Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal on the state should continue working to cut recidivism:
The state of Florida is no longer locking people up for a period of time and then releasing them, hoping they don't come back.
So said Mike Crews, secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, in a recent news conference. The dropping rate of recidivism — when ex-prisoners commit new crimes — is paying off for Florida, saving taxpayers about $44 million.
The state needs to maintain such efforts. A top priority of the penal system should be to rehabilitate offenders. Locking offenders up is a crude but necessary method of dealing with crime, but few prisoners should be considered beyond rehabilitation. Most state prisoners can become law-abiding citizens.
Rehabilitation and in-prison education increase the likelihood that offenders won't come back. But it's not always easy to convince prisoners that they have a future outside. Just the renewal of freedom is not enough for many offenders. Once out of prison, some tend to get into trouble again.
Yet the tide may be turning. ...
Gov. Rick Scott and officials will reward Corrections Department employees with direct roles in the drop with one-time $1,000 bonuses, costing $21 million. The employees certainly deserve it, but some of the savings should also be reinvested in more methods to keep the anti-recidivism momentum going. And another chunk of the money should help balance the budget. ...
The Florida prison system has made real strides providing prisoners with the tools they need to get jobs and avoid falling into drug and alcohol abuse. The state has also made great strides in providing mental health treatment for inmates.
Continuing this work with offenders means a safer Florida, more money for other parts of the state budget and a better life for one-time offenders and their families.
Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel on higher education:
If Florida's 12 public universities were students, they might be considered underachievers. Only one, the University of Florida, cracks the nation's top 50.
Yet high-quality higher education in Florida is essential to turn out the talent that will attract investment, create high-wage jobs, and build a better economy and future for the Sunshine State. And state leaders, who have neglected this imperative for years, finally seem ready to give it the attention it needs.
Here are some of the issues lawmakers must confront in their upcoming session if they're serious about improving the quality of the state's universities — colleges, too — while keeping costs for students under control:
State funding: Lawmakers have slashed annual funding for universities by hundreds of millions of dollars since 2008. The universities have made up the difference by raising their tuitions up to 15 percent a year.
Lawmakers cut $300 million for universities last year but promised to restore the money this year. That vow should be their starting point as they draft their next budget.
Tuition: Florida's public universities charge less than their counterparts in most other states, but the 15 percent tuition hikes have squeezed families that didn't budget for them. The timing — amid the Great Recession — couldn't have been worse.
Universities have offered to suspend increases next year in return for another $118 million. This is definitely an offer worth pursuing for lawmakers.
Student debt: Higher tuition is one of the factors driving up the debt owed by Florida's students. The average indebted graduate is now carrying a load of more than $21,000, a drag on his or her own financial independence as well as the broader state economy.
This worrying trend underscores the need to restrain tuition increases. It also argues for gradually paring back merit-based scholarships and redirecting the savings into need-based aid.
Accountability: Universities have proposed tying some of their state funding to performance, including what share of their students graduate. It's about time; figures released in 2012 showed only five universities were graduating at least half their students within six years. This is a scandal.
Other performance measures might also make sense, though lawmakers should be wary of simplistic metrics.
Variability: There's little difference in tuitions at Florida universities, yet big differences among them in reputations and resources. Florida Gulf Coast University just isn't the equal of the University of Florida. ...
The Miami Herald on disabled children at senior nursing homes:
Florida's profoundly disabled children won a significant victory recently when a Miami Gardens nursing home began closing down its much-criticized 60-bed pediatric unit. The same day, the state's Agency for Health Care Administration announced a new set of rules that may make it easier for parents to raise severely disabled children at home — another step in the right direction.
But the state's reprehensible practice of warehousing "medically fragile" children in nursing homes still continues. It has to stop.
Nursing homes aren't the place for children with special medical needs. That's abundantly clear from the troubled record of the Golden Glades Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Miami Gardens. Two teens, Marie Freyre and Bryan Louzada, have died while under the care of the nursing home, sent there by the state against their parents' wishes.
After the girl's death — she died within hours of arriving, after caregivers failed to give her life-saving anti-seizure drugs — the home was fined $300,000 by federal health regulators. But no fine will solve this tragedy.
The U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division has been all over the issue since September, when it sent a letter threatening to sue Florida on grounds that the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The state has vigorously disputed the allegation. ...
... The state health-care agency insists that housing the children in nursing homes doesn't violate federal law, which requires state health regulators to care for those with disabilities in settings that are the least restrictive possible. And it has said the parents of children whose care is paid for by Medicaid, the insurance program for needy and disabled people, decide where the children will live.
But the Justice Department isn't buying. In December, the DOJ offered a proposed settlement to the state. It would require Florida to take all measures possible to end unnecessary institutionalization of children with disabilities and provide adequate community services for parents who want to raise their children at home.
The new AHCA rules — likely a response to the continuing pressure from the feds — go part of the way toward a fix. ...
But what about kids still in nursing homes? With the Miami Gardens nursing home shutting its pediatric unit, several of the children have been reunited with their parents. Some will go to medical foster homes. Most, sadly, will end up in other nursing homes. That's no place for a disabled child.