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Steve Bahmer: Nursing home care in Florida has come a long way in the last 30 years

Steve Bahmer

Since the early 1980s, when the state Agency for Health Care Administration conducted its last major overhaul of the Medicaid payment system for nursing homes, the quality of care in Florida nursing homes has vastly improved.

Although there are still exceptions, Florida is no longer home to the flood of nursing home horror stories that Sunshine State residents heard so frequently, and from so many homes, in the early ‘80s.

Improved regulatory oversight at AHCA and a payment system that rewarded nursing homes for providing high-quality care, among other factors, combined to slowly move Florida into the top tier of states in terms of nursing home quality.

In 2014, the organization Families for Better Care gave Florida nursing homes an ‘A’ grade, one of only 10 states to receive that grade, and it rated Florida fifth overall in the country in terms of care quality. In its 2015 rankings of the nation’s best nursing homes, US News & World Report listed Florida behind only California and Ohio for the number of 5-Star nursing homes in the state.

This may all be about to change.

Earlier this month, AHCA submitted a plan to the Governor and the Legislature for a new approach to nursing home Medicaid payments. The plan was intended to establish an equitable payment system that includes incentives for high-quality care, that simplifies the payment process, and that ultimately controls costs and makes legislators’ budgeting for Medicaid spending on nursing homes more predictable.

What the plan will actually do is penalize the nursing homes that for the last three decades have invested in delivering the highest quality of care possible, while rewarding homes that have remained at the bottom of the quality barrel.

Under AHCA’s proposal, 143 nursing homes that are rated as 4 or 5-star homes would lose significant funding. Meanwhile, 86 nursing homes that received a 1 or 2-star rating would receive additional funding. In fact, a single nursing home chain would reap $16.5 million of that unearned windfall.

Clearly, this is neither equitable nor fair. Moreover, the proposal does nothing to control Medicaid spending on long-term care, or even to make budgeting meaningfully more predictable. The Legislature decides when to fund a rate increase for nursing homes, something it has not done since 2011, and the current payment system includes caps and limits on payments.

Quality care costs money, and those costs are largely driven by staffing levels – the number of nurses and nursing assistants who are available at any given time to care for a frail senior in a nursing home. The best way to ensure that nursing home residents receive quick, consistent, quality care is to ensure a sufficient number of skilled, caring, long-tenured staff to provide that care.

Under the AHCA proposal, however, nursing homes with the highest staffing levels would lose funding, while those with the lowest staffing would gain dollars.

Nursing home care is not improved, or even sustained, by stripping funding from those that have invested in delivering high quality and shifting it to those that, for whatever reason, have not chosen to make that investment. Despite claims in earlier news reports, the plan does not require that the low performers spend any of their new money on care, nor is there any mechanism in the plan to ensure that quality improves.

AHCA’s proposal is not likely to achieve any of the agency’s stated goals.

It is likely, however, to reverse 30 years of progress in improving quality in the homes that care for Florida’s most vulnerable seniors, and the Legislature simply must reject it.

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Steve Bahmer is president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, a nonprofit organization that advocates for quality senior care and services.

Claudia Rodriguez: Motorola Solutions salutes Florida first responders

This week, Floridians are taking pause to recognize and thank the men and women who protect us as we celebrate First Responder Appreciation Week. First responders make countless sacrifices and put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe. Motorola Solutions Florida employees salute them for their endless support to those in need each day and during times of crisis.

At the same time, our hearts go out to the families and friends of Master Sgt. Debra Clayton of the Orlando Police Department, and Deputy First Class Norman Lewis of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, who were killed in the line of duty this week.

Our thoughts and prayers are also with the families that were impacted by the shooting last week at Fort Lauderdale International Airport. Our hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones. We are thankful that through the cooperation of first responders across city, county and state agencies, many lives were protected during this time of tragedy and chaos.

Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel have gone above and beyond not only to educate the public about safety risks but also to protect us from harm during several major emergencies over the past year, including Hurricane Hermine. We thank first responders for their actions during the state of emergency declared by Gov. Scott for this hurricane. With their hard work, lives were protected and communities were able to recover quickly.

Not a day goes by when we don’t hear about the bravery of one of Florida’s 125,000 first responders across the Sunshine State. There are not enough thanks we can give our men and women who risk their lives on a daily basis to keep us safe.

