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Court: Agency Wrong in Money Distribution

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An appeals court Monday found that the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities did not properly carry out a law that created a new system of funding services for people with developmental disabilities.

The case, brought on behalf of four people with disabilities, focused on a system known as "iBudgets." Lawmakers in 2010 approved moving to iBudgets, but Monday's decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal said rules proposed by the agency to carry out the law "directly conflict with and contravene the Legislature's clear language."

The basic idea of iBudgets is to provide set amounts of money to people, depending on their needs, and then give them flexibility in how the money is spent on services. That differs from past systems that required money to be spent on specific services.

The plaintiffs in the case stood to lose thousands of dollars in assistance under the iBudget system. The legal challenge focused on a mathematical formula, or algorithm, that the agency was required to develop and use in allocating money.

A three-judge panel said the agency improperly used the algorithm as a "starting point" and made adjustments that could affect funding for services.

"We recognize the difficulty in adhering to the Legislature’s command to create an algorithm solely capable of determining each client’s level of need,'' said the eight-page ruling, written by Judge William Van Nortwick and joined by judges Robert Benton and Timothy Osterhaus.

"Further, we accept that APD is attempting to find a reasonable way to administer funds to the tens of thousands of people in need that it assists. However, when, as here, the Legislature is clear, there is no room for deviation."

The ruling overturned a decision last year by an administrative law judge.

School Choice Political Group Raises $300K

A political organization that backs school-choice programs collected $300,000 in contributions from July 5 to July 11, with $100,000 of that amount coming from Charter Schools USA, Inc., according to newly filed finance reports.

The "Florida Federation for Children," which is what is known as an electioneering communications organization, is chaired by John Kirtley, one of the state's best-known advocates for school-choice programs.

It had not raised any money earlier in 2014 but raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2012. The organization said on its website it supports candidates who back school-choice efforts. "We identify election circumstances in which there is a discernible difference between the candidates on the issues of parental choice and education reform, regardless of any other factor, especially party affiliation,'' the organization said on the website. "We then engage in electioneering communications to voters throughout Florida, making them aware of candidates and their positions on issues of the day."

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