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Bright Futures Harder to Get

August 31st, 2010 by flanews

Incoming college freshmen are finding out their Bright Futures Scholarships don’t go as far as the scholarships given to the upperclassmen. High school students are finding it harder to win the waning award. As Whitney Ray tells us, the SAT requirements to receive a Bright Future scholarship are increasing in an effort to save the state money.

High School Senior Tori Bradley scored a 12-80 on her SAT: more than enough points to land her a full Bright Futures scholarship,

“It’s going to pay for a lot of my undergraduate, because, I’m going to have graduate school to pay for,” said Tori.

The scholarship program was started in 1997, with a few thousand being awarded the first year; now 170-thousand students are receiving Bright Futures.

The scholarship program costs the state more than 400-million dollars last year, but lawmakers have a plan to shave a 100 million off the cost by raising the standards. Board of Governors Chancellor Frank Brogan says the program is getting too expensive.

“If I were going to give any student advice today, middle school, high school, or even elementary, I would say start working for that Bright Futures Scholarship now,” said Brogan.

To qualify for the full award students must score a 12-70 or higher on the SAT. For the class of 2013 the standards will be raised 10 points. The qualifying standard will top off in 2014, when students will have to score a 12-90 for the top award. Senior Chris Hill scored a 13-20, but is still disheartened to see the standards go up.

“It’s still just a bad situation for students where they are going to have to continually increase every year because that’s going to be difficult and the test isn’t going to get any easier,” said Chris.

In 2008 the average SAT score in Florida was 993, good enough for a partial scholarship now, but not for the class of 2013. The standards are going up even more for students looking to land a partial Bright Futures scholarship. Right now students can get 75 percent of their classes paid for if they score a 9-70 or better by 2014, they’ll need to score a 10-50.

Posted in Children, Education, State News | 1 Comment »

Republican Unity Tour

August 31st, 2010 by flanews

Just a week after accusing him of fraud and spending millions of dollars on that message, the GOP troops are falling in line behind their nominee Rick Scott.

Scott beat party-backed Bill McCollum in last week’s Republican Primary for governor. McCollum is still holding out his endorsement, but almost every other GOP leader is backing Scott. Jeb Bush is expected to eat dinner with Scott tonight, in an effort to show party unity. Florida Democrats aren’t buying it. Chairwoman Karen Thurman says the Republicans are still divided.

“They are out there for themselves and that has been proven by their lavish spending, through their credit cards, that has been proven through the fact that they can’t come together at the end of an election and feel good about themselves. It’s a sad day for them,” said Thurman.

But Republican leaders say it’s a happy day. After spending 50 million of his own dollars, Scott is enjoying a “rock star” status and has agreed to raise money for the party.

Posted in Politics, State News | 1 Comment »

Textbook Alternatives

August 30th, 2010 by flanews

Over the past two decades the price of college textbooks has risen at twice the rate of inflation. On average students are spending 400 dollars a semester on books, but that is starting to change. As Whitney Ray tells us, state and federal law are forcing universities, publishers and professors to provide alternatives to costly texts.

FSU Junior Stephani Gallager has an arm load of books that will cost her a boat load at the cash register.

“I would say about 300, 350 dollars, because I like to buy mine because I’m interested in the subjects,” said Gallager.

Sophomore Roshelle Sagarra is spending 400 dollars for her books.

“Tuition is already expensive; we are all already going through hard times,” said Roshelle.

But hope is on the horizon. Thrifty students can now download 170 free books online, and print copies of other titles for a fraction of the original cost. State law, for the first time is forcing universities to find cheap alternatives to new books. The University System’s Board of Governor’s is helping implement the changes.

“Hopefully we are going to see, and I think we are, the overall cost of textbooks begin to come down,” said BOG Chancellor Frank Brogan.

The new laws ban professors from taking gifts from publishers or turning a profit by require their students to buy the books they’ve written.

Apart from the new rules making textbooks cheaper a lot of bookstores like this one have rental programs allowing students to check out a title for a full semester for half price.

We found Roshelle renting a history book Monday.

“I just figured it would be cheap, and I’m not sure if I’m going to be using that book as much because it’s used later in the year,” said Roshelle.

The board of governor is working with bookstores to expand the rental program and will continue to work to lower textbook costs and put more titles online.

