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SB2: Bringing Unintended Consequences to a Florida College Near You.

Florida’s K-12 Education policy is full of accountabaloney and this session, following Senate President Joe Negron state-wide tour of Florida’s colleges and Universities, the Florida Legislature has its sights set on higher education.

What could go wrong?

Thankfully, some legislators have been around long enough to be able to predict the “unintended consequences” of education policies before they are put in place. On 2/8/17, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, Senator Tom Lee (R-District 20) could immediately smell the accountabaloney associated with Senate Bill 2 (SB2) and he was not afraid to say something. (You can watch the committee meeting here.)

SB2 will, among other things, incentivize postsecondary institutions based on their students’ ability to complete their degrees in 4 years. In addition to concerns that institutions serving part-time or low-income college students will be unfairly impacted, Senator Lee worried the Legislature was changing the speed in which full-time, Bright Future’s students are expected to graduate without giving assurances that those students will have the resources needed to attend the summer school sessions necessary for many to meet the newly imposed metrics. He pointed out that the Senate Leadership has made SB2 a priority and has fast tracked it so that the State budget won’t be determined until after this bill has passed. Senator Lee offered Amendment 205232 which would make the use of the graduation rate metric contingent on securing the funding necessary for those summer sessions. Senator Galvano, the bill’s sponsor, insists these are metrics being placed on the universities not on the students. Senator Lee is able to see the consequences of such actions and calls out the baloney (watch at 1:01:45):

“I’ve watched the Legislature pass policy after policy that directs money in different ways and what the system always figures a way to do is adjust their rules, in this case their admission standards or their criterion, in such a way as to make sure that they get the money. And what is going to happen under this bill, eventually, if we’re not careful, is we will discriminate against kids that are not full time students, so that certain institutions can game their numbers and ultimately get more money… So, you know, take it from someone who’s been around for awhile, the system will figure out a way to access the resources we are dangling out there and it will, in fact, result in student stations NOT being filled by people who work or have families and cannot comply with your desire to see these kids… graduate in 4 years… I’m just saying, at an absolute minimum, let’s make sure that these young people are given the resources so that they can avail themselves of this lost summer term, for the years they’re in school, without having to dip into their pockets to do so.”

Senator Lee also highlighted concerns regarding unfunded mandates. Anyone following Florida’s education policy knows that Florida’s K-12 schools have been hit hard by unfunded or underfunded mandates (for example: standardized testing, progress monitoring, and class size requirements). Senator Lee’s amendment insisted that the state fund the inevitable summer terms students would need to graduate in 4 years before the 4 year graduation metric is allowed to go into place.

“I represent the University of South Florida, that entire campus is in my district, how do I go home to those folks and tell them I have just passed a piece of legislation, I voted for a piece of legislation, that tells you you’re going to have pressure put on you to graduate in 4 years but doesn’t give you a plugged nickel to cover the additional costs you’re going to have to incur because you will invariably will have to be in school one or more summer terms… To me, the money should follow the policy and if we are not going to have a piece of legislation the includes the resources for summer tuition then it is very, very difficult for me to embrace the four year graduation rate.”

Senator Lee could smell the accountabaloney. He knows SB2’s new incentives, emphasizing college graduation in 4 years, will result in gamesmanship and students (especially those who are low income or part-time) will suffer. Colleges will adjust policies to assure funding and non-traditional students will be discriminated against. Senator Lee knows that, without funding, many full-time students will not be able to afford the summer sessions necessary to achieve the new metrics. His amendment required the state to fund the necessary summer sessions.

Senator Lee’s amendment 205232 failed.

To be clear, Senator Lee’s amendment would not have completely eliminated the accountabaloney associated with SB2. Many students take longer than 4 years to complete their college degree. The 4 year graduation rate metric will result in labelling colleges and universities as failures, merely because they have large part-time or non-traditional student populations. We encourage you to watch the heartfelt public comments from educators and college administrators who are opposed to SB’s 4 year graduation incentive and hear how SB2’s 4 year graduation metric will place unrealistic unattainable expectations on the college system and then, when those expectations are not, will label those institutions as failure. (Begin watching at 1:06:00 and don’t miss Dr Jennifer Proffitt’s comments regarding unintended consequences at 1:29:00). SB2 also makes changes to Bright Futures scholarships and requires state university boards of trustees adopt an undergraduate block tuition policy.

To date, the focus of our blog has been to call out the accountabaloney in Florida’s K-12 education system. When we learned about SB2, the smell of accountabaloney was too great NOT to comment. Of course, we want our tax dollars spent in an responsible manner, but we believe Florida’s test-and-punish accountability system has failed our K-12 public schools. We fear that similar accountability practices will have negative consequences on our state’s university and college systems. We urge parents and educators to pay attention to the legislative changes being made to our public colleges and universities and speak out before it is too late.

Senator Lee ended his debate on SB2 (which he ultimately voted FOR so as not to “offend” the Senate President) saying:

“I just feel like this Legislature sometimes is a little out of touch with reality of  the way most people in this state grow up and live. As we evolve this piece of legislation, lets make sure that we don’t turn our post secondary education system into elitist institutions that are only available to those young people… who can fit into our vision of what college life ought to look like.”

We, at Accountabaloney, hope they won’t turn our post secondary education system into institutions where metrics matter more than students, much the way the have turned our K-12 system into places where students are, often, regarded as little more than a test score.

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