazing that so many conservatives think that anti-sodomy laws are beyond defense, and yet these laws have remained on the books in over a dozen states -- states whose governments are for the most part strongly conservative, if not uniformily Republican. Florida has had an anti-sodomy law for some time now, but I don't remember Crespo ever calling for the legislature to remove it from the state statutes.

But a more critical issue is generated by Crespo's comment to the effect that the anti-sodomy laws were not a major problem because they were "ignored or simply not enforced." Laws that are consciously ignored or not enforced are dangerous in that they can then be selectively enforced. At the very least, such laws give the perception of selective enforcement -- or was it a coincidence that Lawrence and Garner were, in addition to being gay, an interracial couple?

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Naming High Schools 

This coming school year Broward County will open a new educational facility called Monarch High School. At first blush this seems an odd name, especially considering we just finished celebrating our nation's 227th anniversary of breaking away from King George III. But it turns out the school is not being named for hereditary rulers, but for the butterfly. An odd name, justified only because it is located in the municipality of Coconut Creek, which bills itself as the "butterfly capital of the world." As far As I can tell, it's the only high school in Florida named for an animal (Bradenton's Manatee High doesn't count, since it was named for the county).

We've come quite a ways from when high schools were named for the cities and towns in which they were located. With few exceptions, it appears that of late school boards have sought to avoid potential controversy and have opted for names that sound good, but have little significance. Thus we have high schools named Cypress Bay (Weston), Cypress Creek (Orlando) and Cypress Lake (Ft. Myers), as well as Ridgeview (Orange Park), Ridgewood (New Port Ritchie) and River Ridge (also New Port Ritchie).

Few Florida high schools are named for presidents. There are two Washingtons (Pensacola and Miami), a Lincoln (Tallahassee), a Jackson (Jacksonville, of course) and a Jefferson (Tampa), but no Roosevelt or JFK. And no Jefferson Davis. There are, however, two high schools named after Confederate generals, both in Jacksonville -- Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The few modern Floridians for whom high schools have been named include Marjorie Stoneman Douglas (Parkland) and Lawton Chiles (Tallahassee). I'll ignore Miami-Dade County's tendency to name high schools after sitting school board members.

I rather prefer school names that have historical significance, but I guess I would have to chose Monarch over Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

In deciding to begin blogging, I am reminded of a Florida state senator who when asked why he ran for office in the first place, responded that he was driving in his car, listening to news about legislative goings on when it came to him, "I can do better." He probably did better than most, but less than some. For a politician that's not too bad.

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