Dean Cannon: Look at higher ed reform during session

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House Speaker Dean Cannon opened a potential window for higher-education reform in the 2012 legislative session, making a strong case for considering changes before the experienced chairman of the House’s education committee leaves due to term limits.

In his opening day remarks, Cannon specifically highlighted higher education reform along with the Legislature’s only two constitutional duties this year: Redistricting and a spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1.

Cannon, R-Winter Park, painted a picture of a dysfunctional system that had been further hampered by legislative meddling and parochial interests despite a landmark agreement aimed at providing Floridians access to higher education through two-year colleges that feed into four-year universities.

“Twenty years later, after a steady stream of reform proposals, several originating from this House, 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 granting institutions. … If left unchecked, we will continue to have a higher education system that is aggressively racing toward mediocrity,” Cannon said.

Cannon suggested that lawmakers “stop playing musical chairs with the governing structure” of higher education and reiterated plans to have the House Education Committee meet with all 11 university presidents over the next two weeks. Cannon maintained the House might not consider any legislation this year.

“But the time feels right to have this conversation, in no small part because this is our chamber’s last opportunity to draw on the wisdom and experience of Dr. Bill Proctor before he is termed out of office,” Cannon said.

The speaker also continued to brush aside Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ public consideration of a delayed ending to the session or a special session to get more concrete revenue forecasts as the state faces a potential $2 billion shortfall.

“It’s my intention this House work with our colleagues in the Senate to complete the budget during the scheduled 60 days of regular session,” Cannon said.

Whether the Senate will agree wasn’t clear. In his own opening day remarks, the Senate president said he would seek the input of other senators on whether to delay the final gavel because of the budget.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.