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Office of Government Relations

12/2/2010 :

Opening Session

The State Legislature 2012 Session is under way. The Legislature heard speeches from the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, and the Governor. The Governor reiterated his commitment to increasing education funding by $1 billion dollars.

House Speaker Dean Cannon used his speech at the opening of the 2012 legislative session on Tuesday to warn that the state university system is "racing toward mediocrity" and to announce that this session will be the time to start at least laying the groundwork for changes. Speaker Cannon, who has named few other priorities beyond the budget and redistricting for the session, is one of several top lawmakers to call for scrutiny of Florida's higher education system while suggesting biggest legislative changes may come in later years. Speaker Cannon said lawmakers have contributed to some of the bigger, more complicated issues that may be on the menu for coming years "by parochially advancing the interests of our local university or college at the expense of the system as a whole…We have a higher education system with no clear mission, universities pursuing overlapping agendas despite limited public resources, and our community colleges rapidly transforming themselves into four-year degree institutions."

Education Reforms

One of the first efforts in education reform is a bill filed (SB 1366) in December by Sen. Don Gaetz which would require the state Board of Education, Department of Economic Opportunity and Board of Governors to form a "unified plan" to develop students' science and math skills and build a high-wage workforce. The measure would also require DEO to compile reports on job placement and salaries earned by graduates of various degree programs — information that was also sought by Gov. Rick Scott in a recent data request. Sen. Gaetz said the measure could set the stage for efforts in sessions to come, when he will be Senate President.

The House Higher Education Committee held a hearing on Friday morning with the Presidents of the University of Florida and Florida State University leading off a series of discussions with each of the Universities seeking their input on ways to reform the system. (President Bradshaw will make his presentation next Wednesday.) Both Presidents agree on the need for the legislature to set goals first and then develop metrics and benchmarks to measure progress and foster accountability within the system. They also advocated Bright Futures pay for summer school, and not pay again for General Education courses already completed at HS level. Both major research Universities support increased tuition for STEM courses if coupled with accountability of spending. Both reject state micro-managing degree programs offered. Both support improving national ratings as key to increased quality of students, grants, venture capital, and economic development within the state.

House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee

Wednesday morning, the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee received reports from their members’ site visits. FGCU’s site visit was included and Rep. Passidomo and Rep. Oliva both gave reports on what they learned at FGCU.

Rep. Passidomo’s comments included; our well planned comprehensive campus master plan, energy efficiency, our public/private partnership solar field and solar research, which included solar power storage. During the committee Rep. Alan Williams commented he wished other universities followed our lead. Rep. Passidomo highlighted FGCU’s return on investment and specifically our percent of graduates finding employment along with our deficit in FTE funding.

Rep. Oliva’s presentation began with his impression of our strong sense of community and interactive culture on campus. He equated it to what businesses, like his, strive to create.  He liked that the campus didn’t feel like an institution. Rep. Oliva also urged the committee to address our FTE funding deficit.

Chairman O’Toole acknowledged both comments about our funding and said it is something she will be looking into.

House Higher Education Committee

Formal presentations intended to expand member knowledge about the SUS and how it compares nationally as well as comparing Florida Universities to one another.

Presentation by Southern Regional Education Board makes a strong case for SUS tier revisions- to better develop research universities, where tuition and entrance requirement could be higher, by limiting the number of research facilities. Focusing on fewer research schools would raise the national reputation of the degree, and potentially bring in funding from patents, etc. Members seem to think the Colleges are the middle tier for Florida, but SRED considers the non-research schools to be that tier.

He also pointed out the 140 hours to graduation average is very costly to student and SUS, suggested we consider funding only 120 or 125 hours per degree for large savings.
Performance funding has to be based on a public agenda, and cannot be new money. Degree production has to be a realistic goal- 45-50% would lead the nation.

OPPAGA presented a comparison of our SUS with 3 national organizations which meaasure quality: AAU, Carnegie and TARU. The criteria used indicate the only SUS schools which should be classified as a research university are UF, FSU and possibly UCF/USF. FGCU does not qualify on any of he measured criteria. UF is the only one nationally ranked in the top fifty by AAU.

Members questioned some of the data presented in comparison to national statistics. Our graduates are being employed in the state, but at $10-12,000 less than national average. We have no mechanism to measure those who leave the state to work after graduation. The average credit hours per semester do not include summer school, affecting the outcome data. Measurement of doctoral degrees produced lumped medical schools in with everyone else. Chairman Proctor was cordial, but questioned some of the data rather pointedly, as did Chair O'Toole.

House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam presented 11 energy policy proposals to the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee, urging legislators to use modesty in getting major energy legislation passed this year after failed attempts the previous three years. Among his proposals were eliminating direction in state law for setting a renewable energy requirement and allowing utilities to charge more than "avoided" cost for renewable energy projects.

Redistricting

The House redistricting subcommittees approved the maps that they would send to the full committee next week. The votes cut the number of options to three each for the state House and for Congress. The Senate plan mirrors the proposal developed by the upper chamber, under an agreement that the two chambers will use each other's maps as starting points.

The Senate redistricting panel approved the plans on both the state Senate and Congressional plans and is scheduled for a floor vote next week. Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, was among those who supported the plan after raising concerns that a set of alternative maps proposed by Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, would diminish minority access. Rich withdrew her maps but said she plans to resubmit in time to have them taken up during floor sessions next week, after making a few tweaks. The state Democratic Party helped produce the plans, in part, Rich said, because the minority party did not have its own staff. Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Destin, said he hoped lawmakers would pass the maps quickly enough that the state Supreme Court could complete its 30-day legal review in time for lawmakers to revisit the maps, should they have to, without holding a special session. Meanwhile, the Senate Ethics and Elections Subcommittee voted to introduce a proposed committee bill that would give lawmakers and the courts a little more time to resolve any legal issues that arise, by moving the state's primary from Aug. 14 to Aug. 21. Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portillia, R-Miami, said the main goal of the measure is to push back the qualifying deadline for state elections, allowing an extra week to prepare for the election.

Interns

FGCU’s Inaugural Class of State Legislature Interns has begun their educational experience with their member offices this week. Adriane Fike and Evelyn Calderon, both Political Science majors, were selected to work with members of the State legislature during session to learn, first hand, how our state government operates during the intense 60 day legislative session. Evelyn is interning for Rep. Matt Hudson, Naples, who is Chairman of the important Health Care Appropriations Committee. Adriane is interning for Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Fort Myers, who is the Deputy Majority Leader in the Senate. Both have been adapting well to the demanding schedule and are enjoying the opportunity of being in the middle of the action in Tallahassee and seeing what they learned in the classroom be applied in our State Legislature.

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