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Claudia Rodriguez is a corporate vice president of Motorola Solutions in Plantation.

Kevin Hernandez: Donald Trump’s dream team for economic success

The American public has long been yearning for a drastic change to the status quo.

Sadly, the past eight years have brought onto us sluggish economic growth, a wave of overregulation that drastically hurts the viability of our small businesses and, overall, an out-of-touch administration. It’s no surprise that Americans are fed up, and this year’s election proved that.

What has been needed, now more than ever, is for someone to shake up D.C. and repair an inefficient and inflated federal government.

With Republicans retaining the majority of both chambers of Congress, and a Republican president in the White House, it’s now time though to put rhetoric aside and demonstrate that there’s truly “A Better Way” for Washington to govern.

The burdens inflicted upon our nation’s entrepreneurs by an administration infatuated with bigger government, more taxation and overregulation can no longer be dismissed. After all, it’s those same entrepreneurs who are risking their own capital and, most importantly, creating roughly two-thirds of all U.S. jobs.

Thankfully, President-elect Donald Trump’s business acumen and pro-growth agenda has already translated into the outstanding selection of three key members who will serve on his Cabinet. It’s important to also note that these officials will be critically important in complementing the efforts of Speaker Paul Ryan’s Better Way agenda, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady’s efforts on tax reform and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling’s efforts to roll back the Dodd-Frank Act.

Those key players of Donald Trump’s triangle offense for economic growth and small-business success are:

Steven Mnuchin, secretary, Department of the Treasury

With almost 20 years of experience working as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, Mnuchin will bring a wealth of knowledge regarding economic and financial issues. Mnuchin also brings a particularly keen understanding of the importance of lending and access to capital, which entrepreneurs and business groups alike unequivocally prioritize as a key issue.

Working in lockstep with Hensarling and the president-elect’s pick for the Commerce Department, Wilbur Ross, Mnuchin will play a pivotal role in the rolling back of Dodd-Frank, which has negatively affected small and medium-sized business, along with our vitally important community and regional banks throughout the country. These banks have felt the squeeze caused by the vastly complex web of one-size-fits-all regulations intended for large banks, and have thus been unable to provide the access to capital desperately needed by entrepreneurs.

Addressing Dodd-Frank and reforming our tax code are two of Mnuchin’s immediate priorities that will alleviate some of the burdensome effects of overregulation.

Wilbur Ross, secretary, Department of Commerce

At 79, Ross, a billionaire investor, never imagined he would find himself reporting to someone. That quickly changed when asked to serve his country as the secretary of Commerce under President-elect Trump’s leadership, which he humbly accepted.

Ross will be responsible for working with businesses to promote job creation and economic growth.

His experience and success in turning around failing firms is unparalleled, and so is his approach to addressing these challenging investments. In a 2008 interview with NPR, Ross explained his hands-on approach to reviving a failing steel company by saying, “we got an enormous amount of good ideas from the blue collar workers. That fellow who has been standing behind a machine for 10 years, who knows it better than the people who built it, really knows what to do.”

That very approach that Wilbur Ross has had throughout his career and will soon bring to the Department of Commerce is illustrative of not only the refreshing leadership he will bring to the agency but also of the overall theme and direction of Trump’s wishes as incoming commander in chief.

Ross told CNBC that two of his priorities will be trade reform and increasing U.S. exports abroad.

Small and medium-sized business stand to greatly benefit from trade reform and an increase in exporting as they make up 98 percent of all U.S. companies involved in exporting.

Linda McMahon, administrator, Small Business Administration

McMahon is the underrated Cabinet pick in my opinion. A phenomenal addition to Trump’s team, McMahon will without a doubt bring the necessary experience, mindset and skills to unleash the potential of our country’s small business community, while effectively serving as the leading voice for small business and entrepreneurship.

As the co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., McMahon certainly experienced the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. Scaling a company of 13 employees to a now public traded global enterprise with over 800 employees worldwide didn’t happen overnight. Rather, she cut her teeth as one of the country’s top female CEOs by resurrecting a once failing business from its ashes and turning into the global brand that it is today.

Already an advocate for female entrepreneurs with Women’s Leadership Live, an organization she co-founded, there is no doubt Linda McMahon will ensure women, along with minority entrepreneurs, are a top priority in the Trump administration.

