Top Florida Students Lose $ 600 Textbook Allowance
TALLAHASSEE – In final budget talks, Florida lawmakers largely backed off major cuts to Florida universities and colleges, but insisted on cutting two long-running college financial aid programs for the next fiscal year.
The House and Senate budget chiefs have agreed to withhold a $ 600 stipend that high-profile Bright Futures grantees receive each year to offset the cost of textbooks, a move that will save $ 37 million. Lawmakers also approved a $ 5 million cut that will eliminate the Access to Better Learning and Education (ABLE) grant program, which helps Floridians pay for private college tuition.
State lawmakers argue that cuts to financial aid programs were necessary in a difficult fiscal year in which they had to consider eliminating ongoing spending to move forward.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairperson Kelli Stargel R-Lakeland said the Better Learning Access Program should be scrapped because the state could not justify granting government-funded aid. taxpayers to for-profit schools and that the textbook allowance was part of “recurring expenses.” “The dilemma budget writers were faced with.
But the higher education budget includes some recurring spending, and a $ 2.7 billion budget deficit at the start of the session was more than met with $ 10 billion in one-time federal money and $ 2 billion in forecasted funding. increased income.
The comprehensive spending plan, for example, includes $ 25 million for “buy one, get one free” tuition and fee waivers for higher level courses in programs that match the needs of the student. state workforce, which Republican leaders have tried to place more emphasis on in recent years.
The “BOGO” waiver is a new proposal and part of a broad higher education measure being negotiated in the legislature that would also protect universities from COVID-19-related lawsuits.
The Senate also met with the House over $ 75 million for the New Worlds Reading Initiative, a proposed book distribution program that would provide literacy support to elementary school students. The budget item is linked to the legislation prioritized by the Speaker of the House, Chris Sprowls.
If enacted, the initiative would be administered by a state university, so spending for an elementary school reading initiative is included in the higher education budget. The Senate also offered an additional $ 125 million from the $ 10.23 billion pot of one-time federal money the state expects to receive from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act.
Renovate with federal money
University and college building plans also remain on the line as lawmakers determine how to spend federal humanitarian aid.
On Friday, the Senate and House were aligned with spending $ 263.7 million on higher education construction projects, but the Senate reduced its offer to $ 190.9 million on Monday.
Included in Senate offer: $ 7.1 million to renovate and remodel the Florida International University College of Arts, Science and Education building; $ 1.6 million to renovate and build new labs and classrooms at Miami-Dade College, and $ 384,026 for a building renovation project at the College of The Florida Keys.
Bright Futures premium amounts unchanged
House and Senate budget officials have avoided operational budget cuts at state universities and colleges, and lawmakers have maintained the commitment that Bright Futures scholarships cover 75% or 100% of tuition fees and student tuition fees.
Student and Democrat groups have raised concerns about funding for Bright Futures after the Senate began pushing for legislation that could have put those amounts at risk.
The proposal, pushed by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, was initially aimed at reducing scholarship amounts based on specific majors that did not lead “directly to employment” or based on the number of students attending. credit obtained through advanced placement courses and high school test results. The measure was watered down significantly, but said lawmakers could set scholarship amounts through the budget process, rather than keeping them tied to the cost of tuition and fees.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jay Trumbull said on Monday the budget item was final and the state would continue to cover 75% or all of student tuition, depending on merit and academic performance high.
“No change,” he says.
Other budgetary issues
During budget negotiations, the Senate also reversed course on a cut of $ 83.9 million that would have impacted universities and colleges based on courses that are not linked to needs-aligned programs. of state labor, which is now reintroduced into a “BOGO”. tuition fees and fee waivers.
The House and Senate also agreed to a budget cut of $ 18.5 million that will reduce the state’s contribution to the salaries of college and university administrators and faculty members who earn more than $ 200,000 per year. year.
Universities and colleges are currently prohibited from using state funds to pay directors who earn more than $ 200,000. But the new budget wording would extend that to faculty members as well.
“This doesn’t mean that a university can’t pay its professors more, it just means that it can’t use more than $ 200,000 from general revenue to pay its professors,” said representative Rene Plasencia, R -Orlando. the higher education budget negotiator explained last week.
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