A recent Tampa Bay Times1 wonderful story on the politics of education in Florida somehow squeezed into a few column inches the various topics required: legislative arrogance, regional parochialism, the public interest in higher education, the jobs connections of legislators in higher ed, and the occasional twinges of regret (such as House Speaker Dean Cannon’s statement at the opening of this year’s session). We have politics in Florida higher ed, loads of it. Every time there is something weird that happens in my state’s colleges and communities, I am tempted to shout, “Stop! I have enough material for several college novels. You don’t need to supply me with any more!”2
This week’s notable entries:
- An administrative legal hearing request by the Seminole County school board challenging the procedures of the state’s charter-school appeal board. This will probably end up in the courts if both the school board and state keep up their own arguments, and it will hinge on how broadly applicable is a state supreme court decision several years ago, a decision that struck down a state superboard as encroaching on the constitutional duties of county school boards. The bill in the legislature that creates a “parent trigger” on school turnarounds may trigger another legal conflict, with the basic question being the same: when can the legislature create mechanisms that override the constitutional powers of local boards?
- Bills moving quickly through both houses that would carve out either half or all of the state’s school construction funds entirely for charter schools, which educate a small minority of schoolchildren in the state.
- Budget-bill language in the state senate that suddenly appeared before the higher-ed appropriations subcommittee this afternoon, which would give the USF Polytechnic campus immediate independence as Florida Polytechnic University. A decade ago, voters approved the creation of a constitutional body governing the state’s universities; this is a pretty bold attempt by senators to carve out authority to create an entirely new university by legislative fiat, without the approval of the Board of Governors.