The agency she will soon be taking over has a budget of over $10 billion and a loan portfolio of roughly $125 billion. In 2015, the SBA approved over 70,000 government-backed private-sector loans to small business throughout the country. McMahon will without a doubt be the champion we need on behalf of the American entrepreneur.

Our sluggish recovery from the 2008 recession and 2.1 percent average growth between 2010 and 2015 should serve as a lesson that big government policies and overregulation of industries don’t work. It’s time we listen to our small business community’s needs if we want them to continue being the driving force of our economic engine, and President-elect Trump has done just that by nominating Steven Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross and Linda McMahon.

It’s going to be a great four years for economic growth and small businesses.

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Kevin Hernandez is director of Government Affairs and Policy at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He is also a fellow with the James Madison Institute, Florida’s premier free-market think tank.

 

Matt Carlucci: Office of Congressional Ethics is more important than ever

Matt Carlucci

I have been reading in dismay about Monday’s vote in the House of Representatives on changes to the Office of Congressional Ethics.

These changes will potentially have the impact of eliminating investigations and reviews of unethical behavior by those holding office on the federal level.

As a matter of fact, because this proposal has been moved so quickly, this letter may be published after a vote has been taken or while being further considered.  Regardless, I want to express my opinion on this very important matter.

To be very clear, although I write in opposition to this proposal while chairing the Florida Commission on Ethics, this opinion belongs to me and not the Commission as a whole, as the Florida Commission on Ethics has not taken a stand or vote on this matter.

This is important for me to make clear. It is also important to me to know there may be times to speak up as an individual and even as the Chairman on issues I believe to be important.

This I do know: if the Florida Commission on Ethics did not exist, with its powers of investigation, adjudication and ever-present deterrence, thousands of ethical violations and trespasses of good government would have occurred, continuing to diminish what little trust the people have left in government.

So, on the federal level, where elected members of Congress do their work farther away from home, an independent Office of Congressional Ethics is more important than ever. In addition, the optics of this could not be worse.

Everyone wants more transparency in government, and less meeting behind closed doors. So, I felt compelled to offer my sole opinion of this tragic proposal.

Ethics is nonpartisan.

Violation of ethical standards happen to members of both parties, so this is not a partisan issue. To me, Matt Carlucci, it’s an issue of right and wrong.

As in the Christmas carol, “I heard the bells on Christmas Day,” one of its verses “rings” true to me in this case. “The wrong shall fail and the right prevail.” The good news is there are leaders in Congress from both sides of the aisle who oppose the weakening of the federal ethics watchdog.

Perhaps find out who they are and give a call of encouragement.

Sincerely and respectfully,

Matt Carlucci

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Matt Carlucci is chair of the Florida Commission on Ethics.

 

Donald Trump re-calibration: First act as President – ask Congress to declare war on ISIS

In case you missed it, the U.S. has been fighting an unconstitutional, undeclared war against Islamic terrorist enemies around the globe since 9/11.

Its cost has been bleeding the American treasury and has depreciated the influence of America as the believable leader of the free world.

When he takes office, Donald Trump’s first act as president should be to legitimize the prosecution of this war on Islamic terrorism by heading down Pennsylvania Avenue and asking Congress to legally declare war against ISIS.

Trump’s mandate from the American electorate was premised in part on using unrestrained American military power to defeat ISIS and making “American Great Again” by building back and expanding US military capabilities and reach around the world.

At the same time, Trump also has promised to bring a more restrained use of American interventionism.

“We wanna strengthen all friendships and seek out new friendships,” Trump said at a postelection rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina. “Rather than a rigid dogma, we’re guided by the lessons of history, and a desire to promote stability all over and strength in our land. This destructive cycle of intervention and chaos must finally, folks, come to an end.”

By asking for a declaration of war against ISIS (and al-Qaida too), President Trump would deliver on his promise not only to allow the United States to use the power and military might necessary to defeat these Islamic terror groups, but to actually illustrate that he is willing to restrain his presidential power to act alone in prosecuting and defining this war.

Trump would also set a mission to actually end what has been an unwinnable war.

This “War on Terror” as it stands today is an endless, illegal war, one whose mission, goals and objectives have never been truly defined with a declaration of war mandated both by the U.S. Constitution and the War Powers Act. It has been an undemonstrative series of military actions in a number of different nations of no true definition or ideology to measure victory or defeat.

