We always knew Jacksonville was within the cone of impact for Irma, but the flooding this storm brought to the beaches, downtown and Black Creek still caught many off guard.

 

When something devastating happens, it is considered bad form to bring up politics too soon. “Thoughts and prayers” only in the immediate aftermath. But my fear is always that if we wait too long to have those conversations, people will lose interest and they never happen. Irma gives us much to discuss:

  • Climate change and its potential impact on the size and severity of storms, as well as flooding.
  • The state’s power grid and whether it is worth investing the money that would lead to faster restorations in the future.
  • Whether the right people evacuated at the right times across the state, especially the elderly and others with special needs.

Elected officials at the state, local and national levels have shown a willingness to allocate resources to help those impacted by Irma. But we have to wait to see if they dig deeper on these issues exposed by the storm.

Here are some other thoughts I’ve had while scrolling down my news feed …

Pre-eminence funding helps UF, FSU move up in rankings

University of Florida has reached its goal of becoming one of America’s top 10 public universities, and Florida State University made a big step toward its goal of cracking the top 25.

Each school has received over $100 million since 2013 from a pot of money for “preeminent” universities; they were the state’s only two until recently. University of South Florida has now qualified for preeminence funding, although not without controversy.

The extra funding has paid off for UF, ranked No. 9 among public universities by U.S. News & World Report, and FSU, which is 33rd. These rankings represented a five-slot increase for each school over the previous year.

Other universities like USF, University of Central Florida and Florida International University benefitted from a separate pile of performance funding cash and also improved their ranking. These performance funding metrics required schools to improve graduation rates and science, technology, engineering and math education.

Education is one of the biggest categories for taxpayer dollars. And there is often a push and pull on whether reforms in policy versus increase in funding have the biggest impact. This conversation is not just happening around higher education, but in K-12 schools and especially those where student performance is lagging. Is it the money or policies tied to the money producing the improvements or both?

Irma showed the power of social media

Back to Irma for a second. Honestly, how did we survive before email, Facebook and Twitter? How would we have known to take cover before severe weather alerts arrived via text message?

I’m only partially joking. I know we had phone trees, radio and television back in the day. I grew up in Kentucky with tornado sirens that warned of impending danger. But technology and social media have made it possible to get information from a variety of sources at high-speed.

After the hurricane hit, people used social media to coordinate rescues and monitor the recovery. Heartwarming stories and smiling selfies of police officers provided levity, and this positive content landed on our feeds seemingly at the time we most needed it.

Tia Mitchell, (850) 933-1321