Channeling my inner Trump: What if we limited H1B visas? Would businesses then support improved math and science education for our own kids?

Ed Moore’s op-ed last week awakened my inner Donald Trump.

Ed is the President of Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida and a frequent commentator on Florida politics.  His op-ed, published in several newspapers around the state (here’s the link at FloridaPolitics.com), argued that Congress should loosen up the limits on H1B visas that allow foreign specialists in technical fields to work in the US so that more recent foreign graduates from Florida postsecondary programs can stay.

Yet at the same time, here in Florida we have not made the public investments necessary at any educational level (from kindergarten on up) to give more of our own students the opportunities to succeed in lucrative STEM fields.  It seems that we can’t even really decide if this is important.  We are insistent that our students be able to read.  But math and science?  Not so much.

So instead of pushing for the major public investments necessary to significantly improve the prospects for Florida’s own students to succeed in STEM fields, Ed and business leaders argue for allowing more foreign workers to fill these jobs.  After all, it’s cheaper.

I doubt you will find a single one of my colleagues in the FSU Physics Department who agrees with me on this.  Certainly tech industry leaders don’t.  And perhaps I sound xenophobic.  It could even be argued that I’m being unappreciative of the charitable investments that businesses have already made (for example, see Change the Equation).

But the investments made by businesses so far have been modest.  No Florida business (or consortium of businesses) has yet offered to provide $10,000 annual salary supplements to thousands of high school teachers in chemistry, computing, math and physics.  For example.  Or funding for meaningful summer professional development experiences of multiple weeks’ duration.

Alternatively, Florida businesses could lobby for the state government to support such initiatives.  But that’s not yet happening, either.

Instead, we have a call to loosen up the H1B visa process so that we don’t need Florida kids to achieve at the highest level.  Admittedly, that’s a much simpler approach.

And if we continue down this road, what are Florida’s kids going to do for jobs?  Well, they can clean the homes where the foreign workers live and wait their restaurant tables.  Perhaps that seems reasonable to others, but not to me.  That perception – that it’s unlikely that the lives of Florida’s children will be more fulfilling than those of their parents – is helping to fuel the Trump candidacy, in Florida and elsewhere.

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