Lonnie Robinson fell on hard times in the early 80s with drugs and alcohol. Addiction kept him out of college for decades, and he found himself living under a bridge. During the day, Robinson found solace at a Miami Dade College library in Liberty City, where a reading program changed the future course of his life. He graduated from the college in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.
"No other college would accept me," said Robinson, who’s 59. Today, Robinson visits the same library daily, where he hopes to mentor and inspire younger students.
Robinson’s story is indicative of who benefits from the state’s funding of Miami Dade College. Two pending bills in front of the Florida Legislature, House Bill 1295 and Senate Bill 1718, would allow a countywide referendum and provide financial support for the college. MDC is the largest college in the country, with 176,000 students who might not otherwise have a chance at an education. Committees in both the Senate and the House debated yesterday whether to give this massive institution of learning a chance at collecting a new tax.
If the bills pass, here’s how the referendum would work: The county would levy a surtax of up to a half penny for the benefit of Miami Dade College students. A plan would be set up to use the proceeds to help fund student scholarships; financial aid; expansion of academic and workforce training programs; teaching enhancements; facilities renovation, maintenance and improvements; and more.
Upon approval of the referendum, an oversight board would be established to "review and provide guidance, transparency, and accountability" for the proceeds. The seven-member board would consist of the following appointments: two members from the Senate; two members from the House; two from the board of trustees; and one from the chair of the county's legislative delegation.
Robinson is working to raise awareness of the college's local funding initiative. "The college not only gives second chances to the poor, but it has an academic support system in place that is second to none," he said.
Theo Karantsalis is a librarian and an open government activist. He is a member of the First Amendment Foundation's Sunshine Brigade. As a freelancer for the Miami Herald, Theo enjoys writing historical and civic features related to Miami's inner city. Find him on Twitter, @springyleaks.