With the issue poised to go before the Constitution Revision Commission, Florida’s state and community colleges are supporting a measure that would establish constitutional authority for the system of 28 schools.
In a teleconference with college presidents Thursday, Madeline Pumariega, chancellor of the state college system, said the Constitution Revision Commission is scheduled to take up the proposal (P6002) when it begins meeting Monday to decide what constitutional changes to present to voters in November.
The college proposal, which was crafted by commission member Nicole Washington, would establish “a system of governance” for the colleges in the state Constitution. It would mandate that each college be governed by a local board of trustees and that the entire system be supervised by the Florida Board of Education, which is how the system works now under state law.
College advocates support the measure because they say it would put the state college system on an equal constitutional footing with the university system and public schools, which are already part of the Constitution.
Pumariega noted the college governance provision is part of a broader Constitutional Revision Commission proposal that includes two other measures. One measure would require supermajority votes by university boards of trustees and the university system’s Board of Governors when raising fees for universities.
The other measure would require the payment of death benefits when law enforcement officers, paramedics, correctional officers and other first responders are killed “while engaged in the performance of their official duties.” It also would apply to members of the Florida National Guard and active-duty military members stationed in Florida. The death benefit would also allow educational expenses to be waived for surviving spouses and children attending universities and other post-secondary institutions.
The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years and has the unique power to place proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot. If the college governance proposal goes on the ballot and is ultimately approved by 60 percent of voters, it would resolve part of a challenge the colleges have faced the past two years in the Legislature.
The proposed amendment would keep the 28 colleges under the supervision of the Board of Education as opposed to a Senate bill (SB 540), which would have established a separate State Board of Colleges to oversee the system.
The Senate bill stalled during the 2018 Legislative Session, in part because of opposition from the colleges and Gov. Rick Scott, who vetoed a similar bill in 2017.
A key proponent of the legislation was Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who is stepping down from his leadership post in November.
Chris Hansen, a lobbyist for the Association of Florida Colleges, told the college presidents Thursday that the system may not face as many policy challenges after the departure of Negron.
But he also warned that some of the other provisions in the failed Senate bill could be revived, although it is uncertain what those would be.
Outside the governance system, other policy changes pushed by the Senate included a cap on baccalaureate degrees awarded by the college system and a revision of performance standards for the schools.
Compared to the past two sessions, Hansen said he doesn’t expect the same scope of proposed policy changes under new legislative leaders, who will take over after the fall elections.
“Blue skies ahead, hopefully, on that matter,” he said during a teleconference of the college system’s Council of Presidents.