Monday, April 23, 2018
Editorials

Greatest test of the higher ed task force: getting Scott to invest

It's hard not to be skeptical about the motives behind Gov. Rick Scott's creation of a new task force on higher education. This is the governor who sees universities as vocational schools, worries the low tuition is too high and declares he has no use for more anthropology majors. He signed into law two state budgets that slashed higher education spending by hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet he approved spending tens of millions on the creation of a 12th university with no students, no faculty and no accreditation. And Florida already has enough long-range plans that the governor and the Legislature ignore.

It doesn't take another task force to determine how to improve higher education in a state where no public universities rank among the nation's top 50 and only one ranks among the top 100 (the University of Florida ranks 58th). More money from the state. Less meddling from state legislators. Better defined roles for each university. Greater leadership from the Board of Governors, which ostensibly oversees the system.

Yet the governor's Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform will be useful if it can convince Scott that money spent wisely on education offers a great return on investment for both the student and taxpayers. The seven-member committee will include four members chosen by legislative leaders and two by the Board of Governors. It will be chaired by Scott's choice, Dale Brill, president of the Florida Chamber Foundation. If the committee fails, it will be hard for politicians to duck and cover and keep claiming they support higher education.

Higher education in the Sunshine State is having a terrible year. Tuition is going up, the quality of education is going down, and state support is declining by $300 million. Yet Scott and the Legislature approved the creation of another university, Florida Polytechnic, that the state doesn't need and can't afford.

The Board of Governors already has a little-noticed 13-year strategic plan for the state's universities. There are plenty of committees whose work is already gathering dust. So how could this panel's work be any different?

There are two reasons:

• With incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford and incoming Senate President Don Gaetz appointing members to the committee, the legislative leaders are now personally vested in making improvements.

• By bringing together appointees from the Legislature and the Board of Governors, the task force can bridge that divide. Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, hopes the panel can de-politicize the debate and take "a more holistic look at our higher education system."

John Delaney, the president of the University of North Florida who was appointed to the panel by the Board of Governors, is optimistic the governor will support more spending if the task force makes the case with solid evidence. That shouldn't be hard. Delaney once wondered what would result if the state doubled its higher education spending. Experts ran the numbers, and the answer was astounding. Delaney knows that doubling spending will not happen, but he recognizes the need to invest.

The former Jacksonville mayor makes another point. Appropriately, people talk about raising Florida tuition to the national average. But who has argued that the state itself should hit the national average on per-student spending?

Brill, who chairs the panel for the governor, says the point is not to duplicate past efforts — the Board of Governors already has a strategic plan and the Higher Education Coordinating Council has a voluminous report — but to glean from them and others to build consensus for incentives and innovation. The data-driven governor should be driven by this data to set clearer priorities and invest in higher education.

Comments
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18