Florida’s Education Policies Not Winning Over Voters

Florida residents seem singularly united against the education reform ideas being proposed by state leaders. From controversial race-based achievement standards to imposing higher tuition on degree programs in the arts fields, a recent poll shows that the majority of voters oppose them all.

The poll, conducted by the Quinnipiac University, whose sample contained only registered voters, found that that there was little support for the raft of reforms recently publicized by Florida Governor Rick Scott. Among the most unpopular policies was the one that suggested that college tuition should be lowered for students pursuing degrees in high-need majors like technology, engineering and computer science. Overall, only 26% thought that the proposal was a good idea.

The governor and GOP lawmakers plan to push the concept of prioritizing so-called STEM degrees in the spring legislative session because they say universities need to tailor their graduates to the demands of the marketplace. University professors have said the idea could destroy many liberal arts programs.

The idea of allowing some universities like the University of Florida and Florida State University to be dubbed as “preeminent” and allowed charge higher tuition was opposed by 73 percent of the voters surveyed.

All public universities are under a 15% max tuition increase cap, although in a law passed last year, several of the top research institutions in the state were given permission to exceed it. The bill was vetoed by Scott, but several legislators have already expressed intentions to revive it next session. This goes against a proposal offered by Scott which would cap increases to 3% for all colleges and universities in the Florida’s public university system.

Yet no proposal was greeted with more opprobrium by the voters than the decision made by the Board of Education earlier this year to set out different academic standards for different racial groups. Instead of setting out uniform metrics, board members decided that racial and ethnic achievement gaps warranted different achievement goals. For example, while 88% of white students and 90% of Asian students will need to be proficient in reading by 2018, only 81% of Hispanic students and 74% of black students will need to meet the standards.

This policy proposal drew almost uniform opposition from groups not typically on the same side of political questions. It was considered a bad idea among 73% of white voters, 67% of Hispanic voters and 63% of black voters, and in total, nearly three out of four people polled opposed it.

One bit of good news for Republican lawmakers was on the public pension front, where 53 percent thought it was a good idea to require new state employees participate in a 401-k type retirement plan rather than the defined-benefit pension plan offered to state workers. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, wants to push that idea in the spring.

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