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House, Senate Reveal Wide Gulf In Higher Ed Spending Plans

Credit peoriapublicradio.org

The Florida House and Senate are already clashing over education—higher ed in particular. The House is planning deep cuts for the state’s public colleges and universities while the Senate is looking to increase funding for both systems.

Higher Education is a priority for Senate President Joe Negron and he’s made a point to steer more money to the state’s universities. Wednesday, Senate Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Bill Galvano laid out the plan.

“There's a $187.4 [million] or 6.3 percent increase in state university funds...and there are no tuition increases.”

Under the Senate’s proposal, community colleges would see a reversal of the cuts they suffered last year—cuts presidents believed were unfair. Galvano says the Senate wants to put that money back largely through increases in performance funding.

“With regards to the community colleges, its $60 million in performance funds. The first $30 million, when you see the increase…it’s because we’re buying back funds that have fallen out, so it’s a restoration at $30 million, then an additional $30 million in institutional advancement.” 

And additional funds for both systems will come through the use of the performance-pay system for all schools. It examines their performance against a set of metrics laid out by the state and the system governing boards. But over in the House, leaders are sharpening scissors:

This shows the $63.8 million dollar reduction to the fund balance reduction to the colleges," explains House Higher Education Appropriations Chair man Larry Ahern. "But remember, unlike other state agencies, colleges and universities don't revert their general revenue back to the treasury each year.”

Public universities would take a 216 million dollar hit. House Higher Ed Appropriations Chairman Larry Ahern says it’s time to slow the spending growth that has occurred in the past few years. And he’s targeting college and university checking accounts. The schools don’t have to give back unspent money, allowing it to accumulate and Ahern says the cuts will force the institutions to spend what they already have.

“The slowing of growth in this silo is both reasonable and necessary," he says.

The Florida legislature has targeted college and university reserves in the past. The chambers are also split on funding for Bright Futures. The Senate plans includes dollars to pay to cover 75 percent of tuition and fees for Medallion Scholars in the program while the House budget preview doesn't include the dollars.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.
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