By B.C. Manion
The new chairman of the Florida Senate’s education committee said it’s not enough to get a degree any more — that degree has to be relevant for today’s workplace.
State Sen. John Legg told members of the Land O’ Lakes Rotary Club the education committee will be looking at Florida’s education system from prekindergarten through work force education.
In the past, the state has had separate committees for kindergarten through 12th grade, higher education and work force education, Legg said at the Feb. 25 noon meeting.
But Florida Sen. president Don Gaetz, who appointed Legg to lead the committee, thought it would make sense to combine all three to foster a greater degree of connection between them, Legg said.
Legg, who is serving his first term in the state Senate, agreed with Gates’ assessment: “They really should be working together. A lot of times there’s no cross-pollinization.”
Even though he’s a freshman senator, Legg has experience in both education and state politics. He is a certified teacher and founder of Dayspring Academy, a charter school in Pasco County. He has also served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2004 until joining the state Senate.
Legg was elected to the Senate in 2012 to fill the District 17 seat formerly occupied by Jim Norman. The district represents portions of northern Hillsborough and much of Pasco counties.
Legg said he’s been telling his children for years that they must attend college. The message has changed, he said. Now, he tells them, “You have to go to college and you have to get a degree that’s relevant.”
Students have a right to know their chances of landing a job after they graduate, Legg said.
“We know right now if you get a psychology degree, only 20 percent get a job — less than that in their field, making less than $30,000 a year. And, you’re going to come out with a debt of around $50,000,” Legg said.
By comparison, Legg said, “If you get a health information degree, 80 percent of those students get a job, making $40,000 or more. … No one is telling our students that information.”
Legg said the push is on to link real-world economics with the education system, not just at the university level, but also at the high, middle and elementary school levels.
“I’m a strong, strong supporter of higher standards, but those higher standards have to relate to real-world jobs,” Legg said.
Universities will have an incentive to help prepare tomorrow’s high-skilled work force, he added.
“We’re telling our universities, ‘We’re going to give you more money if you’re going to produce degrees in high demand fields.’”
Legg wants to strengthen career academies, to provide students an avenue for industry certifications.
He thinks Pasco’s career academies have considerable room for improvement.
“I will tell you, our career academies are not beating the rest of the state’s. There are other career academies that are running circles around us.”
Just down the road in Hillsborough, there are middle school students who are obtaining certification in Microsoft Office and high school students who are being certified as pharmacy techs, Legg said.
He favors establishing a pilot program that would create an industry certification school, which would include business representatives on the school’s board. They would have a voice in setting admission standards, selecting teachers and making budget decisions.
“It’s never been done before in Florida,” Legg said.
The state needs to step up its efforts, Legg said.
“We need to be competitive.”
Florida also needs to begin identifying its most capable students when they are young and to provide incentives that will keep them in the state, Legg said. It needs to borrow a page from Duke University, which begins identifying talented students in sixth grade, he said.