Issues of Interest

SCHOLARSHIP AUDIT A routine audit at the Department of Education discovered that a small percentage of students receiving Personal Learning Scholarships, named Gardiner Scholarships this past session after Senate President Andy Gardiner, were later classified as ineligible to receive the scholarship money this school year because they re-enrolled in public school. Jacksonville-based Step Up for Children vetted the applications. The scholarships are for students with certain disabilities to pay for alternative education outside the traditional public school system, such as home or private school, instructional materials and specialized services like physical therapy. The students may not receive funding if they attend a traditional public school. Of the 114 students identified, 85 had returned the full amount of the scholarship money before it was spent.

UNIVERSITIES College students are being encouraged to complete their education in four years. At the 2016 Education Summit in early June, Governor Scott announced his “Finish in Four, Save More” challenge to persuade more students to finish their studies in four years. He is requesting colleges and universities make several changes, including removing additional fees for online classes, making it easier for students to get class credit for internships in their field, ensuring that students get college credit for AP courses from high school and encouraging the Legislature to expand the Bright Futures Scholarship to cover summer courses.

Florida Gulf Coast University is offering a rebate program to incoming freshman this fall if they successfully graduate in four years.  Students must meet certain requirements to qualify for reimbursement of up to 30 earned credit hours during their first year.

And incoming Senate President Joe Negron (R-Palm City) would also like to see more university students graduating in four years. He is advocating “block tuition” as he tours the State this summer. One of his proposals allows students to pay for 12 credit hours yet lets them enroll for 15 credits. Taking only 12 credits a semester means a student would need 10 rather than eight semesters to graduate, saving the students and the State money.

STATE EMPLOYEE CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS A review by the Florida Office of the Auditor General into the State’s Employee Charitable Campaign has raised concerns over how much of the employee contributions are going to company fees instead of the charities for whom the donations are designated. Solix Management Solutions, headquartered in New Jersey, has served as the fiscal agent for the state program since 2012, taking over from The United Way. Contributions have been steadily decreasing with workers contributing $546,000 last fall. About 71 cents of every dollar goes to Solix to pay overhead costs.

ORLANDO MARIJUANA FINES The City of Orlando passed an ordinance on a 4-3 vote which will decriminalize possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana.  The ordinance, scheduled to take effect on October 1st, imposes a $100 civil fine for the first offense and $200 for the second.  Twenty grams of pot is enough for approximately 30 joints.

POLICE BODY CAMERAS The Miami-Dade Police Department, Florida’s largest law enforcement department, has pledged $5.5 million for the purchase of body cameras and related training to use them effectively and legally. The Department’s goal is to have 1,000 cameras in the field by the end of September. The City of Orlando has postponed its program due to a possible conflict of interest with its officers.  The new target date for the additional 450 cameras is the first quarter of 2017.

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