It’s not uncommon for well-intentioned state lawmakers to overreach by targeting a painful point against an organization that earned its way into the crosshairs of controversy and criticism.
That surely seems to be the case for one hugely misguided legislative action aimed at the University of Central Florida — for violating protocol and propriety when it shuffled money from purposes set by the Legislature so it could construct buildings legislators wouldn’t fund.
Lawmakers are mad, and I get it.
But it seems like they are preparing to take out their anger on exactly the wrong target. There’s a plan to eliminate all funding for the nationally respected Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, which works with teachers, school districts and others to boost K-12 civics education — programs that teach our kids about citizenship and how government operates.
FJCC is a partnership between UCF’s Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government and the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service. Last school year, over 125,000 students used FJCC online resources, and online sessions gave kids more than 92,000 hours of direct instructional support.
According to the Lou Frey Institute, when teachers use their resources, students score 20-25 percent higher on Florida’s end-of-course civics assessment.
Civics education is at the core of everything we are as a society. It’s about the law and the Constitution. It’s about voting and free speech. It’s about free expression of religion and speaking up freely to the government itself. In other words, it’s about America.
The Legislature requires civics education for millions of Florida children. In light of that, cutting funding for a resource that’s shown long-term significant ability to improve civics education seems to be an unwise and uncivil course of action.
The UCF leaders who did wrong have been held accountable for ignoring or overriding legislative authority, and the school has taken steps to get on the straight and narrow. The thing is, the people who did wrong will not suffer if the Legislature wipes out FJCC’s funding.
No, the ones who will pay the price are today’s kids — who will become tomorrow’s adults, citizens, leaders in every sphere of influence. What they don’t know will hurt us all, as a society.
Legislators should not be punishing an outstanding institution that is working hard to right the ship. FJCC conducts civics education under the names of two of Florida’s most civic-minded leaders of the past 40 years. Bob Graham and Lou Frey, a Democrat and a Republican, understood how government can be an instrument for good when used properly and in a limited way to find creative, workable solutions to problems.
They certainly understood the importance of the saying long popular around the Capitol: ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.’ The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship did nothing wrong — but rather does so much right.
It would be a shame to see it, and the children who benefit from its programs, penalized for mistakes and misdeeds unrelated to its fine work and mission.
Fortunately, there’s time for state legislators to fix this problem of their own creation before it’s too late.
To do otherwise would be to ensure a dark chapter in the legacy of the 2019 session: a cheap shot blow to the very kind of quality civics education that has properly enjoyed bipartisan support in Florida’s state leadership.