By Rachel Payne
Over 200 University of South Florida students met with state representatives to lobby for funding for 6 different legislative priorities in Florida’s Capitol on Wednesday, February 11th. Proposals included a textbook tax exemption, a cyber-security center, and a new medical building downtown. The students traveled with the university’s president, Judy Genshaft, to lobby on behalf of the school and all Florida students.
USF students’ top priority was Governor Scott’s proposal to eliminate the sales tax on all college textbooks and to fund Bright Futures awards during the summer term. Katrina Payne, a former SPC student who met with Senator Galvano and Representative Harrison, said that this initiative “will help all students period. Because [Florida] made the requirements so hard for Bright Futures, they have this excess amount of money that they’re not giving out. All they have to do is redirect it for summer funding, which will get kids out of school faster.”
The sales tax exemption is estimated to save the average full-time college student $60 a year. Also, the proposal to have Bright Futures funding available for summer classes would save Bright Futures students hundreds of dollars per year. Katrina Payne added, “We’re required to take summer classes at some point, so it is ridiculous that Bright Futures doesn’t pay for it.”
Another top priority was to continue funding for the already approved Florida Center for Cyber Security at USF. This center would provide training and certification in cyber security, one of the country’s most in-demand and highest paying career fields. Payne said, “USF is going to create a Master’s program in cyber security so that with just a certificate, which I believe is just three classes, you can get a job in cyber security starting at $100,000 a year because [the country] needs cyber security people so badly.”
USF requested $5,000,000 in operational funds to expand certification opportunities for students and to help make Florida the nation’s leader in cyber-security. Johnny Payne, another former SPC student also added, “I am looking at getting cyber security certified, especially with Obama’s new cyber security program.”
Over 200 students attended this event, officially titled “USF Day at the Capitol.” According to Katrina Payne, other schools have tried to organize such events but have never had a successful turnout; she also added that some of the representatives were surprised by the size of their group.
The USF students also lobbied for funding to support the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities, a collaboration between the University of South Florida, the University of Central Florida, and the Florida International Institute in Miami. USF is requesting $12 million to be split between the three schools. Katrina Payne said, “This would allow USF students wanting to study hospitality to study at UCF while allowing UCF business students to study at USF.”
Another top priority is funding to construct the USF Health project in downtown Tampa. USF has already received donations for most of the construction of the Heart Institute and the new Morsani College of Medicine, which would provide easy access for medical students to both courses and hands-on training. Katrina Payne said on the subject, “One will be really good because our teaching hospital is Tampa General, so it will be across the street and it will all be right there. They have a medical center on campus, but students have to go back and forth. They’re also running out of room; last year we had to turn away 77% of all qualified applicants because there wasn’t room for them. And so if we can have this building downtown, we can expand the current building and actually be able to accept all students.”
The last two initiatives are for a new /College of Business facility at USF St. Pete and an expansion of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs at USF Sarasota-Manatee. Katrina Payne said, “Sarasota-Manatee needs funding for more STEM classes. They need to be able to offer the basic courses because thus far it was an upperclassmen college, but now they’ve made it a four-year, and so they need to add on courses in those departments, which will also help USF Tampa students because they will be able to offer online courses in those departments.”
When asked which initiative was most important, Katrina Payne replied, “The Heart Institute one is the best one… in my personal opinion… And the cyber security is a good one too. That one is for [students]; the Heart Institute is the one that Tampa wants.”
Johnny and Katrina Payne both said that they have not been a part of any USF events like this one, although it has made them both more interested in participating in similar events in the future. Katrina Payne, a political science major, is already planning on running for school senate next semester.