Putting Education Reform To The Test

Five Ways Gov. Rick Scott Could Make His Florida Polytechnic Decision

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Gov. Rick Scott's deadline for deciding the future of USF Poly is near.

Gov. Rick Scott is in a tough position when it comes to signing or vetoing legislation that would create a Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland independent from the University of South Florida system.

The decision is due Saturday, but the Lakeland Ledger and others have reported Scott will announce his decision today.

The consequences for signing the bill (or allowing it to become law without a signature) is that Scott risks angering his most loyal supporters — Florida’s Tea Party activists. If Scott vetoes the bill, the ghost of Polk County Sen. JD Alexander could haunt from his term-limited grave.

So what will he choose, and why? Here’s five possibilities.

Cite vision — A high-tech university could help turn Florida into a high-tech economy, a goal Scott has frequently referenced. Despite concerns about the cost, Scott could try to justify the university for its long-term return on investment.

Defer to the locals — Support for Florida Polytechnic is mixed in Polk County, but the loudest, most influential voice — Sen. JD Alexander — is clearly in favor. Scott chose a similar tack with SunRail last year, approving the project despite concerns about the cost. Alexander is term-limited and leaving office, but he won’t abandon every bit of his influence. Incoming Senate leadership are Alexander allies.

It’s all about the money — The Tea Party-approved Scott has said he is concerned about the rising cost of higher education in the state. Spinning off a university could mean adding new layers of administrative and overhead costs. In addition, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools says an independent Poly could take longer to earn accreditation than if it stayed under the USF’s wing.

Do no harm — Scott did not veto Poly’s budget appropriation, but it’s unclear if the university could operate unless the legislation creating an independent Poly is approved. Scott could argue signing the legislation is the safest choice.

Cite the process — There’s plenty of reasons to dislike how this bill made its way through the Legislature — strong-arming votes; holding USF’s budget hostage; naked threats during Senate floor debate. Scott could also argue the future of Poly should be part of a broader debate on the future of the state university system.

What do you think Scott will do/should do? Got another idea? Put it in the comments below.


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