Both our soldiers and their generals have been severely restrained by the Obama administration’s adoption of a military strategy based on weak internationalist doctrine and coalitions, political correctness defined by leftist elites and journalists, and an irrational obsession with restricting civilian casualties that rule out the extreme force necessary to carry out the destruction of enemy – and its supporters too.

It’s been a half-assed, stupid way of fighting a war.

At the same time, Americans have become too accustomed, even complacent, to this eternal state of war.

After 9/11, we were all riled up in a very patriotic way and told to be ready and observant.

But after years of fighting that has accomplished little in terms of beating the enemy that is not allowed to be defined in real terms, our government now discounts its true threat to the American people and to diminish the significance and true costs of this state of war.

Sadly, while we send drones and the USAF to bomb targets in the Middle East, we have deferred to the Russians, the Saudis, and the Iranians to directly deal with ISIS, to sort out the messes in Syria and Yemen.

Even worse, at home, terrorist attacks such as the shootings at Fort Hood in 2009, the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and the San Bernardino attack in 2015 and the recent bombing in Manhattan in September are incorrectly termed as criminal matters. Couched cynically as acts by psychologically demented individuals acting alone, these acts of war by international terrorists quickly disappear from the news cycle and the consciousness of a nation.

By definitively defining the enemy, an unrestrained scope of waging war, and the cost in blood and coin Americans need to suffer to eliminate a true threat to world stability and American democracy, a declaration of war would be both a defining moment for a new Trump Administration and a needed re-calibration of how our nation is governed and addresses this threat.

It would be a truly significant first step in making “America Great Again.”

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Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly’s Kommentary and writes for FloridaPolitics.com. He is an attorney and communications specialist living in Monticello, New York.

He can be reached at kurlyskommentary@gmail.com.

Gus Bilirakis: Getting things done for Florida and America

Looking back on 2016, a turbulent year for sure in politics, we often saw the biggest rivalries and the loudest pundits take center stage. All along, my main focus was always working hard on behalf of Florida’s 12th District. We accomplished some important legislative wins for our communities, with 16 initiatives I wrote being signed into law this year.

While there’s still much work to be done, a unified Republican government come January will give us a strong foundation to solve the largest problems facing Florida and the entire country.

One of my top priorities continues to be ensuring Veterans get the care they have earned and deserve, and in 2016 a number of my initiatives to support Veterans became law. Two major bills I introduced, the COVER Act and the Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act, will ensure Veterans get personalized care when it comes to dealing with their physical and invisible wounds.

I also wrote a bill to officially dedicate the Elfers Post Office after local Purple Heart hero Private First Class Roger Fussell, who was tragically killed serving in Vietnam. To make sure our heroes are getting the most out of the benefits they are promised, I led initiatives to expand opportunities for disabled Veterans to fly on military aircraft and improve Veterans’ education assistance programs.

Going forward, we need to make the transition process better for our men and women who serve. While our military spends on average six months to a year preparing soldiers for their assignments, we only spend three to five days preparing them to reintegrate to civilian life. Making sure Veterans have a robust support system for returning home would help with a whole host of problems like homelessness, unemployment and substance abuse. I will be making this a priority in the coming year.

After three years of work, the 21st Century Cures Act finally crossed the finish line in December. This legislation is a game-changer for millions of patients and families who are affected by diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, ALS and more. Importantly, Cures includes my initiatives to create a national database for neurological diseases and streamline FDA regulations to get medical products to market faster. In Florida, I met with doctors, patients, researchers, and advocates about how government can become an ally—not an obstruction—to medical innovation. Proudly, much of their input is now reflected in the final law.

Additionally, we passed legislation to help seniors better identify out-of-pocket costs under Medicare, and combat the opioid abuse crisis across the nation. While this work does not always dominate national headlines, it can truly improve lives and make a difference in our communities. In 2017, I plan to hit the ground running to continue these efforts.

At the top of the agenda is repealing and replacing Obamacare. Under Obamacare, costs have nearly doubled for working families, millions of people have been kicked off the insurance plans they like, and insurers have fled the market, leaving people with less options for their health care. Our health care system should be affordable, personalized, and offer the best quality care possible.

We also need to overhaul the tax code, and ensure it is focused on maximizing growth and competitiveness for American businesses. The tax code should make it easier for businesses to create jobs and raise wages, not harder. Our system should be simpler and fairer for hard-working families, too.

