Florida editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Jun. 07, 2018
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
Palm Beach Post says excuses and extensions are no replacement for backup power:
A mere six days before the start of the 2018 storm season, according to the state's Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), only 48 nursing homes and 91 assisted living facilities (ALFs) reported having the equipment or passing site inspections showing they have the necessary backup power for cooling in case of a blackout.
Another 348 nursing homes and 343 ALFs requested extensions to give them more time to install equipment and have it inspected to meet the requirements set by new rules put in place by the Florida Legislature earlier this year, AHCA added.
For the record, there are 685 nursing homes in the state and 3,102 ALFs. They were given until June 1 to assure us they could care for tens of thousands of our state's most vulnerable residents if a storm knocked out power and their air conditioning.
We're still waiting.
And despite Gov. Rick Scott and a Republican-dominated legislature promising a hard line against nursing homes and ALFs in the wake of Hurricane Irma, the families of these residents are still waiting.
As state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach, told the Post's John Pacenti: "After Irma, I got a lot of calls from family members who couldn't get hold of a loved one. They just want to know if their loved ones are safe after the storm. It's scary."
Their worst nightmare scenario unfolded in Irma's aftermath last September when 12 elderly residents at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died from the sweltering heat after the facility lost power. Their deaths, the subject of a homicide investigation and several lawsuits, prompted Scott to initially issue emergency rules that required facilities to have generators installed. But the emergency rules sparked successful legal challenges from some industry groups concerned about the potential costs. The state appealed the decision and continued to enforce the rules, but also worked with Republican legislative leaders on codifying a pair of permanent rules.
But these new rules don't require that the equipment be installed, which indicates it could be portable, and don't mandate a generator be used to keep air temperatures cool. They instead suggest generators but allow for each provider to determine the most appropriate equipment to meet their facility needs. Nursing homes and ALFs are required to submit a safety plan verifying they've met the requirement to supply electricity and keep temperatures at 81 degrees or lower for 96 hours.
So what does it say that even with these watered-down rules, 254 nursing homes and 313 ALFs have already been approved for extensions up to Dec. 31 — including 17 and 16 in Palm Beach County, respectively — long after this hurricane season will be over?
"I don't believe it's fair to say that if a facility submitted a request for an extension it doesn't mean they won't be ready," Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) spokeswoman Kristen Knapp said in an email to News Service of Florida.
The FHCA, which represents the state's nursing home industry, and others blame the facilities' delays on everything from local zoning approvals to construction delays to an inability to schedule site inspections. According to data from AHCA, which is charged with tracking and enforcing the new rules, only 68 nursing homes had been surveyed and approved by the agency's Office of Plans and Construction. State fire marshals, who are also authorized to assist in inspections, have approved 96 ALFs as of May 25.
Skip Gregory, who served as Florida's chief of health care facility plans and construction for 17 years, told the News Service of Florida that the industry is moving to comply with the new rules but that it takes time.
"It's not as simple as snapping your fingers and saying. 'Let there be air conditioning at all nursing home and ALFs,' " he said.
No one expected all nursing homes and ALFs to meet the June 1 deadline, for many of the same reasons cited by industry representatives. But the number reported by AHCA is both dismal and less than reassuring. As of May 25, for example, seven nursing homes and 82 ALFs in Palm Beach County had yet to report their emergency power plan.
It should be noted that a final accounting is expected by Friday.
Rather than continue to making excuses, we hope more nursing home and ALF operators show they're making preparations.
Orlando Sentinel on academic standards at private schools that receive state funding:
For years, education leaders in Florida have been ratcheting up standards and expectations for students in public schools. Policymakers have increased the passing scores on the state-mandated tests that determine whether students can graduate and the grades their schools receive. Just last month, they voted to hike the required scores for graduation for public school students who take alternative tests. They ruled out one option because it didn't match the "rigor, complexity and breadth" of the state's math standards.
In 2016, state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart explained the logic behind this approach. "Even as we have continued to raise the bar for student performance and implemented more rigorous standards by which schools are graded, Florida's educators and students have continued to excel," she said.
Schools Without Rules
Yet there is a glaring inequity in state policy when it comes to academic standards at the private schools students attend with state scholarships. Those students aren't required to take the state exams. The law doesn't even allow Stewart's Department of Education to evaluate their curricula. There's no focus at all by the department on rigor, complexity and breadth. As a result, at least some of those students aren't getting the quality of education they need to succeed, and taxpayers aren't getting their money's worth.
Nearly 2,000 private schools are educating 140,000 low-income or special-needs students in Florida using almost $1 billion provided through three state scholarship programs. It's public money that comes directly from state revenues, or dollars donated by corporations in lieu of paying taxes that would otherwise end up in state coffers.
