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Senate President denies ‘moving goal posts’ regarding USF’s drive for pre-eminence

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Florida Senate President Joe Negron is firing back at University of South Florida supporters who claim the Legislature “moved the goal posts” when they reverted language in an education conforming bill.

The bill, they say, would prevent USF from reaching the 11th of 12 pre-assigned benchmarks which would qualify them for “pre-eminence,” a status that would have qualified them for millions of dollars in state funding.

“This allegation is incorrect and entirely unsupported by the facts,” Negron says in a statement released Monday morning.

“There is one, and only one, reason USF Tampa narrowly missed pre-eminent designation this year: the university did not reach the current metric of a 70 percent six-year graduation rate,” Negron says. USF came up short on that metric, at 67 percent.

The original bill included language that a university had to achieve a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent or higher, a mark that USF has exceeded, qualifying them for ‘pre-eminence’ by reaching 11 of the 12 benchmarks previously established to be eligible for that ranking.

However, in the conforming bill — written after the budget was finalized Friday — the benchmark was amended to what it was previously: a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or better for full-time, first-time, in-college students.

“Upon further reflection and in consultation with the Florida House, we decided it was more equitable to apply this new standard prospectively and not retroactively,” Negron says about the late hour change. “We also raised the qualifying four-year graduation rate to 60 percent. I stand by both of those decisions and would make them again.”

Over the weekend, USF officials rallied their community, making overtures to alumni, business officials and anyone else with any connection to the university to contact their members of the Legislature and call on them to “fix” the change when they returned to Tallahassee to vote on the budget Monday.

“At the last minute, the legislature is planning to make a change — taking away millions of dollars of funding for USF meeting pre-eminent University metrics,” reads the action alert sent Saturday. The alert can also be found on the USF alumni website.

“This late change excludes SOLELY the University of South Florida from qualifying for pre-eminence AFTER the Board of Governors had certified USF met the necessary criteria that had been in the proposed language since January. This change also will badly hurt our downtown Tampa medical school and heart institute as well as other USF Colleges.”

Despite the loss of pre-eminence status, USF fared well in the budget about to be signed by legislators.

Negron shot back, calling it a “banner year” for the university. USF received an increase of approximately $42 million in operation funding, he says, as well as an additional $12 million for the Morsani College of Medicine in downtown Tampa, leading

The University of Florida and Florida State University are the only two Florida universities to have achieved pre-eminent status.

Mike Griffin, the greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce president and a USF alumnus, has been explicitly claiming officials from one of those two universities successfully lobbied legislators to change the language in the bill, shutting out USF.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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