None of the successes of the past year, or the goals set for the year ahead, would be possible without the folks of Florida’s 12th District. Your voices will continue to guide me as your representative in the People’s House. I pledge to keep working hard to solve our problems here at home in Florida and around the U.S.

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U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis represents Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

Don Fox: VISIT FLORIDA makes good business, common sense

Don Fox

At a time of year when every Floridian should be especially thankful for the arrival of tourists across the state, some of our lawmakers in Tallahassee seem to have taken on the role of the Grinch who stole Christmas.

The escalating attacks against VISIT FLORIDA … a proven marketing effort that has driven millions of additional visitors to our great State … defy common sense. And if not common sense, then certainly good business sense.

Those who say that tourism numbers would be the same in the absence of the efforts of VISIT FLORIDA are misguided. My intention here is not to school them on some of the most basic, foundational elements of business and marketing, but simply to point out to them (and the citizens who hold them ultimately accountable) that investing in tourism is a sound and important practice.

A failure to optimize tourism is a failure to drive vital revenue into the state. Strip away the incremental tax revenue generated by VISIT FLORIDA (tax revenue FAR in excess of the cost of the marketing efforts), and you are faced with one of two things: increasing taxes on Floridians, or reducing government services. What would you have? I know what I think is best, and I suspect most Floridians would agree: pull out all the stops to drive tourism, so that the tax burden on Floridians can be reduced.

Yet despite the obvious, some of our lawmakers seem to have adopted a campaign to stop VISIT FLORIDA dead in its tracks.

Despite abundant evidence of the return on investment that taxpayers have received from VISIT FLORIDA, they would, for reasons that seem more emotional than rational, strip it of funding in whole or in part, and be willing to risk declines in tax revenue driven by tourism.

Think about it: OF COURSE, the marketing of our state as a premier tourist destination increases tourism. And so, to suggest that in the absence of marketing, there would not be a reduction in tourism, is simply foolishness. Try that approach in business. Stop the promotion and marketing of your business, and only one thing happens. Business goes down.

If our legislators need a lesson in basic business, I beg them to not learn at the expense of hardworking, taxpaying Floridians.

There are elements of the VISIT FLORIDA campaign that are worth discussing in an open forum. Some people are not happy, for a variety of reasons, with a handful of the marketing tactics that have been employed (though frankly, the opposition to these ideas seem to be on emotional grounds, as opposed to an intellectually honest discussion of the business merits of those tactics). Those discussions should be carried out. But to call for a reduction in funding for VISIT FLORIDA (or worse yet, its complete dismantling), is nothing short of irresponsible.

I would respectfully ask the members of the Legislature to step back and take a sound and reasoned approach when putting forward their concerns. Their current tact is taking Florida in the wrong direction.

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Don Fox is chief executive officer of Firehouse of America, LLC, in which he leads the strategic growth of Firehouse Subs, one of America’s leading fast casual restaurant brands. Under his leadership, the brand has grown to more than 1,030 restaurants in 44 states, Puerto Rico and Canada, and is recognized as one of the best franchises in the country. Fox is a restaurant industry veteran with 42 years of experience and incoming 2017 Chairman of the Board for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association

Dennis Ross: Responsible solutions to repaying student loans

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published a report stating that federally issued Direct Student Loans placed in Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans will cost the government $74 billion, which is higher than previously estimated.

According to the GAO, as of June of this year, 5.3 million student loan borrowers are repaying their loans in IDR plans. This means 5.3 million borrowers are repaying their loans with smaller monthly payments, thereby extending the time in which they will actually repay the entirety of these loans. All the while, loan interest continues to accrue, holding borrowers underwater even longer. Couple this with the usage of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and other forgiveness programs, it is clear the federal government, and the taxpayers backing these loans, will never see the money it has lent.

I believe all who desire to obtain an education should have the opportunity to do so. Education, particularly higher education, has the ability to raise individuals and families from less than desirable situations in life and open the door to greater opportunities. Education prepares us for much more than just work. It gives us the ability to better contribute to our families and society, and enables us to more effectively help others and ourselves.

Loans are, indeed, an important component in helping students obtain an affordable education. Unfortunately, most students today are saddled with extraordinary debt and have entered one of the weakest economic recoveries in history. Such a dangerous combination limits students’ ability to start paying back their taxpayer-backed loans after graduation. This is a serious problem we cannot continue to ignore.