In a story published in Sunday's Sentinel, the three journalists behind last year's award-winning investigative series, "Schools Without Rules," reported how almost half the 151 schools newly approved by Stewart's department to enroll scholarship students for the 2017-18 academic year used instructional materials judged as substandard by a group of educational experts from Florida colleges and school districts.
Dinosaurs and people
The Sentinel's story highlighted multiple examples of distorted history and science lessons in the materials. Students are taught, for example, that the civil rights movement was sparked by "power-hungry individuals who stirred up" black and white southerners who "had long lived together in harmony." Lessons disparage non-European cultures, though about 60 percent of scholarship students are black or Hispanic.
Students at some scholarship schools also learn that dinosaurs and humans lived together, and they are discouraged from doing their own scientific experiments and asking questions. A biology lecturer at the University of Central Florida who reviewed the science materials said students taught from them would be "intellectually disadvantaged," and unprepared for further study in college.
The experts the Sentinel consulted also said the math and reading texts at some scholarship schools are inferior to instructional materials used in public schools. Those texts emphasize repetition as a learning strategy, and students using them are not challenged to think critically.
Under one set of materials, known as Accelerated Christian Education or ACE, students work alone completing workbooks with little instruction from teachers or interactions with classmates. Several schools using ACE actually touted the fact that it works regardless of the credentials of the teachers. "Your children won't be held back by our unqualified teachers" is not a very impressive marketing pitch.
Education reform, round 2
In "Schools Without Rules," Sentinel journalists spot-checked scholarship schools in Central Florida and uncovered a slew of problems. Some schools hired educators without college degrees. Some hired staff with criminal records. Some falsified health and safety records. Some faced evictions from their campuses in the middle of the school year for not paying their bills.
In response, Florida legislators this year approved some modest new requirements for scholarship schools. They made it harder for those schools to hide their owners' criminal convictions or to forge health and safety inspections They left out a common-sense proposal, however, to require the schools to hire teachers with college degrees.
The revelations in Sunday's story underscore the need for legislators to make another, more serious attempt to raise the bar at private schools subsidized with state scholarships. The next round needs to include some standards for instructional materials. Policymakers owe it to students with state scholarships, and to taxpayers footing the bill.
This should not be hard sell — if those policymakers want all students educated with public money to excel.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune on a looming shortage of nurses:
The United States is, in many ways, a land of plenty.
But demographics, technology and societal changes are threatening to create shortages — not in, say, food products or consumer goods, but in people willing, able and trained to perform vital jobs that often save or shape lives.
A front-page article in Sunday's Herald-Tribune by Barbara Peters Smith highlighted the challenges and consequences of a looming shortage of nurses, especially those with the skills and education to provide care that requires ever-increasing knowledge — in addition to the compassion that patients want and deserve.
The challenges and consequences of an impending nursing shortage are being experienced nationwide, but particularly in our region, which has one of the oldest per-capita populations in the United States.
Fortunately, private-sector groups such as the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition, and public institutions, including the State College of Florida and the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee, are working feverishly to get ahead of the curve.
SNAC has hired a "navigator" who is committed to helping nurses and would-be nurses advance their education and training efficiently and based on their needs; this kind of assistance is vital, especially for prospective students who are already busy and working.
One of SNAC's priorities is to increase the number of nurses with advanced degrees, based on evidence that the additional learning translates into better care. To that end, the coalition has offered scholarships, and SCF and USF have worked to streamline the pursuit of bachelor's degrees.
These are admirable efforts, but insufficient statewide.
Florida's funding of community colleges and local universities, in particular, must be enhanced and the processes for training and educating health care practitioners re-examined.
And, yes, at some point, Florida and other states should re-examine the practicality of expecting students in high-demand jobs to assume large loans and other debts in order to prepare for the state's future. (By the way, these professionals pay taxes on good incomes.)
The same can be said of other professions and jobs where shortages loom: physicians and physician assistants; teachers; law enforcement officers.
It is crucial for private investors to leverage existing assets. Already, donors are supporting the Florida State University College of Medicine in Sarasota. Having a training ground in our region increases the likelihood that graduates will remain here and practice medicine. But more private and public support is warranted locally and throughout the state.
Due to a convergence of factors — including the retirement of Baby Boomers, a devaluing of the teaching profession and pay — a shortage of motivated, high-quality teachers is already impacting schools. Cognizant of this crisis, the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation has launched an initiative to ask and answer this question: Why is it so difficult for public schools to retain good teachers?
In its first phase, the foundation received 789 survey responses from teachers in the Sarasota County School District. More work will come after the replies are analyzed.
Whether the shortage involves teachers or nurses, or plumbers, for that matter, it is vital to seek advice from the practitioners — before coming to "solutions."