JD Alexander gets his way, bill creating Florida Polytechnic University signed into law

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Florida Polytechnic University will become Florida’s 12th state university in July after Gov. Rick Scott signed a contentious bill accelerating independence for the University of South Florida’s Lakeland campus, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

The new university was a final victory for Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who had crusaded for the school for months and repeatedly clashed with USF leaders over the future of the campus. Alexander is leaving the Legislature because of term limits.

In a lengthy letter explaining his decision to sign the bill (SB 1994), Scott systematically knocked down objections that even he had raised in publicly weighing the measure’s fate.

Critics have said it will take longer for an independent university to gain accreditation and will cost too much at a time when the state is cutting funding for other institutions of higher education.

But Scott wrote that the new university will simply receive the funding that would have gone to the current USF campus and that the school was required to reach certain benchmarks toward accreditation by 2016. The campus would have had to reach those benchmarks first to become independent under a plan approved late last year by the Board of Governors.

Supporters have cast Florida Polytechnic University as an attempt to shore up the state’s efforts to boost degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“At a time when the number of graduates of Florida’s universities in the STEM fields is not projected to meet workforce needs, the establishment of Florida Polytechnic University will help us move the needle in the right direction,” Scott wrote. ” … Failing to meet this challenge will be cost to our state for decades.”

Officials who had backed the initial plan for the university reacted coolly to the announcement.

“While the Board of Governors suggested one path leading to the creation of a new Polytech, an alternative path was chosen by our elected officials and we respect that decision,” said board Chairman Dean Colson in a statement issued following the announcement. “The Board takes its constitutional duties for oversight seriously and will work hard to ensure that Polytech is a success.”

The Florida Democratic Party slammed the proposal as “JD Polytechnic University” in a written statement.

“This move is nothing more than an appalling and wasteful power play by the Republicans in Tallahassee,” party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan said. “The people of Florida didn’t ask for this university, they don’t need it and can’t afford it.”

But only one Democratic senator voted against the final version of the proposal — Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, who had supported the first draft of the measure. In the House, 27 Democrats voted against the final bill.

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.