Items of Interest

FAMU- FSU ENGINEERING SCHOOL Last year, then-Senator John Thrasher proposed ending the marriage of the FAMU-FSU School of Engineering. The measure ultimately failed amid complaints from both FAMU and FSU leadership and the estimated $1 billion price tag to fund the separate schools. Last week, the Florida Board of Governors voted to keep the engineering school intact. Thrasher, now president of FSU, and Elmira Mangum, president of FAMU, are supportive of the recommendations which include a direct legislative funding request rather than filtering the money through the individual schools and creating a 12-member board of university officials from both schools.

FLORIDA COALITION OF SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS  Four school board members have joined forces to create a new association as an alternative to the Florida School Boards Association. They objected to FSBA’s efforts to sue the State to end the Tax Credit Scholarship program. The new Florida Coalition of School Board Members hopes to entice school board members from across the state to join this new group that will be supportive of school choice.

STUDENT TESTING With the pushback from parents and teachers regarding the increased number of standardized tests required for public school students, members of the Legislature have filed bills to change testing requirements or give parents the ability to remove their children from requirements. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart stated that opting out of tests is not possible unless there is a specific disability or medical need. Governor Scott issued an executive order on February 24th suspending an 11th grade language arts test scheduled this year.

SPORTS INCENTIVES  Four sports-related groups applied for a portion of the $7 million incentives authorized  by last year’s Legislature.  Under the rules, the Department of Economic Opportunity was to rank the applicants who could receive up to $2 million annually for thirty years.  However, with the applications totaling over the $7 million mark, the Department elected to not rank the groups, infuriating some legislators. The Legislature then asked their economists to rank the applicants, resulting in the Orlando City Soccer Club being first, followed by the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Miami Dolphins and finally the Daytona International Speedway.  The final decision has reverted to the full Legislature.

CHILD WELFARE In 2014, comprehensive legislation was passed in an attempt to reform the Florida Department of Children and Families. Florida State University’s Florida Institute for Child Welfare, created as part of last year’s legislation, released a 50-page report in January saying the legislation did not go far enough. The recent death of a 5-year old girl who was thrown from a bridge into Tampa Bay by her father has lawmakers and the agency scrambling to work harder on new legislation to fix the child-welfare system.

FLORIDA TOURISM RECORD  Just shy of Governor Scott’s 100 million goal, VISIT FLORIDA announced that a record 97.3 million visitors came to Florida in 2014. This is a 3.9% increase over 2013. Roughly 11 million of those visitors are from overseas and approximately 20 million were Floridians choosing to take their vacations within the state.

OIL WELL FRACKING  Within the last five years, the State has granted thirty-five drilling permits.  When one driller used the latest in “fracking” technology in 2013 to develop a well, local governments and other opposing groups objected.  The Collier Hogan well was pumping 662,000 gallons of water from the aquifer, rather than the 280,000 gallons it was permitted.

SUNRAIL FUNDING  The recently released proposed federal budget by President Barack Obama did not include funding for expansion of the SunRail project in Central Florida.  U.S. Congressman John Mica (R-Winter Park), who has long championed SunRail stated that the budget did include rail funding, but it was not specifically allocated to SunRail.  A Central Florida delegation headed to Washington to discuss the possible $126 million appropriation with federal officials.  There is concern that funding will be available for the Orlando/Poinciana section but dollars for the Deltona/Deland expansion may not be available because of low ridership projections.

FLORIDA PREPAID As we previously mentioned, enrollment in Florida’s prepaid college program is on the rise, going up 220% since last year. Over 42,000 families have signed up this year for new prepaid college plans as of the closing date of February 28th.

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