Throughout the past 25 years, the cost of attending college has quadrupled. About 60 percent of students take out loans to finance their education, and more than half borrow over $10,000. In fact, more than 43 million Americans owe nearly $1.3 trillion in student loans, with a repayment delinquency rate of 11.6 percent. That is more than $150 billion in student loan delinquency, not including interest.

As the cost of a college education continues to rise, student loan borrowing will continue to take place. Something must be done to incentivize and enable borrows to pay off their loans and lessen the burden on the government.

In order to do just that, I introduced the Student Loan Repayment Act of 2016. This bill adds employees with student loans as a qualifying population to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. In order to receive this credit, the employee must be an individual with an associate degree or higher and have at least $10,000 in student loan debt.

Additionally, the Act allows for a $1,500 tax credit to employers who implement a repayment match program for their employees. This tax credit is available for each program enrollment by an employee and is spread over three years. In order to receive this credit, employers must meet a minimum qualifying match contribution of $2,000 per year.

Lastly, this bill states the match program contributions made by the employer are considered income to the employee. Therefore, the employee will be taxed on the contributions made by the employer, and thus, is held accountable to our tax system.

The Student Loan Repayment Act does not provide a bailout or exempt student loan borrowers from repaying their incurred debt. Instead, this bill helps students become gainfully employed and pay off their loans while employers are benefited by hiring skilled and educated employees with a vested interest in long-term employment.

As the father of two sons and a former small-business owner, I know firsthand the important role education plays in today’s society. Students are the foundation of our country’s future, and we must ensure they have the ability to afford a college education and compete in an increasingly global marketplace without being bogged down by crippling debt.

As we focus on helping students repay their taxpayer-backed student loans, improve their credit and contribute to our communities, I will continue working with my colleagues on solutions to create jobs, boost our economy, and reduce our debt and deficit.

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross represents Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Ali P. Gordon: Homeschooled students bring own skill set to university campuses

Key questions always loom large for parents of homeschooled, college-bound students, such as: “What happens when my child actually gets to the university level? Will they be able to keep up?”

As a faculty member, I get the chance to interact with a variety of undergraduates in a number of ways, principally in the classroom and the engineering research laboratory that I direct.

The inherent beauty of the classroom setting is that all the students are there to increase their knowledge base regardless of their prior experiences. We learn more from people who are different from us than we do from people who are similar, so it would stand to reason, therefore, that if homeschoolers are adding to classroom discussions and questions, then that would enhance everyone’s learning outcome to some degree.

In large classes, however, it’s virtually impossible to discern much about an individual student’s background. By means of talking with students after class or during office hour meetings, I’ve gotten to know many students individually over the years. Cumulatively, I’ve developed a very positive view of the homeschooled, and they seem to do well in classes.

A 2009 study by researcher Michael Cogan found that retention rates, graduation rates, and initial GPAs were higher among homeschooled versus non-homeschooled students in college.

In the research laboratory, students and I explore complex phenomena. We search for knowledge and carry out systematic investigations to establish new facts. Along the way, students will undoubtedly have to master one or perhaps several new concepts, software packages or device platforms. Quite often a researcher might be compelled to synthesize some tools to allow for the development and acquisition of new data. Students who can creatively solve challenges with a higher degree of autonomy seem to excel at making discoveries.

Parent-educated students that I’ve met exhibit a strong intellectual vitality and passion for exploring difficult concepts. On the average, they have a penchant for open-ended problem-solving. It is plausible that in their homeschool environments, they’ve already been given a vast number of opportunities to grow their capacities for self-direction. Consequently, their inclination for independent study seamlessly transfers to the scholarly research environment.

When I first learned about the practice of homeschooling, my impulse reaction a decade ago was not enthusiastic. After all, I wasn’t home-schooled and (I think) I turned out OK. My main arguments centered on how homeschooled students would learn to socialize and learn to communicate effectively. Also, how are these students going to pick up good study habits?

These are some of the most common misapprehensions with which parent educators are confronted. Moms and dads of home-schooled kids often have to defend their decisions to relatives, friends and even strangers. The fact is that many individuals simply don’t know much about the approach to learning or are misinformed. Recent data generated from formal research studies has not only begun to debunk these misconceptions, but also point to strongly positive outcomes for the students.

