UF moved up to No. 8 among public universities in the recent U.S. News and World Report rankings. Unfortunately, Florida's public schools haven't fared as well.
The University of Florida's rise in the national rankings didn't happen by accident.
UF moved up to No. 8 among public universities in the recent U.S. News and World Report rankings, after last year cracking the top 10 for the first time by placing ninth.
UF has worked for decades on efforts to rank among the country's top universities. It got a huge boost in recent years with additional state funding, which helped such efforts as a hiring push that is starting to reduce its student-faculty ratio.
Unfortunately Florida's public schools haven't fared as well when it comes to funding or rankings. While U.S. News placed Florida's higher education system in the top spot in the country in rankings earlier this year, Florida's pre-K through grade 12 education system was ranked just 40th among states.
For all Floridians to have the best chance to succeed, the state must have stronger public schools to match the rising reputations of its colleges and universities. Not only will that better prepare Florida students for UF and other state universities with increasingly difficult academic standards, it will help UF recruit more top-notch faculty.
UF's strategic development plan is based on the premise that conditions in the city it calls home help attract people to the university. Employees moving there and other residents want high-quality local schools, yet many public schools lack adequate funding from the state.
Many, like Bay District Schools, have passed half-cent sales tax initiatives. Bay County voters recently approved a 10-year extension to theirs, but the funding only covers construction, security upgrades and technology.
But the Florida Legislature needs to do better than the 47 cents per student increase in K-12 funding that it passed this year. State lawmakers have been focused in recent years on passing testing requirements and other mandates that have a debatable effect on the quality of schools, while making it harder to attract and retain teachers.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has a plan for a $1 billion funding boost for schools. The money would raise teacher pay to a minimum $50,000 starting salary and increase spending on such things as early childhood education and vocational programs.
Republican gubernatorial candidate and former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has provided scant details of his education plans. But his campaign has been critical of Gillum's proposal to increase the corporate tax rate to 7.75 percent from 5.5 percent to generate the $1 billion.
Quality corporations, like top universities, benefit from a better-educated populace. A first-rate education system from pre-K to Ph.D. will attract and create the businesses needed to diversify Florida's economy.
UF is getting closer to being a top-five public university thanks to renewed state support. Florida's public schools need the same kind of commitment to rise in quality and the rankings.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD