Governor pressured concerning education

So, what did the state of Florida accomplish on Election Day?

Well, on the important side, for the first time in state history, a Republican governor was re-elected. Voters also believe class sizes should be smaller, a Board of Governors should control the Florida university system and smokers should take it outside.

And on the little less exciting side, voters approved a rule about public records and meetings, and decided that pregnant pigs, which have given birth successfully in the state for a long time, now need enclosures large enough so that they can turn around.

But from a national perspective the decisions Florida made Tuesday could make this election the most significant in recent memory.

First and foremost in that assessment is the re-election of Gov. Jeb Bush. His brother, President George W. Bush, made it abundantly clear how politically important it is for Florida, the nation’s fourth-largest state, to have a Republican governor.

Still two years before he is up for re-election, the president felt he needed his brother in the governor’s mansion to solidify a shot at serving four more years. He is surely feeling just a little better about his chances today.

But the governor now has more to worry about than re-electing his brother. Education was a major issue in the governor’s race and, while voters didn’t elect challenger Bill McBride, hailed as the education reformer, by voting “yes” on Amendment 9, they did speak loud and clear that something needs to be done about one of the nation’s worst education systems.

Amendment 9, now that it has been voted into law, will force the government to reduce class sizes statewide. Bush, during his campaign, was heavily opposed to the amendment mainly because of its estimated $5-billion to $28-billion price tag and the needed addition of 32,000 teachers.

Now the governor will be forced to find the money to pay for the amendment. And, with the approval of Amendment 8, which will require the state to provide pre-kindergarten schooling for 4-year-olds, Bush will face a heavy budgeting burden.

Where will the money come from? The people of Florida have to know that to get something, they have to give something. In this case, they will have to give up money normally spent on other programs to fund the class size amendment. And remember, with Bush’s desire to not raise taxes, he has been forced already to make heavy cuts in certain areas, including universities.

This budgetary re-working may come at an economically difficult time. The national economy has shown signs of life but has yet to start really kicking again. While job availability has increased in Florida, many jobs are low-wage.

Coupled with that is the ban on indoor smoking. Some bar owners believe business will be severely hurt by the new ban. Could that potential harm be enough to have an overall effect on the economy?

Significantly for USF faculty and students, a lack of funds could mean yet another round of budget cuts.

But even more important for the university is the fact that Amendment 11 is now law. In accordance with the amendment, when the Board of Education loses ultimate power over universities in January, that power will be given to a new 17-member Board of Governors. Under that board, the individual boards of trustees at state universities will operate.

Tuesday was a kind of 50/50 day for the USF Board of Trustees. Up for re-appointment by the elected governor, the members must be breathing a sigh of relief now that Bush has won. Had McBride won, they may have all been out of jobs.

But the board, accused many times of being too conservative, vehemently opposed both Amendments 9 and 11.

Should Amendment 11 not have passed, the BOT would have had greatly increased powers over the university with the departure of the Board of Education in January. That was significant because the faculty union’s collective bargaining agreement ends in January, and the board would have been the bargaining agent. It was further significant because the board would have had power of decision in the case of controversial professor Sami Al-Arian. The board has long expressed its desire for Al-Arian’s dismissal.

But now, with a new board of governors, all of those scenarios will remain “would haves.”

What will now happen is that the board will have a boss. It will not be the final bargaining unit for the faculty union. USF faculty, who have long been at odds with the board, will not see it completely revamped as it would have been after a McBride victory. But they also will not look to the board as their official employer.

In addition, the BOT will not be judge, jury and executioner should USF President Judy Genshaft choose to fire Al-Arian. The professor will be able to take his case to a higher entity.

But all will not be perfect for the faculty when the new Board of Governors is created. Fourteen of the 17 members are appointed by the Bush administration. Therefore, the governors will likely be similar in makeup to the largely white-businessman face of the BOT.

But, as these scenarios play out, the bottom line for Bush is clear. Florida felt Tuesday that he is the best candidate for the job. However, Bush learned that the public believes he has been lacking in his handling of education. The message is clear. Now all that remains is to see how he will react.