Soon college textbooks may be duty free. State lawmakers are working on eliminating sales taxes on textbooks as another way to bring the cost down.

Posted in Education, State News | No Comments »

U.S. Senate Race Begins with Fight Over Jobs

August 30th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Continuing fears over economic recovery are pushing the issue of jobs and economic  growth to the front of the race for the US Senate. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, all three of the candidates are seeking some sort of tax cuts, some more specific than others.

Kendrick Meek is the Democrats’ conquering hero, getting almost 60 percent of the primary vote. Meeks says his first jobs as U.S. Senator will be to create jobs by working with local governments on needed local construction projects.

“I’m for investment, domestic investment, that will bring about job opportunities, and tax credits,” Meek said.

Independent Charlie Crist told realtors over the weekend that he would extend the 8 thousand dollar tax credit for homebuyers. Realtors love the idea.

“It was enormously successful,” John Seebree with the Florida Realtors’ Association said. “Florida alone had 22 months in a row of increased home sales.”

Republican Marco Rubio says on his web site that he is for tax cuts, but he offers no specifics.

Jobs are the issue today, and will continue to be an issue, though many political observers believe the outcome will hinge on one thing: turnout.

A higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats turned out last Tuesday. But political scientist Lance de Haven Smith says that is unlikely on election day.

“Generally, in the off-year elections, Democrats struggle,” De Haven Smith said. “But this year, they have an African-American and a female at the top of the ticket and that’s going to generate a higher turnout for them.”

But Republicans will control more soft or so called 527 money. That money is often used for negative advertising…and negative advertising more often than not drives down turnout.

Posted in Business, Economy, Elections, Politics, State News, Unemployment, Voting | No Comments »

NPA Appetite Growing

August 27th, 2010 by flanews

Florida voters with no party affiliation are the fastest growing portion of the electorate with one out of every five voters in Florida now registered NPA. And as Whitney Ray tells us, the movement isn’t just sweeping voters; politicians are also taking a piece of the no party pie.

Emily Womer says her political views are too complex to fit under the Democrat or Republican umbrella.

“Sometimes I agree more with one, but I don’t necessarily agree with how they are going about doing it, so, I mean, I’m a little in-between sometimes depending on the issue,” said Womer.

Emily joins a growing number of Florida voters dropping their party affiliation and registering NPA. There are 2.1 Million of them making up 20 percent of all Florida voters; four million are registered Republicans, 4.6 Million Democrats.

The growing number of independents is a sign that voters aren’t just getting sick with incumbents, They are also are getting sick of parties.
And politicians like Governor Charlie Crist are following suit.

“I look forward to November; I think it was an interesting primary election day to say the least,” said Crist.

A primary Crist was able to avoid when he left the Republican Party for no party. Another independent candidate making waves is Bud Chiles, son of former Governor Lawton Chiles. Formerly a Democrat, he left his party to pursue the governor’s office.

“They are sick and tired of this big money food fight that’s going on and they know this political system is benefiting the few and not the many,” said Chiles.

Despite the growing number of NPA voters, the road for independent candidates is a long one; they’ll be taking on candidates who have party backing, which means free political ads and hundreds of party staff and volunteers helping campaign.

The number of NPA voters in Florida has grown steadily every year since 2000 when just 1.2 million Floridians registered with No Party Affiliation.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Elections, Politics, State News | 3 Comments »

McCollum Still Questioning Scott’s Character

August 26th, 2010 by flanews

The Modus Operandi for the loser of a Primary Election is to congratulate the victor, and offer an endorsement. Just one day after the vicious battle for the Republican nomination ended Bill McCollum congratulated Rick Scott, but he’s holding out on his endorsement. As Whitney Ray tells us, McCollum still has questions about Scott’s character.

Three of Rick Scott’s so-called “Insiders” were in the capitol Thursday, conducting the state’s business.

His former foe, Attorney General Bill McCollum defeated; his new opponent Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, just launching her campaign.

“I intend to run a very aggressive campaign. I think it’s important for the people of Florida to be able to compare the two candidates,” said Sink.

Sink has launched a new TV ad and is planning to run as an outsider, even thought that’s the mantra that led Scott to the Republican Nomination.

