"I don’t think we should do a back-door creation of a state college system," State Board of Education member Kathleen Shanahan (left) told The Gradebook today. "We should do it in a sunshine, transparent, strategic way. And I don't think that's being done."
The bills in question would convert the state's 28 community colleges into a State College System, and unofficially use St. Petersburg College as a model (read more in this St. Petersburg Times story here). Supporters say the new system would allow more community colleges to offer more bachelor's degrees – something only a handful of them do now – while they stay true to their core missions.
Shanahan, a Tampa businesswoman with close ties to Gov. Charlie Crist, said Florida might need state colleges. But the current plan is being rushed, she said, because it's politically tangled up in an even bigger proposal to fundamentally revamp the state’s education system – a proposal that includes giving the Legislature more power over universities (which many Republicans favor) and returning to an elected education commissioner (which many Democrats like). "It's based on politics," she said. "It's not based on any kind of study."
Key questions about funding, strategy and division of responsibilities are being overlooked, Shanahan continued. And she said she fears that Florida's community college system – which is often praised nationally – could gradually become something less. "In three to five years, they're going to say, 'Where's our football team?'"
So far, the state college idea has won unanimous, bipartisan support in every legislative committee, and it's expected to win approval from the full Senate today. Is Shanahan the lone wolf on this one? After raising concerns at yesterday's Board of Education meeting in Tallahassee, she got some backing from board Chairman T. Willard Fair: "I think we all share that concern with what appears to be an end-run" around the current education system, he said.
The board has not formally weighed in on the legislation.
- Ron Matus, state education reporter