August 14, 2007

Alma Mater Facing Massive Budget Cuts

Florida State University, and in fact the whole of Florida's public university system, is facing massive budget cuts. If FSU's medical school is facing $4mil in slashing, one can only imagine what this means for other colleges and departments there. The medical school is relatively new and has been a very successful venture for the university; they must be crushed to have to cut its budget.

FSU medical school faces cuts
State universities may lose up to $232M

Florida State University's medical school could lose as much as $4 million in the 2007-08 budget cuts. But it isn't the only school that could be negatively affected by Gov. Charlie Crist's requested cuts.

According to a budget plan given to Crist last week, universities' finances could be slashed as much as $232 million...

The Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's 11 state universities, turned in the budget report which cuts $1.3 million from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, $9.5 from University of Florida's health sciences center and $6.4 million from University of South Florida's health sciences center.

"Since 2000, the state has reduced support for students by more than $205 million and is now asking the universities to plan for $232 million in potential budget cuts," according to the report...

At the end of the report, it cites that a $232 million cut would affect faculty ($112 million), administrative support ($63 million), travel ($2.5 million), office supplies ($4.4 million) and other cost-saving measures ($48 million)...

At last week's Board of Governors meeting, FSU Provost Larry Abele called the cuts the worst in the state university system history.
This bad news comes on the heels not only of what have become annual tuition increases (and projections to date look forward to a 30% rise in tuition over the next 10 years before this latest report), but also on those of the recent news that FSU would freeze enrollment at current levels. Moreover, professors there are having to double up on classes beginning next semester and class sizes overall are being increased even as resources for students are being slashed. As just one example of this, library hours are being reduced, as are the hours of operation of all of the computer labs on campus. The number of OPS (campus operations) positions are likewise being significantly slashed.

It's a mess. Students are paying more, getting less for it, and it's still not enough to make up for tremendous budget shortfalls that will result in even further reductions. Is this what making education a priority looks like? Is this indicative of a commitment to math and science and keeping America competitive in a global marketplace?

In light of this, one has to ask what Florida's state government is thinking. Where are the priorities of this solidly Republican bunch? For starters, the state has no income tax. That's tenable, I suppose... but not if you're also going to start chopping property taxes. What's more, a good number of those who will benefit from these tax cuts aren't even residents of Florida; they're what Floridians call "snowbirds," people who fly south for the winter, many of them to second homes. Because they don't spend most of the year in Florida, these people don't pay sales tax in the state year round. The loss of revenue from their property taxes is thus not recovered in any way at all. There's still more to it, though, because it turns out now that Florida is seeing a skyrocketing foreclosure rate, ranking fifth in the nation with a 77% increase over the first half of 2006. One out of every 81 homes in the state are now in foreclosure! I wonder how many of them are second homes formerly owned by the snowbirds, creating a double whammy through the loss of both property tax and sales tax revenues.

Both the state government in Florida and the federal government have given a good deal of lip service to making education a priority. They're not exactly putting their money where their mouths are, though. I seem to recall that when the private airline industry was facing fiscal problems after 9/11/2001, the federal government stepped in and gave them billions of dollars — much of which seems to have simply vanished, and the airlines still wound up in terrible shape, laying off employees and slashing salaries and benefits. Where are the feds now that public institutions are being decimated? When the universities' provost is declaring the "worst budget cuts" in the system's history, what is the state government doing to rescue it? Where's the commitment to education and global competitiveness now? Nowhere; it's just another cloud of hot, smelly gas eructated from duplicitous politicos.

The state university system in Florida, like such systems everywhere, is an important institution that serves the educational needs of students whose families can't afford to send them to private schools. I could never have come up with the money myself to earn an undergraduate degree if it hadn't existed. For the last year and a half of my undergraduate career, I worked for a program that provided free assistance to at-risk students, most of them from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, who could never in a million years have afforded tuition at a private university; some of those students became top performers. What will happen to them when the axe falls at FSU? What will happen to all those children who supposedly weren't left behind when their families can't afford to pay for post-secondary education and state assistance has dried up because someone in Boca Raton needed a tax break on their winter home?

Students and families are getting screwed by these alleged tax breaks. The people who will benefit most from them are the people who least need them and least need the services that those taxes pay for. If any of those families have been celebrating the modest savings they think they're getting now, they'll be singing a very different tune when they try to send the kids off to college.

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