The 50 million dollars in TV ads destroyed McCollum’s campaign. After holding out for a night McCollum called Scott to congratulate him, but is holding out his endorsement.

“I still have serious questions about issues with his character, his integrity, his honestly, things that go back to Columbia/HCA,” said McCollum.

The man Scott is running to replace had very little to say about the political newcomer, and offered him no advise on being the Republican nominee.

While Crist has few words for Scott, Sink has plenty, and you can bet they’ll come out once the gloves come off. Fundraising for the General Election is now underway. Sink, Scott and independent candidate Bud Chiles are all on the money trail. Today Scott is making news; agreeing to bury the hatchet and raise money for the Republican Party of Florida.

Posted in McCollum, Politics, State News | 1 Comment »

TaxWatch CEO Honored

August 26th, 2010 by flanews

When Florida journalists and lawmakers alike need complex state budget questions answered, they turn to one organization: Florida TaxWatch.

The non-profit government watchdog has been breaking down the budget, finding waste and making policy suggestions for three decades. Today the Governor and state Cabinet honored the group’s Chief Executive Officer Dominic Calabro for his 30 years of service. Calabro says of all his years at TaxWatch, this is the most important.

“The need for what TaxWatch does, to help find thoughtful, responsible cost-savings, eliminate waste and inefficiency in government, has never been more important,” said Calabro.

Calabro began working at TaxWatch in 1980, was named senior research analyst two years later and in 1986 he took the reins.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Late LeRoy Collins Replaced by Friend

August 26th, 2010 by flanews

Nearly a month after Admiral LeRoy Collins was killed riding his bike, Governor Charlie Crist has named the admiral’s friend as his replacement.

General Bob Milligan will take over at the Dept of Veterans Affairs. General Milligan served 39 years in the Marine Corps and more recently acted as interim director of Florida State Board of Administration. Milligan says he’s honored to take over for his late friend.

“Leroy Collins was a good friend of mine and a classmate of mine at the Naval Academy and he is a big set of shoes to fill, and he left a great staff so I’m confident that we’ll get the job done,” said Milligan.

Milligan says he’ll use his time at the helm to focus on the conditions and service at veteran’s hospitals and nursing homes.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

RPOF: The Morning After

August 25th, 2010 by flanews

Republicans spoke and the man they want to be their next governor isn’t the candidate the Republican Party of Florida was backing. Rick Scott narrowly beat Attorney General Bill McCollum after a brutal and expensive primary battle. As Whitney Ray tells us, the party chairman says Republicans will rally behind Scott.

It took 50 million dollars and some questionable attack ads, but multi-millionaire Rick Scott defeated the establishment candidate, leaving a trail of Republicans in his path. Scott receive rebuke from GOP party chairman John Thrasher when he released an ad drawing a connection between the indicted former chairman and Bill McCollum.

When McCollum finally conceded victory, he failed to endorse or even congratulate the Republican nominee, but Thrasher congratulated Scott and released a statement saying quote: “I’m confident that Republicans across the state will rally around our new nominee.”’

RPOF Spokeswoman Katie Gordon Betta says Thrasher will meet with Scott, Thursday.

“We’re optimistic that the party is going to have great working relationship with the Scott campaign and we are going to work together to beat Alex Sink,” said Betta.

Republican strategists say the base will get behind their nominee, but it will be up to Scott to make nice with the party.

“He may choose not to have the healing. Maybe he likes the outsider role. Maybe he does not want the help of the other party regulars who have been in the trenches for a couple of decades,” said Pete Dunbar, a Republican Strategist.

Democratic strategists say the infighting bodes well for his party’s nominee, Alex Sink.

“I think in the end you are going to have some Republican that may hold their noses, not go public for Scott and endorse Sink or help Sink,” said Screven Watson a Democratic Strategist.

Wednesday Sink released this ad focusing on her career in business and her moderate positions. Sink once planned on running as an outsider, but rival Scott now has that ground to himself.

Sink has five million dollars in the bank right now. Scott pumped 50 million of his own dollars into his primary fight. There’s no telling how much more he’s willing to spend in the General Election.

Posted in Elections, McCollum, Politics, State News | No Comments »

Bondi Vs. Gelber

August 25th, 2010 by flanews

The battle to replace Attorney General Bill McCollum is already underway, with a State Senator taking on a Tampa prosecutor. Senator Dan Gelber won the Democratic primary easily, and Pam Bondi eked by in a three way Republican race. Republican Party of Florida Spokeswoman Katie Gordon Betta says Bondi’s record as a prosecutor will help her on the campaign trail.

