Despite the attention paid to Gov. Rick Scott’s ideas about reshaping Florida’s higher education system, it looks like a major overhaul of colleges and universities will wait until the 2013 session, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.
Legislators aren’t ruling out the possibility of addressing at least some of Scott’s ideas this year, but leaders such as House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and even Scott himself seem to be downplaying any expectations of a major shift. Already, lawmakers will have to tackle the once-a-decade redistricting process and balancing the budget in the face of a nearly $2 billion shortfall.
Add in an explosive debate about casino gambling in South Florida and the heavily-lobbied discussion of personal injury protection insurance, and the odds of also addressing a revamp of higher education that has drawn the ire of some college and university presidents are long.
“Because of redistricting, and the fact that we have a big budget deficit, I think everything is always a little bit harder because of that,” Scott said in a recent interview. “But I think we need to start the process of having a good dialogue.”
Cannon also tacked closely to that line when talking with reporters last month, saying he would prefer to leave the heavy lifting for when Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, take over their respective chambers.
“I don’t think we’re going to try and make any major policy reforms,” Cannon said. “This is more the type of thing that I want to honor the governor’s beginning that conversation, maybe make a few thoughtful steps in that direction, and then pass that along to incoming Speaker Weatherford and incoming President Gaetz for them to carry over into the next couple of years.”
Current Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has also sounded cautious about the plan, noting Gaetz’s interest in the issue and would support moving now “if he thinks we’re ready to move forward.” Frank Brogan, chancellor of the state university system, has also called for a go-slow approach.
Scott shook the higher education community over the summer when he began pushing for colleges and universities to focus on science and technology degrees — often questioning the need for more anthropology or journalism majors — and considering a controversial reform plan from Texas, where Scott’s political idol Rick Perry is governor.
Perry’s proposals, which mirror conservative reform efforts in elementary and secondary schools, include merit pay for professors, tenure form and a greater emphasis on measuring whether professors are turning out students that meet certain goals. Other proposals in Texas have included abandoning the traditional accreditation system, a freeze on tuition and a $10,000 bachelor’s degree.
While those sweeping changes might not be in the offing for Florida schools this year, Scott and others are laying the groundwork for change.
Cannon said, for instance, that he would be interested in taking up a plan to introduce a vision for the state’s system, echoing some of the flaws highlighted by a recent report from the Higher Education Coordinating Council.
“Right now, we don’t have an effective system,” Cannon said. “We have sort of a discordant, competing group of fiefdoms and that’s not healthy for our state.”
House Education Committee Chairman Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, said his panel will begin meetings with university presidents on Jan. 13 to begin getting their input on a variety of reform proposals floating around the Capitol.
“Then, we’ll see where we go from there,” Proctor said.
Scott, meanwhile, is proposing that policy makers begin sifting through the information universities provided him in response to an October letter asking for information, including data showing how well graduates did in the workforce.
“Probably the logical thing to do is to put together a working group to review that,” Scott said, “and work with our universities to come up with something where the public feels that they’re getting their return on the dollars that we invest in higher ed and in individuals creating jobs.”