USF alone cant fix Urban Teaching Academy plan

According to the Tampa Bay Times, USF President Judy Genshaft has come to the rescue of Hillsborough Countys Urban Teaching Academy program. Yet it seems that rescue will be more complicated than was initially reported.

The academy was started in 2008 by the Hillsborough County School District and pledged to cover the full costs of college tuition, fees and books for students willing to return to the county upon graduation to teach for three years in inner-city schools. However, as of last week the school district had only raised $17,000 for the 31 students preparing to graduate high school in May and take advantage of the promise.

Genshaft should be applauded for stating her support of the program, but according to University spokesman Michael Hoad, her promise does not extend beyond educating students about what existing scholarship programs they are already eligible for a service that should already be extended to all incoming USF students through the Office of Financial Aid.

USF should not feel pressured to rescue the county by covering the full costs of college for the students nor should any other state university even though Genshafts comments were misconstrued by the media and the cash-strapped county to imply that it would.

With the University facing an approximate $37 million cut in the current state budget and no plans to decrease enrollment, which currently sits at 45,097 for the USF System, USF cannot afford to bolster the failed scholarship attempt at the expense of its current students, who will surely be facing tuition increases.

Though the program would help fill the need for inner-city teachers, students in K-12 schools throughout the county would benefit more from county-led efforts to keep existing scholarship programs, such as Bright Futures, alive.

The current higher education budget proposes an 11 percent cut to state financial aid programs and heightens academic requirements, according to the Tampa Tribune an effort to alleviate a $3.75 billion budget shortfall.

And funneling extra money back into the school system, which has faced enormous cuts, would surely yield a bigger benefit for students than an overreaching scholarship promise that is exceedingly unrealistic.

The Hillsborough County School District had to cut more than $120 million from its budget over the last five years, according to its website, and money that is raised by the district should be spent cushioning the blow of past cost-cutting measures. According to NPR, the budget cuts have resulted in fewer bus stops, fewer teacher aides and increased class size throughout the county.

School District Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said during a Tuesday Hillsborough County School Board meeting that no promises have been broken, by the county. However, it seems she is being dishonest about the success of the program, and it should not be on USF to fix it entirely.