College presidents grapple with hiring, firing lobbyists

TALLAHASSEE (NSF) — Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has made no secret of his views on government entities hiring outside lobbyists.

He’s not a fan.

And since taking over as Florida’s education czar, the former House speaker has made his thoughts known to leaders of the state college system.

Corcoran’s sentiments have sparked some college presidents to fire lobbyists who represent schools or affiliated direct-support organizations.

But with little pushback Thursday, presidents, acting as the Association of Florida Colleges, voted to renew a $95,000-a-year contract with the firm The Southern Group to lobby on their behalf.

Human chain helps dolphins escape from canal

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Wildlife officials say about a dozen humans helped a dolphin pod escape from a Florida canal.

WTVT news reports that two adult dolphins and two calves had been swimming around in the St. Petersburg canal for several days by Tuesday morning, when a group of experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Clearwater Marine Aquarium came to help.

The group formed a human chain, blocking part of the canal and forcing the dolphins back toward Tampa Bay.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Michelle Kerr says the dolphins swam under an overpass to get into the canal and apparently were afraid to go near it again to escape.

Approval sought for ‘Best and Brightest’ settlement

TALLAHASSEE (NSF) — The state Department of Education and the Florida Education Association asked a federal judge Thursday to preliminarily approve a $15.5 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit alleging that the “Best and Brightest” teacher-bonus program discriminated against black and Hispanic teachers.

The settlement stems from a long-controversial decision by lawmakers to partly base Best and Brightest bonuses on teachers’ scores on SAT and ACT college-admission exams. The Florida Education Association, a union that represents teachers throughout the state, and individual plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in 2017 alleging that the use of the SAT and ACT scores had a “disparate impact” on black, Hispanic and older teachers.

Under the settlement, money will go to black and Hispanic classroom teachers who were rated as “highly effective” but did not receive Best and Brightest bonuses since the program took effect in 2015. Also, the settlement, which has been in the works for months, hinged on state lawmakers passing a bill to remove the SAT and ACT requirement from the program — a move lawmakers made this spring with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ support.

State hiring part-time workers to combat Hepatitis A

(NSF) The state has hired part-time workers to help abate the growing hepatitis A public health emergency, Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees told lawmakers on Wednesday. Rivkees told the House Health Quality Subcommittee that his department has used $3 million in funds from county health departments to hire additional workers.

Rivkees, who is also the state’s surgeon general, told subcommittee Chairwoman Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, that $3 million would be enough “for the current fiscal year,” which ends June 30.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, questioned Rivkees about staff at the county health departments. Smith noted that the budget for the current fiscal year eliminated 572 positions from the state health agency. Many of those posts, Smith said, came from local health departments.

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