Florida eyes education reforms, tuition incentives

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Robby Soave Reporter
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Florida Gov. Rick Scott is proposing numerous changes to statewide education, from increased use of charter schools to raising tuition on college majors that yield low odds of employment.

Scott appointed the Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform last May to evaluate post-secondary education reforms. The task force has yet to vote on a set of recommendations, but one of its proposals is already getting significant national attention: the plan to set tuition rates based on which major students choose.

Since degrees in science, technology engineering, and math — collectively known as STEM fields — are more likely to employ graduates than degrees in liberal arts, the plan calls for Florida to raise tuition on non-STEM programs.

“These objectives argue for differentiated tuition by degree or program, and perhaps even lowering tuition in certain strategic areas,” according to the report.

Florida universities would not be the first to charge different amounts of tuition depending on a given student’s area of study. But at most universities that charge by program, the STEM majors are more expensive than the liberal arts, because class materials — such as lab fees — run up the costs.

The Board of Governors would have to vote in favor of the proposal for it to take effect.

Dale Brill, chairman of the task force, declined to comment until the final report was finished.

Scott is also pushing mild reforms at the high school and elementary education levels. He announced support for an expansion of state charter school programs and tougher academic standards in a statement last week.

Scott also wants to give teachers state-funded debit cards to purchase school supplies.

Joy Pullmann, managing editor of School Reform News, criticized Scott’s plan as timid when compared with previous years’ agendas.

“Gov. Scott has released a comparatively tame education agenda, which reflects the vitriolic backlash he’s faced from the education establishment, and possibly a bit of “reform exhaustion” in a state that has made continual, serious education changes across the past 15 years,” she wrote in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The state of Florida has been a leader in education reform in the past, said Pullmann.

“It’s noteworthy that as states across the country seek to emulate Florida education policies — more school choice, test-based accountability, providing parents and taxpayers more and better information, focusing on early readers — Gov. Scott seems interested in taking a breather,” she said.

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