Florida Senate president-designate Negron focuses on education issues in acceptance speech
Sen. Joe Negron, the Senate president-designate for 2016, listed some of his key education priorities -- especially higher education -- during his acceptance speech on Wednesday. Here's what he had to say:
As we think about the upcoming sessions in 2017 and 2018, I want to discuss four guiding principles today. Issue number one: Let's make our good universities great. Over the past decade or so, with nominal support from the Legislature, our universities have significantly improved in their quality and their reputation. Universities to me are special, exceptional places where students meet, they gather, they get to know one another, they plan, they dream and these become our future entrepreneurs and our future creators. If you look around the country, if you see vibrant, sustainable economic development and high paying jobs, you almost always see a high university presence. How about this for workforce development which we hear a lot about today? This happens thousands of times on university campuses every year as students walk across the graduation stage. They have a diploma in one hand and a job offer in the other hand. My vision is for our universities in Florida,which are good, to go to the next level-to become national elite destination universities like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Virginia, University of Michigan, University of Texas at Austin. Just as students in Florida now apply to these universities and, many times, attend them, imagine a time when students from around the country will apply to Florida universities to come to Florida to get a great education at a national destination university. So what will it take us to get there? I've talked to our university presidents, and I've asked them. They tell me they need three things: first, we need to recruit and retain the very best faculty; second, we need to enhance our graduate schools and our professional schools; and third, we need to address aging infrastructure on many of our campuses.
It won't surprise you that I have a few ideas of my own. I'll just give you three.
First, two years ago, we established the Benacquisto scholarship program for national merit scholars in Florida who were being recruited to go out of state. We wanted to keep them here in Florida if that was one of their options. We now have 413 students on full national merit scholarships because of Senator Benacquisto and her idea. I want to see us expand that so that we are competing for national merit scholars from other states to come into Florida.
Secondly, I think it is important for every single student in Florida and every single family in Florida that a student can obtain a higher education regardless of their economic circumstances. I am proposing that we increase funding for our Florida Residents Access Grant and also for our Florida Student Assistance Grant to make sure that college and the university experience are available to everyone who qualifies and everyone who has earned the right to attend one of our universities.
Finally, I would like to see us restore the academic scholar level of Bright Futures to the time and to the circumstances that we had before the great depression when changes, of course, needed to be made and were properly made. I would like to see us, over time, restore the top level of the Bright Futures Scholarships to 100 percent of tuition plus a $300 stipend for textbooks. That's one of my goals. All in, counting tuition, counting state support, North Carolina spends about twice as much as Florida does on its universities. Virginia spends 50 percent more. While money isn't everything, where your treasure is, there your heart is also. I have no interest in building administrative castles. I don't want to build bureaucracy. I want all new funding to go directly to programs that benefit students in the classroom and also benefit them after they graduate and go on to live productive lives. With that understanding, over a two-year period during the 2017 and 2018 sessions, I will propose that we fund an additional billion dollars to our universities for performance funding and for preeminence funding to make our universities great.