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Florida Gov. Rick Scott prepares looks to import controversial Texas higher ed reforms

Could Texas style higher education reform be headed to Florida? As our sister site, the Florida Independent, has reported, Gov. Rick Scott has been promoting the same type of higher education reforms pushed in Texas by Gov. Rick Perry.

The reforms Scott is pushing include teacher merit pay, ending or limiting tenure, and a greater emphasis on measuring the number of students and classes professors teach. Scott has reportedly discussed the Texas reforms with appointees to university and college governing boards in an effort to line up support for the reforms.

Scott praised Perry in an interview with the News Service of Florida in July, and said that the state “should be measuring our professors” in a similar way to the Texas higher education reform proposals. Scott said students “ought to be measuring the effectiveness of our professors.”

These reforms would follow a pattern of education initiatives implemented by Scott since being elected governor. As the Orlando Sentinel reported Monday, the Florida legislature voted to abolish tenure for new grade-school teachers and start paying them based mostly on children’s academic performance. University faculty in the state have said that those changes would pave the way for similar changes in higher education:

Tom Auxter, president of United Faculty of Florida, the state’s faculty union, said the plan is alarming. Florida public universities would become diploma mills with professors taking in as many students as they could, he said.

He worries that some of the state’s most talented and prestigious faculty, who sometimes have small classes that work on specialized projects, would leave.

“People are just mortified by it,” Auxter said. “The devil is alive and well in those details.”

The Texas report also recommends that colleges provide students with “learning contracts” that specifically disclose information about their degree programs, including graduation rates, class sizes and expected starting salaries for their majors.

State Rep. Marlene O’Toole, who’s in charge of the House’s higher education budget committee, said she expects to learn more about the plan in the coming weeks. Legislative committees will begin meeting next month in preparation for the new legislative session, which begins Jan. 10.

“I’m open for all ideas,” said O’Toole, R-Lady Lake. “I think we need to be.”

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