12/27/13 Local Government
TAMPA — As Hillsborough County's Homeless Recovery program was unraveling in September, County Administrator Mike Merrill blamed a pair of misguided middle managers.
They were at fault, he said, for a program that sent the homeless to live in a squalid, illegal trailer park off Florida Avenue.
They no longer worked for the county, Merrill told commissioners on Sept. 18.
But they weren't the only county leaders who were warned of problems and allowed them to continue....
12/22/13 Local Government
Salvation for Sam Cruz Jr. and his family came from the unlikeliest of places: his tiny, disabled 4-year-old son.
Driven into homelessness when Cruz lost his job, the child, his parents and his five brothers and sisters turned to Hillsborough County for help. The county's Homeless Recovery program placed them in a cramped, bug-infested trailer that leaked when it rained.
In February 2012, the family found a ticket out....
11/23/13 Local Government
Bay Gardens Retirement Village seemed to get worse every year.
In 2005, state inspectors found filthy, reeking bathrooms, a raccoon living in the ceiling and a patient whose genitals had been bitten by ants.
In 2007, they discovered a demented man, smeared in his own filth, plucking at his colostomy bag in a stinking, roach-infested room....
TAMPA — Hillsborough County has paid millions of dollars to house homeless people, including veterans, the mentally ill and families with small children, in filthy, crime-ridden slums across the city, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.
For years, the poor have lined up at the county's door for help, and county caseworkers have responded by sending them to hazardous and neglected places. There, they were forced to breathe moldy air, step over unmopped puddles of human waste or sleep on mattresses infested with bedbugs....
TAMPA — Hillsborough County government should close its troubled Homeless Recovery program and seek help from private social service agencies experienced at finding housing for the poor, county staff will tell commissioners today.
A staff memo released to the Tampa Bay Times says the county should ask Hillsborough's nonprofit homeless aid organizations to submit proposals for how they could help provide emergency housing and other services for the poor, in the hopes a new program could replace Homeless Recovery by Jan. 1....
09/27/13 Local Government
TAMPA — Hillsborough County has poured millions of tax dollars over the past 20 years into a program meant to cover rent for homeless people.
But county leaders can't say for sure whether the landlords they paid actually housed anyone.
A computer system tracks rent checks paid each month under the Homeless Recovery program. The system, though, does not record the addresses where tenants are supposed to be living....
As principal of some of the poorest public schools in Alachua County, Beth Le Clear urged her students to take advantage of subsidized tutoring, extra instruction for Florida's neediest kids.
Scores of her schoolchildren — some so destitute they wore grocery bags for underwear — enrolled and got the study help they sorely needed.
But they weren't the only ones who benefited....
TALLAHASSEE — As the legislative session neared an end this month, state Rep. Erik Fresen found himself in an awkward position.
Just last year, Fresen helped keep a torrent of public money flowing to private tutoring firms.
But after revelations of fraud and lax oversight turned the program into a black eye for education reform, his new orders from House leadership were clear: End subsidized tutoring, and do it now....
TALLAHASSEE — A last-ditch effort by South Florida lawmakers to keep millions of dollars flowing to private tutoring companies suffered a resounding defeat on Wednesday, giving Florida school districts control over $100 million in federal education money for the first time in a decade.
It happened when two Miami-Dade lawmakers tried to attach funding for subsidized tutoring into a fast-tracked bill that would expand online learning....
TALLAHASSEE --- Just when it looked like Florida schools would be freed from state requirements to hire private tutoring companies, a state Senator is making a late push to mandate funding through a fast-tracked virtual learning bill.
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, this morning proposed an amendment to an amendment of HB 7029 that would require districts to pay 8 percent of roughly $1 billion in federal education money to private tutoring contractors....
TALLAHASSEE — The fight over subsidized tutoring in the Florida Legislature has come down to a quiet confrontation set against an unlikely backdrop — a series of budget talks between the House and Senate.
As the session winds down, the fate of the controversial program is being haggled over in private because of a last-ditch effort to tie reforms to the state budget process.
On one side, the Florida House, backed by superintendents of the state's largest school systems, wants to end mandated tutoring for poor students and give districts control over the money....
Last month, the Tampa Bay Times reported that criminals, cheaters and opportunists are taking advantage of lax oversight to collect millions through a subsidized tutoring program known as supplemental educational services.
Criminals would be banned from running subsidized tutoring firms and state education officials would be required to track complaints and bar providers who cheat or commit fraud under a bill filed Tuesday in the state Senate.
The measure would increase oversight of Florida's troubled, $50 million government tutoring program, which requires school districts to hire private tutors for poor kids in failing schools....
Florida will crack down on tutoring contractors that defraud school districts and — for the first time — require criminal background checks for people who head tutoring firms under changes announced Tuesday by the state's top education official.
Education Commissioner Tony Bennett issued a statement outlining a series of steps his department will take to rein in fraud and ensure that tens of millions of dollars in education funding steered to private tutoring firms is better spent....
Second of two parts
Every year for nearly a decade, private tutoring companies have made millions in Florida because the federal government required school districts to hire them.
That was in danger of changing last February, when the state won freedom from mandated private instruction for poor children in the state's worst schools....