“She has a strong record as a prosecutor and I think what Republicans are looking for in that race is somebody who is going to continue what General McCollum with really fighting back against Obamacare. I think that’s been one of the big issues that’s really driven Republicans to come out and support our candidates,” said Bondi.

Bondi is one of three women seeking three of the four offices in the State Capitol. The other two are Alex Sink who is running for Governor and Loranne Ausley for Chief Financial Officer.

Posted in Elections, Politics, State News | 1 Comment »

Florida Election Watch

August 24th, 2010 by flanews

Tonight, months of campaigning and millions of dollars spent will pay off for some and prove fruitless for others. Voters and candidates will be glued to their televisions and searching the web to try and be the first with the results. As Whitney Ray tells us, a new Division of Elections website is promising the fastest and easiest way to find election results in the state.

Lola Simmons has done her research, cast her ballot and is now waiting to see who will win. Her decades long tradition is to stay up watching election results on TV.

“We are going to watch TV. It’s very interesting,” said Lola.

But the tech savvy voters now have more options: watch the results on this channel and visit the Division of Election new website.

Florida Election Watch will be updated when the polls close in the Central Time Zone. Then every three minutes after that. The site makes it easier to find specific races.

“For the voter or interested person they can click on a county and see all the races by that county or they can click specific races around the state they are interested in,” said Jennifer Krell Davis, a spokeswoman with the Division of Elections.

To sort by race click on one of the Federal, State, County or Judicial links on the left side of the page. To view results by County or District us the map on the right.

Viewers can also build their own results pages, by clicking on the plus sign by races they want to follow and the minus sign by races they don’t.

To find out when the results are final for a specific county, click on the County button on the left side of the screen, scroll down to the county you’re interested in and look for these Red Xs to be replaced by Green checkmarks.

The Division of Elections is expecting a lot of traffic on its new site tonight. They tested the site earlier this week using the volume of traffic on their old site from the 2008 primary and the new site passed with flying colors. The Florida Election Watch site, is enight.elections.myflorida.com

Posted in Elections, State News | No Comments »

Florida Wins Race to the Top

August 24th, 2010 by flanews

After losing in the first round of the Race to the Top Competition, Florida was named one of the second round winners today. The state could receive as much as 700 million dollars, but the actual dollar amount won’t be known for at least another day. The money will then be divided among Florida’s school districts, with the districts presenting the best education reform plans receiving the most money. Department of Education Spokesman Tom Butler says the changes will be monumental.

“Probably over the next four years is really where we are going to see this thing play out. For students it’s going to be drastic increases in their academic performance. We have some bold innovated strategies that we are going to be employing here, and districts are going to be employing locally to really speed up our students’ progress,” said Butler.

The Florida Education Association helped shape the state’s Race to the Top Application. Spokesman Mark Pudlow says without bringing the teachers union, parents, and administrators to the table, Florida might have lost again.

“It is something that will allow us to look at what works and what doesn’t work, and what works we’ll be able to expand on and what doesn’t work we’ll be able to try something else,” said Pudlow.

Details of how Race to the Top money will be spent and what changes they will usher in are still vague, but we do know that some of the money will be used to award teachers based on their students’ performance in the classroom.

Posted in Children, Education, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

360-Thousand Vote Early

August 23rd, 2010 by flanews

The Primary Election is tomorrow and already more than 360-thousand Floridians have cast ballots. That’s up from the 260-thousand that voted early in the 2006 primary election. As Whitney Ray tells us, the spike in early voting could help results get out faster once the polls close tomorrow night.

Marlene Greenfield is retired and spends hours every week sculpting things out of clay. She has time to vote in Tuesday’s Primary, but she’ll use it to do more molding.

“We like to vote early, in fact we used to go downtown to the courthouse and we would have to stand in line just to vote early, but Monday we went up to the library and there was no line,” said Greenfield.

Marlene is one of more than 360-thousand Floridians who cast early ballots, a 30% increase from Florida’s 2006 Primary Election. Still most people prefer to vote on Election Day.

