Thursday, May 24, 2018
Opinion

Editorial: Vacuum at the top in Florida education

Chancellor Frank Brogan's announcement Wednesday that he would end 35 years in Florida education and politics to head to a lesser-paying university job in Pennsylvania leaves the state's top two education posts vacant. This is a leaderless education system in turmoil — underperforming, underfunded and under the thumb of partisan politics. Until that changes, good luck finding quality candidates to oversee public schools and universities.

Brogan — a former school teacher, principal, Martin County superintendent, state education commissioner, lieutenant governor under Gov. Jeb Bush and state university president — insists his departure as head of the university system has nothing to do with the state of higher education in Florida. He says he is leaving about a year earlier than he expected because the Pennsylvania opportunity became available.

But during Brogan's four years as chancellor, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature approved a 12th university to please one powerful lawmaker even as funding was cut to existing schools. The governor opposes tuition increases even as the state's universities remain some of the least expensive in the country. University of Florida president Bernie Machen was out the door until Scott agreed to spend more in Gainesville, and professors are leaving the system for positions at less prestigious but better-paying universities in other states.

Much of Brogan's job has been trying to convince Scott and Republican legislative leaders that the state's modest higher education investment needs to be sustained, not to mention improved. The Board of Governors office recently boasted that in the 2013 U.S. News & World Report rankings the universities of Florida, Florida State and South Florida were listed as having better reputations than their financial resources would predict. In other words, cheap but apparently efficient. But no public universities in Florida ranked in the top 50 when it came to quality. UF came closest at No. 54.

Brogan's departure comes on the heels of Tony Bennett's abrupt resignation from Florida's top public schools job last week. Bennett had barely unpacked his bags in Tallahassee. But Brogan, 59, has been a fixture there, advocating in one way or another for education for decades. Neither departure sends a good message about the overall state of Florida public education.

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