by Emery Gainey and Nicole Washington
The first part of the proposed revision creates the State College System as a constitutional entity. Fla. Const. art. IX currently provides the framework and governance structures for our public K-12 education system and public universities, but it leaves out one important public system — the State College System. Established in the 1930s, then as junior colleges, the Florida College System was created to ensure that all Florida residents would have access to higher education within a short drive. Over time, as the population of Florida has grown, the system has expanded to 28 public colleges in metropolitan, suburban, and rural communities across the state serving nearly 800,000 Floridians and awarding more than 100,000 credentials annually.1
The purpose of the Florida College System is to maximize postsecondary access for students, respond to community needs for postsecondary academic education and career degree education, and provide associate and limited baccalaureate degrees that will meet employment needs of the community and state.2 These open-access institutions serve as a primary access point to higher education for high-school graduates and adults who want to gain a workforce credential or a bachelor’s degree. Two out of three high school graduates start at a Florida College System institution, and one out of two juniors and seniors in our public universities transferred from one of the public colleges.3 The Florida College System provides an affordable pathway to high-quality higher education for the underrepresented student populations that Florida will need to educate and train to be globally competitive — those who tend to be slightly older, working, and racially and socio-economically diverse. Ninety percent of Florida College System graduates remain and work in Florida.4
The first provision also constitutionalizes the current governance structure for the colleges. The current governance structure was established in 2003, after a 1998 Constitution Revision Commission amendment created a separate State Board of Education. A local board of trustees composed of community leaders governs each college and has a number of responsibilities, including ensuring that programs are responsive to the local workforce needs. To maximize alignment and coordination between K-12 and the colleges, the State Board of Education supervises the system.
This proposal, if passed, will make Fla. Const. art. IX an all-encompassing section outlining the purposes and governing structures of Florida’s public education systems, including pre-K-12 schools, state colleges, and state universities.
First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits
The second provision would require a death benefit to be paid on behalf of the following first responders and military members killed or fatally injured on duty: firefighters; paramedics; emergency medical technicians; law enforcement, corrections, and probation officers; and Florida National Guard members, who must be employees of the state or a state agency or subdivision to be eligible, would be paid from their “employing agency.” The benefit would be paid from general revenue in the case of Armed Forces personnel, who must be residents of, or stationed in, Florida when killed. In addition, when any of these persons are killed or fatally injured on duty, the state must waive “certain educational expenses” incurred by the surviving spouse and children in obtaining a career certificate or undergraduate or postgraduate education. Death by suicide is an exception to this provision.
State University Fees
The final provision of the revision specifically seeks to require a supermajority vote to increase or change university fees. In contrast to national trends, in which the average public four-year university tuition has greatly outpaced median family income,5 Florida has held tuition and fees flat over the last several years while still investing in university performance. With an average tuition and fees of $6,393 in 2017-18, the State University System of Florida is ranked 49th nationally in tuition and fees.6
While tuition is often the most visible aspect of college costs, fees associated with attending university also impact affordability. In 2017-18, fees comprised 20 percent of the State University System’s operating budget, whereas tuition made up 13 percent.7 The Board of Trustees has been delegated authority to establish or increase a number of fees including, but not limited to, tuition differential, distance learning, activity and service, and health.8 Some fee increases must also be approved by the Board of Governors, which governs the State University System. The proposal raises the voting threshold to increase or change a fee from a simple majority of each body to a supermajority as required by law.
1 Florida College System, 2016 Annual Report, https://www.floridacollegesystem.com/sites/www/Uploads/Publications/FCS%20Annual%20Reports/2016%20-%20FINAL%20(PDF).pdf.
2 Fla. Stat. §1001.60(1).
3 The Florida College System, https://www.floridacollegesystem.com/publications/data_snapshots.aspx.
5 College Board, Trends in College Pricing 2017, https://trends.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/2017-trends-in-college-pricing_0.pdf.
6 See State University System of Florida, College Board Undergrad Tuition Table, http://www.flbog.edu/board/office/budget/_doc/tuition/2017-18_CollegeBoardUndergradTuitionTable.pdf.
7 See Florida Constitution Revision Commission, Committee Meeting Expanded Agenda (Oct. 5, 2017), available at https://www.flcrc.gov/PublishedContent/Committees/2017-2018/ED/MeetingRecords/MeetingPacket_55.pdf
8 Fla. Stat. §1009.24.
EMERY GAINEY served as a commissioner on the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission and has devoted his entire career to law enforcement in Florida. He is a member of the attorney general’s senior executive management team and currently serves as the director of Law Enforcement Relations, Victim Services & Criminal Justice Programs and is the liaison between federal, state, and local law enforcement administrators and the attorney general. He is a graduate of the University of Florida and the FBI National Academy 188th Session.
NICOLE WASHINGTON is a national education policy advisor committed to improving education opportunities for all students. She served as vice chair for the Education Subcommittee of the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission. Washington consults for national and state higher education organizations, including Lumina Foundation and Florida College Access Network. She also serves on the board of trustees for Florida A&M University, LeRoy Collins Institute, and Leadership Florida Connect. She earned her B.A. from Princeton University and M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University.