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State College Cuts Spur Calls For Budget Veto

May 28, 2017

Upset over a $30 million cut in remedial education funding, state-college advocates are asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto a $1.2 billion portion of the state budget, forcing lawmakers to revamp the spending plan for the 28 colleges.

The college advocates say the cuts would have “a devastating impact” on the system and that the loss of remedial services, like tutoring, would particularly impact the “most vulnerable students,” including students from low-income families, minority students and military veterans. Advocates are circulating a message highlighting their concerns and trying to build pressure on Scott to take action.

“These are the students that need additional academic support and help to be successful --- the ones that benefit from our open-door access policy and affordable offerings,” the message says. “These cuts threaten our students, programs and support services.”

State college leaders were dismayed that the $82.4 billion budget (SB 2500) passed May 8 by the Legislature includes a 5.5 percent increase, or $253 million, for state universities, while the college system would face a 2 percent cut, or $24.7 million.

The major overall cuts include $9.4 million for Miami Dade College; $6.3 million for Florida State College at Jacksonville; $4.4 million for Broward College; and $3.88 million for Hillsborough Community College, according to an analysis by the state Department of Education.

Some of the cuts may be offset if the schools qualify for a portion of a $60 million performance fund, which is a $30 million increase over the current year.

Two schools would see increases because the budget provided extra operating funds for handful of colleges. The most dramatic example was Santa Fe College in Gainesville, which received a $5 million boost, and would have an overall $1.3 million increase in the new budget.

State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, which received $1.7 million in added funding, would have an overall $46,000 increase.

Michael Brawer, executive director of the Association of Florida Colleges, said the college advocates are asking Scott to veto the $1.2 billion portion of the budget related to funding for the colleges to get lawmakers to reassess the $30 million cut in remedial, or developmental, education.

“They (lawmakers) would have to do it over and hopefully restore our $30.2 million cut,” Brawer said. “We would be happy if they just brought us back to zero.”

Senate leaders, who originally supported a $55 million cut in remedial funding, said the reduction was based on a 2013 change in state law that deemphasized non-credit remedial courses and a subsequent decline in remedial students. State enrollment data shows there are about 14,000 remedial students, down from 21,000 in the 2014-15 academic year.

State college advocates say despite the change in policy, many students still need remedial services to be successful in school.

The request for a partial veto involving state college spending gives Scott another option in dealing with the budget, which he has yet to receive from the Legislature. Once he receives the budget, he will have 15 days to act on it.

Scott, who is disappointed in a lack of money for tourism and economic-development programs and a marginal increase in public school spending, has said his options include vetoing all or parts of the budget. Public school advocates have asked Scott to veto K-12 spending in the budget, forcing lawmakers to reconsider that portion.

The new budget must be in place by July 1, when the 2017-18 fiscal year begins.

Other state colleges facing at least a $1 million cut in overall state funding in the new year include:

Eastern Florida State College, $3.1 million; Daytona State College, $3.3 million; Florida SouthWestern State College, $1.4 million; Gulf Coast State College, $1.3 million; and Indian River State College, $1.9 million.

Also, Palm Beach State College, $3.1 million; Pasco-Hernando State College, $1.7 million; Polk State College, $1.2 million; and St. Petersburg College, $2.7 million.

Also, Seminole State College of Florida, $2 million; Tallahassee Community College, $2 million; and Valencia College, $3.2 million.