By Taylor Agnew
Florida can create a “pocket of prosperity” for its residents by addressing issues such as education and poverty, and Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute is playing a unique role in shaping dialogue on those very issues, according to Florida’s Speaker of the House.
“What you are doing with this institute is a niche, and frankly it’s shocking that the State of Florida has never done this before,” JU graduate Will Weatherford told the JU PPI board on Thursday, Oct. 17. “This institute has an opportunity to talk about issues that will make us shine brighter.”
Weatherford was on campus to speak with the board and learn more about the JU PPI, which now offers the first Master in Public Policy (MPP) degree and MPP dual-degree programs in Florida. The institute’s first students, who began their coursework in the two-year program this fall, were on hand for his remarks.
JU President Tim Cost praised the PPI and its students for a commitment to public policy and bettering Florida’s future.
“This is not only exciting for the University, this is the kind of education that has to take place for the next generation of elected officials,” he said.
Rick Mullaney, founding director of the institute, addressed the audience as well, updating the board on the swiftness with which the JU PPI received full accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for its signature degree program and all three of its dual-degree programs.
“Part of the core mission of the institute is to help prepare new leaders and equip them with the academic skills, substantive knowledge and communication skills to really be leaders in the future,” he said at a reception before the meeting.
For his part, Weatherford praised JU overall for the role it played in his career. Weatherford, a 2002 graduate, said he opted to run for student government to become involved on campus beyond football.
“That set off a trigger of investment of my time and efforts into public service that I never thought would lead to where it has,” he said. “Jacksonville University built an environment and culture that allowed me to do that. If it had not been for JU, I can assure you that I would not be in public service.”
Since his time at JU, he’s been focused in Tallahassee on issues facing Florida. Weatherford listed some of those challenges:
• The state must “continue to invest in innovation in our education system,” he said. By nurturing talented people, the chances for a stronger school system and economy will improve.
• Jacksonville must take its pension problem seriously. It has “one of the worst [pension challenges] in America for a city this size.”
• Healthcare is also a problem because of a gap in coverage for people who are not poor enough for Medicaid but who don’t earn enough for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Weatherford noted he was “not proud of the fact the state of Florida has one the highest uninsured rates.”
Mullaney wrapped up the meeting by discussing three new developments in community outreach for the JU PPI:
• The JU PPI Healthcare Policy Conference Nov. 13 on campus is designed to be the premier healthcare policy conference in Florida. The topic will be the ACA in Florida, with a focus on state exchanges and proposed Medicaid expansion.
• The Notre Dame Club of Greater Jacksonville-JU Public Policy Institute Hesburgh Lecture Nov. 21 will focus on the U.S. debt crisis and what it means to the future of the economy.
• “Policy Matters,” a new quarterly public policy show on WJCT-FM 89.9 radio, with Mullaney as host, informs and educates listeners on public policy matters. Local, state and federal policymakers discuss a variety of public policy matters, including healthcare, education, downtown, jobs, taxes, the port, and budget and financial policy. The next show airs at 9 a.m. Nov. 20.
For more information on the JU PPI or to apply, visit www.ju.edu/ppi.