Gaetz says education bill is 'going to make history'

James Call

The Florida Current

Feb 19, 2013

Senate President Don Gaetz gathered about 30 business executives in his conference room Tuesday and urged them to get behind an education bill expected to be filed Wednesday morning.

“We want to put together a bill that is the most sweeping education-lashed-to-the-economy reform bill in America,” Gaetz told the group that included representatives of the Florida Chamber, Microsoft, Dell Computers and the Florida Medical Association. “It’s very important that you help us design the architecture of the legislation and implementation so that we actually get this right."

The measure will expand the Career and Professional Education concept to higher education. In 2007, the Legislature passed the CAPE Act, creating career and professional academies in each school district. High school students earn industry certification in fields such as health care, information technology and automotive mechanics while working towards a high school diploma. Gaetz has charged Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Lutz, to do more with CAPE in high schools and take it to colleges and universities.

Legg held a committee meeting Tuesday to “dot the i’s and cross the t’s” on a bill he said he would file Wednesday. It's designed to meld the business and education communities into a joint venture providing students with the skills needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

“Instead of asking the business community, ‘can you pay for a pizza party?’ It’s asking the business community what are the skills students need in order to be successful in the work force,” Legg said.

Gaetz wants to attack what appears to be a statistical oddity: Half of university and college graduates, a year after graduating, are either unemployed or underemployed. It occurs, he said, in an economy with high unemployment and businesses saying they can’t find qualified people to hire.

“That’s counterintuitive,” Gaetz said. His solution is an industry-driven education system that recognizes the value of professional certification.

“We want to be able to target the funding in areas that will incite and reward our universities, our colleges, our high schools in providing education that is relevant to the economy,” he said.

The value of a diploma, according to Gaetz, is whether it helps a person get a job. The Florida Chamber is a long-time supporter of the CAPE concept. Chamber CEO Mark Wilson said expanding the idea to higher education will lead to businesses making more investments in the state.

“Economic development in the past was all about the incentives, but over the next 20 years it is all about talent,” Wilson said. “Previous generations moved to where the jobs were, but if you look at what Microsoft and many others are doing, they are locating where the talent is.”

Bill Herrle of the National Federation of Independent Business endorsed the idea, saying Gaetz has perfect tone and pitch for the state’s economy.

“I think he is right on mark with this program and we will be willing to put the shoulder to the wheel,” Herrle said.

“We’re going to make history,” Gaetz said as he ended the hour-long meeting with business executives.