Putting Education Reform To The Test

Three Questions For Florida Senate President Don Gaetz

Senate President Don Gaetz doesn't want in-state tuition for undocumented residents. He does like the idea of university performance funding.

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

Senate President Don Gaetz doesn't want in-state tuition for undocumented residents. He does like the idea of university performance funding.

Florida’s move toward Common Core standards in schools is sure to be discussed during the upcoming legislative session.

Lawmakers will also consider allowing undocumented college students to pay cheaper, in-state tuition. Plus, state universities that improve their graduation rates may be able to boost their funding.

Senate President Don Gaetz sat down with StateImpact Florida to talk about some of the biggest education issues for lawmakers this spring, including what kind of test will replace the FCAT.

Q: Florida is in the process of implementing Common Core standards. The state still hasn’t determined how students will be assessed on what they’ve learned. Plus, you still have critics who say this a national take over of education. You’ve said you would not support legislation to repeal common core. But are there any plans to change it this year?

A: When you look at materials used to teach students, that’s where some of the criticism has come in. So there’s legislation that would make clear that the selection of instructional materials is up to the local school board.

Then there’s the issue of assessment. Speaker Weatherford and I last year wrote to the Department of Education and said get Florida out of Common Core PARCC.

PARCC is an assessment tool that really hadn’t been invented at that time or field tested completely. We didn’t know how much it would cost. It appeared as though it would be a test longer than the FCAT – which I think would be intolerable – and the results wouldn’t come back in time to be used in that school year. So Speaker Weatherford and I said let’s get out of that.

Let’s use a valid and reliable, cost-effective, timely method of assessment against high standards. The Commissioner of Education in March will be selecting an assessment tool. (Five companies have submitted bids to produce Florida’s next standardized test.)

Q: You’ve heard from a lot of young people who were brought to Florida at an early age – undocumented – and they want to pay in-state tuition to go to college instead of the much more expensive out of state tuition. House Speaker Will Weatherford seems to have changed his stance on this and is supporting it. Where do you stand on this now?

A: I’m not in the same place as the Speaker is. I can’t very well put somebody who technically is not a citizen of this country and is here illegally – I really can’t put them ahead in the line of people who have paid the price, followed the rules and have waited to become citizens so that they and their children can have the benefits of being Americans, including the benefits of being Florida citizens and having in-state tuition.

Q: Lawmakers will consider a plan that would fund universities based partly on their performance. How would performance be measured and the funding divvied up?

A: The idea is that we shouldn’t fund education based on enrollment and seat time. The way we fund education right now is the more students who are there – and the longer they are there – the more money you get.

So, the Board of Governors…created some indexes of performance ranging from graduation rates to how likely it is that students graduating from a particular institution will actually be able to get a job, and then asking the institutions themselves to develop a metric.

We actually have a state university in Florida – subsidized by the taxpayers and by families and by tuition paying students – whose graduation rate is 9 percent. 9 percent of the students seeking four-year degrees graduate in four years.

Now, on the high end, we have a state university where over 60 percent of students seeking a four-year degree actually graduate in four years. FAMU (Florida A&M University in Tallahassee) is the 9 percent and the University of Florida (UF in Gainesville) is the 60-plus percent.

Let’s provide the extra incentives so that those educational programs that get students value for their money and their time can actually be recognized and rewarded.


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