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Hammering higher ed

Despite the importance of higher education to Florida's well-being, lawmakers are taking abusive aim at our state universities.

A Times Editorial
Published March 10, 2006


If Florida government is so flush with tax money and good will, why is it taking so many cheap shots at its universities?

Cheap Shot 1: Voters thought so highly of higher education they tried in 2002 to insulate universities from the raw politics of the Legislature. But lawmakers this year still want to put a leash on the constitutionally created Board of Governors. They don't want the board to have too much power or even to oversee community colleges that are granting four-year degrees.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee would go one step further. They propose to ask voters to change their minds and remove the Board of Governors from the Constitution. As Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, told reporters: "This is the epitome of arrogance."

Cheap Shot No. 2: In a 295-page bill rewriting various parts of the education code, a House committee has changed a few key words in the long-running and highly successful university matching grants program. When donors offer big money for university projects, the law currently says the donations "must be matched" by the state. Lawmakers propose to substitute the words "are eligible to be matched."

This is a peculiar step back, particularly at a time when the state is offering a 100 percent tax rebate for corporations that give money for private school vouchers.

Cheap Shot No. 3: Universities have added 52,590 students in the past five years with only enough money to pay for two-thirds of them. That has left the campuses, already among the worst-financed in the nation, some $94-million behind and scrambling to maintain the quality all students deserve.

The early budget plans for next year, including the one offered by Gov. Jeb Bush, amount to more looting of higher education. The governor would pay for only about two-thirds of the new students, and lawmakers are trying to use tuition increases as a way to get the state off the hook.

Few things are as critical to a state's economic potential and its quality of life as outstanding universities. Why won't lawmakers give them the respect they deserve?