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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The November election could cost us our No. 8 top public spot

The upcoming midterm election is critical for the future of Florida. On the ballot are not only candidates and initiatives but the very character of our state. Each and every one of us has a stake in this election and in our democracy. Here are three things that make this election critical that you may not have considered before:

Almost every state- and county-level official we elect this year will have some say in determining education funding at either the K-12 or university level. Each year, the state legislature divvies up funding not only for K-12 education, but also for the state’s colleges and universities. According to a report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, Florida spent less money last year on higher education per full-time student than any other state. We have the option this year of voting for candidates who want to stay this course or voting for nominees seeking change.

What’s more, there is both a state constitutional amendment and county referendum that directly impact education funding. The first is Amendment 5, which prevents the state from raising taxes or closing corporate tax loopholes to fund education without a supermajority vote in both chambers of the state legislature. Supermajorities are nearly impossible to achieve in one chamber, let alone two, and this amendment thus preserves corporate tax loopholes at the expense of our elementary, middle and high schools, colleges, and yes, UF. The second is a county referendum, which would increase the sales tax in Alachua County by a half-cent on the dollar to pay for infrastructure repairs at our local schools.

Lastly, the next governor will decide who sits on the Florida Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees for every state university. With this appointment power, the next governor will directly determine whether we keep running our state universities as if they are businesses or if we will return to running them like schools.

Put another way, do we want UF to provide the best college education in the state, or do we want it to turn into the University of Phoenix? A lot has been said recently about us reaching the number eight spot among public universities, as well as our new quest to reach a top five position. Well, when you compare the trustees at our nearest top five counterpart, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to our trustees, something stands out. Not counting the student and faculty seats on the board, which are mandated by law, UF has only one trustee with any classroom or research experience. UNC Chapel Hill, on the other hand, has three. Both have 13 trustees in total.

These are just a few of the broad stakes in this year’s election. Needless to say, these stakes are personal for every member of the UF community and it’s imperative that every Gator participates in this election.

Voting is the most important, but not the only, way you can participate in the political process. It allows you to hold candidates and officeholders responsible and to determine the character of our county, state and local communities. We encourage all to exercise their right to participate in the political process. Election Day is Nov. 6, and voting will be open across Alachua County from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Make your voice heard.

Stephen Phillips is a UF political science doctoral student and communications chair of Graduate Assistants United, which is the official labor union of teaching, research, and graduate assistants at UF.


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