While lawmakers worked away the afternoon in the state Capitol, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan stopped by Tallahassee Community College to tout the importance of workforce education.
The town hall meeting took place one day after President Barack Obama delivered the State of the Union address and called upon community colleges to become community career centers.
Obama described the next generation of community colleges "as places that teach people skills that local businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing."
Duncan echoed the sentiment, saying community colleges are "uniquely position to help people get the skills they need" for high-tech, high-skilled and high-paying jobs.
He praised TCC's Center for Workforce Development for partnering with local employers. "TCC leads to real jobs in the community," Duncan said.
Duncan fielded questions on a variety of topics, ranging from the federal Race to the Top competition to teacher pay.
On that subject, Duncan said he envisions first-year teachers making $60,000 –- and the best and brightest drawing salaries in excess of $150,000.
He would also like to see financial incentives for teachers who take jobs in struggling schools –- or who teach high-demand subjects like math and science.
"We've been doing the wrong thing by teachers and the education profession for so long," he said.
Some participants in the town hall meeting spoke up against the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests, saying the exams discourage teachers from being creative and students from thinking critically.
Duncan said assessments ought to be viewed as safety nets, not weapons. But he conceded that exams "need to be meaningful" to be useful.