Students lobby for more funding at Rally in Tally

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Students from across the state gathered at the Florida Capitol on March 26 to lobby for student initiatives.

While many New College students spent their spring break relaxing and catching up on work, New College Student Alliance (NCSA) President Cassandra Corrado and her cabinet members, as well as several student volunteers, travelled to Tallahassee to lobby on behalf of Florida’s college students. Rally in Tally – an event held annually by the Florida Student Association (FSA) – provides an opportunity for Florida’s universities to lobby state senators and representatives on student issues.

This year the FSA and NCSA focused on the issues of in-state tuition for undocumented students, increased state investment in academic facilities, and the metric-based funding model put in place by the Board of Governors.

On March 25, Corrado and 15 other New College students arrived in Tallahassee in time for the FSA meeting. The FSA is an organization comprised of all of the state university student body presidents, and led by the University of North Florida president, Carl Fassi.

The following day was the actual rally where New College students – divided into small groups – were able to meet with 30 state representatives and senators. The individual meetings lasted only 15 minutes but provided enough time for students to represent New College and their concerns.

“We had a lot of people who were very supportive of New College, and then we had some people who were putting a lot of emphasis on ‘liberal’ when they said liberal arts,” Corrado said.

A major concern of the rally was the fate of Senate Bill 1400 (SB1400). If passed, the bill would waive out-of-state fees for undocumented students who graduate high school in Florida and enroll in a college or university within two years of their graduation.

Attached to this bill is an amendment that would lower the tuition differential, an action that Gov. Rick Scott advocated for in his State of the State address as a way of lowering the cost of a college education. Students lobby for more funding at Rally in Tally Students from across the state gathered at the Florida Capitol on March 26 to lobby for student initiatives.

“I really dislike the idea of the tuition differential being lowered, but it’s really hard for us to fight because they paired it into this bill for undocumented students,” Corrado said.

House Bill 851, the sister bill to SB1400, passed in the Florida House of Representatives on March 20 after being introduced by Rep. Jeanette Nunez (R., District 119).

Seventeen states, including Texas, currently have legislation permitting undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public universities.

The FSA, and the NCSA, are hoping to see the bill passed – despite the tuition differential amendment – here in Florida but opposition still persists. Corrado will be driving back to Tallahassee on Wednesday, April 2, along with the student presidents of Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of South Florida to discuss the bill with Sen. Bill Galvano (R., District 26) who represents Manatee County. Galvano is the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Education and has said that he may not allow SB1400 to be heard by his committee, which would kill the bill.

The other issue that student lobbyists were pushing for was the importance of state investment in public academic facilities. All of the schools in the State University System of Florida, except Florida Polytechnic University, requested funding for renovations or new projects. These funds would come from the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) Program. The PECO Program was established in 1963 to fund public higher education construction and maintenance projects.

In recent years, funding from the PECO Program has not been flowing as freely into the university system. In the 2007-2008 school year PECO funded nearly $700 million worth of projects. Just five years later in the 2012-2013 school year funding fell well below $50 million. There are now long delays in funding even for high priority projects, and major preventative maintenance is not happening on schedule.

Students in Tallahassee last week were lobbying congressional members to place a renewed value on state investment in academic facilities. These student lobbyists pointed to states such as New York and California – which spend more than half a billion dollars each year on university facility construction and maintenance – as examples.

New College requested PECO funding for one project for next year. If approved the funds would be used to renovate the outdoor Hamilton Plaza (Ham Center and HCLs). The area would be renovated to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as replacing the tiles with outdoor pavers, and opening up the space in general.

The amount requested for this project is $1.6 million. While every other school has already been informed the status of their request, New College has heard nothing but silence from the Senate and House appropriations committees, leaving a big blank on the spreadsheet.

Overall, student lobbying seemed to be successful in this area as the House and Senate have already approved the funding of more than $400 million worth of projects.

New College students were sure to bring up the Board of Governors performance-based funding metrics in their meetings with congressional representatives. The performance-based funding plan is in the process of being introduced to the Florida Legislature in the form of a bill.

A recent amendment to the plan allows New College to replace two of the metrics – metrics (3) and (8) – with two of their own. Instead of using the metrics measuring the average cost per undergraduate degree and the number of graduate degrees awarded in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, New College will be replacing these metrics with the number of Fulbright Scholars and other national award recipients per 100 undergraduates and the percent of undergraduate courses taught by tenure-track professors.

While this amendment does improve New College’s performance score, Corrado and her staff are still unhappy with the notion of performance-based funding in general.

Corrado required all of her cabinet members to attend the rally, saying, “I felt that it was really important for them to go since they are being paid to represent the school.”

With the entire cabinet at the rally New College was able to divide and conquer, meeting with 30 members of the Florida House of Representatives in total, including Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, an NCF alum. Along with Vasilinda, New College also had scheduled meetings with representatives Karen Castor Dentel and Joe Saunders, and Sen. Dwight M. Bullard, among many others.

“I felt that it was really productive, and I think that New College was the most productive school that went,” Corrado said. “We met with a lot of people and most of them seemed really interested in New College.”

“Big universities are always going to be represented in Tallahassee. Smaller schools, including New College, are going to have a harder time. Our graduates don’t necessarily go into state politics, and having or not having that connection is really important,” Corrado continued. “It’s important to have people in Tallahassee who know you and I think this trip helped us to begin building some of those relationships.”

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