Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said he thinks legislators “shortchanged” state colleges and workforce development in the 2017-18 budget, a move that could put a damper on the state’s ability to keep some of the best and brightest in Florida.
Putnam officially launched his 2018 gubernatorial campaign Wednesday, and has been traveling the state as part of 10-day, 22-city bus tour. During his announcement speech earlier in the week and at stops along the way, Putnam has said state leaders need to make sure Florida “isn’t only the place where people come after a life well-lived somewhere else; it’s where they come to launch their own American dream.”
“We can grow an innovation economy; we can be the launch pad for American dream, in addition to being the tourist capital and the retirement haven,” he said in an interview Friday. “We can be the state that keeps our brightest and best here, and attracts the brightest and best from the rest of the country, so that they start their businesses here, so they launch and grow their businesses here, they raise their families here.”
Putnam, who has talked about the need for workforce development and an education system that prepares students for traditional universities as well as trades, said he was disappointed with the Legislature’s decision to cut funding for state colleges.
“They shortchanged our state colleges and they shortchanged workforce development,” he said. “Every month, Gov. (Rick) Scott puts on our desk the job vacancies in Florida, and every month for seven years, nursing is No. 1. The men and women who are going to get those nursing degrees aren’t going to go to Tallahassee or Gainesville or Tampa or Orlando, they’re going to go to their local state college.”
The legislature reduced permanent funding for the Florida College System by about $30 million. The average cut, according to the Association of Florida Colleges, is $1.1 million.
Michael Brewer, the CEO of the Association of Florida Colleges, said in a statement last week that colleges have indicated the reductions could mean they are less able to respond to regional workforce needs, may have to reduce programs, or limit admissions to workforce programs, like nursing.
Putnam said he didn’t know why lawmakers would cut funding to state colleges, but called their decision “short-sighted.”
“It’s undercutting our ability to serve more than half our high school graduates that are not going to get a four-year university degree,” he said. “Investing in state colleges is the best ticket to rebuilding our main streets and communities, rebuilding the middle class in Florida, as well as diversifying the economy.”