Gov. Rick Scott and his pals in the Republican-dominated Florida legislature are poised to annihilate public education brick by brick. We’re used to calling him Pink Slip Rick, but after last week, Scott earned yet another title — Tricky Rick.
That’s because the very same governor who proposed up to $4.3 billion in cuts to education, the elimination of liberal arts majors and attacked our college professors for the lucrative paychecks they do not get is now pretending he actually cares about college students. His tactic of approving budget cuts and asking universities not to raise tuition has actually fooled some people into thinking that he supports higher education.
Without a doubt, had Scott truly been a supporter of higher education, he would have vetoed the $300 million in funding cuts to public universities he ended up approving back in April. To pour salt into the wound, these cuts were disproportionately distributed among universities. The irony is that universities that saved up the biggest reserves of funding were hit the hardest. UCF took the second-largest hit at $52.6 million, second to Florida State University, simply because the pro-business-practice-touting Republican legislature learned that we were wise with our money.
In an utmost insulting move, Scott came to the UCF main campus last Tuesday to urge the Florida Board of Governors not to raise tuition. While I am no proponent of tuition hikes, I’ve got one thing to say to the governor: Actions speak louder than words. If Scott truly didn’t want tuition to rise, he would have spoken out against budget cuts by reining in his pals in the Florida legislature. When universities don’t have the money to operate, they begin to cut programs the way the University of Florida did when it nearly dropped its entire computer science department in April. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the 15 percent raise in differential tuition this fall was needed not only because of the cuts but also to keep enrollment going and develop the science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs that Scott and the legislature have been demanding.
And here’s the cruel joke: After cutting $1.3 billion from education last year and putting back just $1 billion, he is claiming to have increased funding for education in the great state of Florida. Rick Collins, chief financial officer for Orange County Public Schools, puts it like this: “At the end of the day, we still have less money available per student for next year than we have right now. That’s the reality of it.” So I’m sorry, Scott, but restoring education funding after cutting it by a larger margin the year before isn’t exactly progress. That would be like punching someone in the face and then expecting a thank you when you help them up.
This is why it is so crucial for students to vote locally and for candidates who know firsthand the importance of education. Here in Orange County, we have two current teachers running for state house. Karen Castor Dentel, a teacher at Dommerich Elementary School, and Sean Ashby, a social studies teacher from Timber Creek High School, are both competing in districts 30 and 50, respectively. We need more teachers in Tallahassee and these are the type of candidates that will serve students of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds.
So before we place the blame on our university for hiking tuition, we need to take a look at our state legislature. We must support the candidates that support us as students, and in 2012, we’ll remind the state legislature the true cost of cutting education when we’re in the ballot box. Then in 2014, Tricky Rick should expect a big, fat pink slip.
Anyone interested in writing a column for the Opinions section at the Central Florida Future can contact the Opinions Editor, Kaley LaQuea, at email@example.com.