Earlier this month, Governor Rick Scott found himself with the responsibility of deciding the fate of this legislative session’s most controversial bills: HB 7069 and SB 374. If passed, the new legislation would mean millions of dollars in cuts to state-funded K-12 schools and as well dozens of colleges throughout the state. The highly debated proposals have made their way through the state chambers despite deep criticisms from members of both parties and educators around the state. Once the proposal is received, Scott will have 15 days to make a final decision. No changes can be made to either measure. They must be passed in their entirety; a decision is expected early next month.
Duval County superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, told the Times Union early last week, “HB7069 is about power and corruption. It’s about anti-public accountability and anti-public schools. It will radically and negatively transform funding streams, infrastructure, and systems of support for public schools.” According to Vitti, the passing of 7069 could cost the area over two dozen local schools which would inevitably be unable to sustain themselves and provide existing services to their K-12 students.
Malcolm Thomas, the president of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and Escambia County Schools Superintendent, released the following statement early last week:
“The budget fails to meet the basic funding needs of Florida’s nearly 2.8 million public education students, and despite some good education policy in HB 7069 the overall damage to public education far outweighs the good. With a united voice, we call upon the Governor to veto HB 7069 and the FEFP in support of Florida public education.”
Vitti and Thomas are not alone in their sentiments, but their reactions are feelings are explicitly towards HB 7069.
What are upper-level, secondary educators, and students saying about SB374 which threatens to make sweeping reforms which will inevitably affect Florida’s 12 public universities and 28 state colleges?
Currently, Florida State College at Jacksonville offers 13 Bachelor of Science degrees. Concern over the sustainability of these programs has proven to be great as the threat of massive financial cuts looms large. FSCJ President, Dr. Cynthia Bioteau, provided the following statement to the Campus Voice:
“The budget as proposed and prepared for Governor Scott includes a $30.2 million cut in funding to the Florida College System, of which approximately $3 million will be cut from FSCJ. Effects of this level of cuts mean fewer courses will be available, and less flexibility in scheduling courses with higher student-to-faculty ratios inside the classroom will be likely. It will also mean less advising, tutoring, and student development services that help students graduate on time and enter the workforce.
The bill will not have an immediate impact on the current baccalaureate degree program offerings, however, it will add an overly burdensome approval process and annual reporting of our baccalaureate degrees. It will also limit baccalaureate enrollment growth to 15% at each institution (FSCJ is estimated at 9.5% full-time equivalent enrollment for 2016-2017).”
Last Friday, Florida State College of Jacksonville joined in the push-back when members of SGA, students, and faculty, coordinated a press conference held at FSCJ’s Downtown Campus. Students, faculty, and staff stood around the stage for the length of the press conference holding signs that read ‘Support the Florida College System’ and ‘Support FSCJ.’ Local media outlets were also in attendance to spread awareness of the days’ events.
Lyse Medina, Former Chair of FSCJ Kent Campus Student Government Association, addressed the sizable crowd with several hard truths: 374 will directly impact FSCJ’s ability to provide tutoring and compensate academic advisors. It could mean shorter library and student lounge hours. And perhaps most alarming of all, the elimination of many existing adjunct professors on staff at the college.
Nadia Esha, FSCJ’s Student Government President, and one of the several students who addressed the crowd at Friday’s meeting spoke to the Campus Voice about what concerned students and faculty can do to make their voices heard: “Call your elected officials, specifically Governor Scott. You can take to social media, but the most productive form of engagement is a phone call.”
The Tampa Bay Times/Herald reported last Wednesday that Scott’s office had received over 22,000 responses from Floridians regarding the preferred fate of the bill. Early on, the public response was overwhelmingly negative, but many charter schools and for-profit institutions have been responding with phone banks of their own and encouraging students and employees to make their voices heard as well, causing the gap in opinion to close quickly.
Both Medina and Esha urge all concerned parties to contact Governor Scott’s office until the fate both bills has been decided.
As students of Florida State College, we are afforded a quality education at an affordable price. The courses offered are taught in intimate settings, keeping the student-teacher ratio low. The College also offers many resources to reintegrate non-traditional students (for which FSCJ has many) into the educational world. English as a Second Language is provided for non-English speakers and even offers classes specifically for refugees. Many of these excellent programs and offerings set FSCJ apart from other local institutions, and this proposed budget could directly impact them all.
Harvey Slentz, a professor of business at Kent campus, represented the faculty as he presented additional hard facts about state colleges in Florida. According to the US News and World report, the Florida education system was ranked number one in the country. Regarding secondary education, state colleges educate three times the number of students as other universities and institutions on a quarter of the budget. FSCJ is in the top 25 institutes in the United States in value as a four-year college. Therefore 374, or ‘The Great Tallahassee Education Chainsaw Massacre’, as Slentz lovingly refers to it, this could affect all of the colleges recognized successes.
The Campus Voice spoke to Barvenia Wooten, head coach of FSCJ’s women’s basketball team, concerning what the proposed budget cuts could mean for the school’s athletic department.
“When you begin to cut money from the budget, the effects will quickly begin to trickle down and will eventually get to athletics. I have no doubt that we will feel the effects quickly.”
If you are a student looking to contact Governor Scott’s office or other state legislators regarding SB374, the SGA and members of faculty encourage you to do so, but respectfully. Be polite, calm, and speak directly to the facts at hand. As Nadia Esha said at the end of Friday’s events, speak to how FSCJ directly affects you and how these cuts could negatively affect your experience at the college.
Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001