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Higher education budget chair favors vocational training as voting begins

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The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee OK’d eight member requests for state funds Wednesday, including programs boosting technical training for people not headed to college and a veterinary lab at the University of Florida.

As did chairmen of other budget panels reviewing member projects (see here and here), Larry Ahern of the higher ed panel warned members that their votes merely rendered the projects eligible for inclusion in the House version of the appropriations act.

It did not guarantee them a place in that bill.

“Let me be clear that a vote for a project today does not mean that project will ultimately be funded at that level or even in the House bill. This is just the next step in the process of developing our budget,” the Seminole Republican said.

Which bills have the best chance of making the cut?

“A compelling state interest is one of the big ones. Is it something that’s already being done somewhere else?” he said. “Ultimately, is this even the right place in the budget for some of these projects?”

Ahern is particularly interested in vocational projects — apprenticeships, internships, other forms of nonacademic training.

“I find those very attractive because of their ability for those not going to college or a university to have a career path that pays a better-than-average wage,” Ahern said.

For example, the panel approved $200,000 for a partnership with car dealers to train young people for relatively high-paying jobs in auto shops. The bill is HB 2235.

(Here’s the background on the bills debated.)

“There is a demand for those jobs, but they’re not able to train enough young adults to fill these jobs,” Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., said.

HB 2237 would provide $300,000 to buy a 3D printer for Daytona State College, to train young people for associate of science degrees in “additive manufacturing” — an emerging field.

HB 2273, meanwhile, contains $265,000 for IT and advanced manufacturing training in Baker County.

HB 2225 would authorize $375,000 to organize academic mentoring programs for African American high schoolers in the Big Bend area through Tallahassee Community College. Rep. Ramon Alexander said their graduation rate in the area is 68 percent.

Academic projects included HB 2131, $3 million to establish an Institute for Comparative Veterinary Diagnostics at the University of Florida — essentially, a diagnostic lab. At present there isn’t one in Florida, so tests have to be sent out of state.

HB 2019 would provide $1.5 million for a pediatric research and education program at UF. HB 2057 would allocate $2 million for a neurodegenerative disease program at UF, conducting research into Alzheimer’s disease and related maladies.

The committee approved $1.6 million to expand an honors program at Florida Gulf Coast University (HB 2211).

Ahern is not pre-selecting projects for votes by his subcommittee, as some other chairman are doing. He’s letting his members decide.

“That’s the beauty of this process,” he said.

“A lot of these (projects) previous to this were just put into the budget during a conference committee at the end of the session. There now is the transparency, that the public can view and see and hear” the process.

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Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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