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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

University chancellor pushes for New Florida Initiative



Top university officials have made it one of their priorities: $150 million for the New Florida Initiative, a program aimed at bolstering research, spurring high-tech job growth and transforming the state’s economy.

“I guarantee you somebody’s going to find a cure for cancer,” university system Chancellor Frank T. Brogan told more than 150 students gathered at a rally sponsored by the Florida Student Association at the Capitol today. “Why not here in Florida?”

But neither the House nor Senate has included the funding in draft higher education budgets. Neither did Gov. Rick Scott.

Brogan, a Republican and former lieutenant governor under Gov. Jeb Bush, said after his speech that he understood that legislators are dealing with a nearly $4 billion shortfall.

But “we continue to call on the legislature to understand what is a reasonable investment,” he said. With the New Florida Initiative “we can guarantee the state more baccalaureates, more research and development … I’m not sure where else you’re going to get that deal in Florida.”

House Democratic leader, Ron Saunders of Key West, who was also a guest speaker at today’s rally, said later he sided with Brogan on funding for the program.

“I don’t know why his fellow Republicans wouldn’t listen,” he said.

Close to 150 students attended today’s rally. Their objectives included the New Florida Initiative and a tax-free holiday for textbook sales.

University of South Florida senior Lara McDermott has seen first-hand the budget cuts of the last three years: Classes are bigger – and there are fewer of them.

At the same time, her Bright Futures scholarship and her prepaid tuition plan don’t go as far as her parents thought they would.

So McDermott, a criminology major, drove to Tallahassee with about 20 other USF students to attend today’s event.

“The legislature has it dead set that they’re going to balance the budget on the students’ backs,” she said.

The university system alone is dealing with the loss of nearly $150 million in federal stimulus money. Tuition increases are likely. A House plan includes tightening up eligibility for Bright Futures next year and a Senate plan would decrease the award by $1,000.

All this comes as the federal government plans reductions to the Pell grant, including cutting off its use for summer classes.

“If y’all aren’t concerned,” Saunders told students, “you should be.”

[Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 3:28pm]


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