Alachua Rep. Chuck Clemons discussed Florida’s increased higher education budget and several bills he championed this Session to improve trade education during a virtual legislative town hall with the Association of Florida Colleges (AFC) Tuesday.
The AFC is a professional association that includes employees and retirees from the 28 public member institutions of the Florida College System. Clemons, who is vice president of Santa Fe College’s Office for Advancement, is the only dues-paying member of the AFC to currently serve in the Legislature.
Clemons began his remarks by saying he understands the importance of community colleges because of his experience as a first-generation college graduate who attended a community college for part of his college career.
“The 740,000 community college students in Florida are in that same place that Chuck Clemons was in some many years ago,” Clemons said. “The college system gave me that opportunity to rise up and fulfill my potential. That’s why I believe that the job that we all do in the community college system is so vitally important to change people’s trajectory.”
He said the 2022 Legislative Session was fabulous for higher education, in part because of the $112.1 billion budget allocation for the higher education system. The allocation is 10% higher than last year, and the largest allocation in the state’s history.
From there, Clemons pointed out specific allocations he felt were impactful, like a $100 million allocation to a program called the Pipeline fund meant to improve college nursing programs and connect them with meaningful employment. He also pointed out the $1.4 billion allocated for higher education construction projects, meant to clear up years of backed up required maintenance.
“For 15 years, I’ve heard nothing but deferred maintenance, deferred maintenance, deferred maintenance. ‘We don’t have the money,’ and we didn’t,” Clemons said. “Now the Legislature has created a funding program of $1.4 billion to help our 28 colleges with some of that backlog of air conditioners and remodeling.”
He also highlighted some of his legislation, including HB 1515, which allows counties, the Florida Department of Corrections and Florida College System institutions to collaborate on technical training programs for incarcerated people.
The bill lets incarcerated people within two years of release participate in the programs. Clemons said the program could help combat some of the issues that push people to commit crime.
“We can enroll you in a program. You could learn plumbing, you could learn any of the trades so that when you get out, you’ve got not only a leg up, but you’ve got a way to change your world financially because you have skills that are marketable,” Clemons said. “You don’t have to do perhaps some of the things that got you into those bad decisions in the first place.”
HB 1515 is awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature to become law.