Sue Deasy was also sculpting Monday. She’s known who she’s going to vote for weeks, but refuses to vote early, citing tradition.

“It’s the energy of going to the polls that day and being a part of voting,” said Deasy.

The growing demand for convenience and new technology isn’t just changing when we vote; it’s also changing how fast we get results. The Division of Elections, will test a new website Tuesday, allowing viewers to single out races and view results fast than ever before.

“Our results are updated every three minutes and for the voter or interested person they can click on a county and see all the races by county or they can click specific races,” said Jennifer Krell Davis, a spokeswoman for he Division of Elections.

And the first results, which will include early and absentee votes, will go live shortly after polls in the Central time zone close. Starting tomorrow people who visit the Division of Elections website will be redirected to the Election Results Page. Those web addresses are: election.dos.state.fl.us and enight.elections.myflorida.com

Escoffery Running With Little Money

Most voters know the names of the major candidates that will appear on tomorrow’s primary ballot, but there are a handful of people making a run at office who don’t have millions of dollars pumped into their campaigns. Dr. Bill Escoffery III is a Fort Walton Beach doctor and lawyer who was born in Jamaica and moved to Florida 35 years ago. Escoffery is running against heavily favored Marco Rubio for the Republican nomination for US Senate. Escoffery says Rubio would benefit from a few more years in the private sector and worries that questions about his involvement with a State Republican Party money scandal could make him vulnerable to attacks or even an indictment.

“He still has some issues about GOP credit cards to answer and I believe that FBI investigation is ongoing. What’s going to happen if he wins the primary and gets out there against Crist with that? I don’t know,” said Escoffery.

Escoffery want to reverse the new health care law, place Christian values in the classroom and fight for state’s rights.

Posted in Elections, State News, Voting | No Comments »

Greene Discounts Polls Showing Him Losing

August 23rd, 2010 by flanews

Billionaire Democratic US Senate candidate Jeff Greene was hop scotching the state today in search of primary voters.

In Tallahassee he found more reporters than voters. He discounted polls showing him behind by double digits and says he is the only candidate not taking special interest money, so he is best suited to represent the people. He also pledged to support the Democratic nominee, but continues to say he expects that to be him.

“Any Democrat is an improvement over the Republicans. But I intend to be the Democratic nominee and I will caucus with the Democrats, for sure, absolutely, 100 percent. And I will fight to advance the ideals and the goals of the Democratic Party when I get to Washington. Charlie Crist is a Republican and he’s trying to be a make-believe Independent now and it’s just not the case,” said Greene.

Green took note the St. Pete Times and Miami Herald apologized for unconfirmed stories about excessive partying on his yacht, and contends the stories were drummed up by his opponent for political gain.

Posted in Elections, Politics, State News | No Comments »

Unemployment 11.5 percent

August 20th, 2010 by flanews

For the first time in more than three years Florida added almost three thousand news jobs, but even with the new jobs, the unemployment rate still rose by one tenth of a percent and as Whitney Ray tells us, more than 300 thousand Floridians are clinging to extended unemployment benefits.

Kojo Khayralla is an out-of-work truck driver. He’s been looking for work for the last nine months, with no luck.

“I been getting a few interviews, but mostly, there it ends,” said Kojo.

Starting in April, Florida’s unemployment rate fell for three straight months. But in July it went back up by a tenth of a percent to 11.5 percent. The monthly increase is being overshadowed by the first job increase in Florida since the recession began.

“This is Florida’s first gain in jobs over the year since June of 2007,” said Rebecca Rust, chief economist for AWI.

But we are still at least six years away from reaching normal employment levels. Last month Congress voted to extended unemployment pay for thousands of people who’ve run out of benefits. Those unemployment checks have been circulating for three weeks.

“The Agency for Workforce Innovation has paid more than 300 million dollars to approximately 300 thousand Floridians,” said Robby Cunningham, spokesman for AWI.

But it almost didn’t happen. The state legislature refused to clear a path for Florida to receive the extended pay. But Governor Charlie Crist issued an executive order that got the cash flowing.

The 27-hundred new jobs are a good sign, but economists say the unemployment rate will likely rise a little more before the end of the year… and if you factor in people who have stopped looking for jobs… the unemployment rate is almost 20 percent.

Posted in State News, Unemployment | No Comments »

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