Home education is by a parent or a tutor outside of the traditional public or private school. This is usually carried out in the primary residence, a library or even outside. Parents point to many reasons for choosing to homeschool. Religious reasons, academic interest in nontraditional approaches to education, and enhancing family relationships are common.

On standardized college entrance exams, the homeschooled have scored, on average, at the 65th to 80th percentile on standardized academic achievement tests compared to the national average based on public school data. University officials have more recently recognized the value added by bringing these students to their campuses and attract them with separate entrance application sites with slightly modified guidelines, such as at the University of Central Florida, Georgia Tech, Stanford and Arizona State.

Each university campus is a potpourri blending students, faculty and staff with varied backgrounds.

Such diversity benefits classrooms as well as laboratories, and schools offer a window to the world. Homeschooled students have and will continue to add to the richness of our individual and collective experiences.

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UCF Forum columnist Dr. Ali P. Gordon is an associate professor in UCF’s Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. He can be reached at ali@ucf.edu.

 

Carlos Nathan: An open letter to Florida Democrats

Carlos Nathan
Carlos Nathan

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

That quote from “Cool Hand Luke” could be directed squarely at the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party has been suffering from this issue and a message problem since 1998.

The performance of the Florida Democratic Party has led to a complete Republican dominance in both the Legislature and the Governor’s mansion. In 2008, Florida helped elect a young, vibrant senator to the highest office in this land under the premise of hope and change. Unfortunately, this message did not flow down to the Florida Democratic Party.

The State Party has overseen three election cycles where Democrats have run candidates anointed in a backroom and forced them down the voters’ throats. This delusion of “the party knows best” has led us where we are today.

Untested candidates with nothing to offer had the support of a party that has no message and no clear identity except simply a “we are not Republicans” mentality.  This tactic does not work and has been proven time and time again that it does not resonate with the voter.

Soul-searching is a term that has been thrown out anytime an election does not go as anticipated. Instead of coming up with a real plan of action, we revert to our place of comfort by selecting individuals who have ran for office in the past.

We summon them out of their “retirement” holes and encourage them to run again as if that will be the key to bringing Democrats back to power and relevance.

FDP retrenches with a plan to right the errors of the last election. In the meantime, the rest of the state and especially Republicans are devising strategies to fill their bench with young Republicans for generations to come.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have multiple members in the Legislature in their 20s. These members will have an unprecedented experience in governing by the time they are 40. They are building up their youth and their bench in a way Democrats are not. They’ve got redshirt freshmen when we’re running seniors, and we’ve got to stop that.

As a young, African- American progressive, it was crucial to becoming a member of an organization called the New Leader’s Council. New Leader’s Council has 44 chapters across the country, and six chapters across Florida.

Our goal is recruit, train and promote the progressive leaders of the future. We are making great strides in our immediate community, statewide and nationwide. Since our chapter’s creation in 2013, we have trained over 40 young progressives in Tallahassee alone, because we all understand the collective obligation we have in our future; which begins with leadership. Our fellows are learning the critical skills of governance, political campaigns, messaging and fundraising.

There is an opportunity for real change in the Chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

Beyond the structure of the party, where the focus has been on raising money, there is actual room to encourage younger individuals that embody the spirit of Bob Graham, Reuben Askew, Lawton Chiles, and all the other great legends of the Democratic Party.

It is time to embrace younger candidates with new and fresh ideas.  More than ever, we need people with the energy and courage to fight for our environment and water quality, the protection of our elderly, quality public education and affordable higher education. These sort of policy issues are going to affect our generation far more than baby boomers, so it is time that we begin to take responsibility for these decisions as the Republicans are.

Economic equality, restoration of felon voting rights, protecting the liberties of all citizens, and allowing women the right to protect their body free from the burdens of government are just some of the issues we must have those who are willing to stand up to challenge.

As the third largest state, we have an enormous duty to train the future of this country’s leaders, but we won’t ever get the chance to lead if we’re behind Democratic politicians from the 80s and 90s.

If the party doesn’t begin to accept young people into its ranks, we as a party are going to be in this hole for a very long time. There are many passionate young people all across this state that need and want to pick up the mantle of leadership, I just hope they let us.

Let us on the team coach.

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Carlos Nathan is a 33-year-old political and government professional and a board member of the Tallahassee Chapter of the New Leader’s Council.

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