The Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives unveiled their proposals for the 2018-2019 state budget on Friday, and the two chambers have very different views of how to fund the state's higher education system next year.
The Florida Senate is pitching an $87.3 billion budget while the House is not far behind with its numbers, pushing an $87.2 billion budget.
Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, introduced the Senate’s version of the state budget on Friday. At the top of the Senate’s budget priority list is funding for Florida’s K-12 and higher education system.
The Senate budget proposal would hold the line on performance money for state colleges at $60 million but would increase performance money for universities from $520 million to $690 million.
Over $841 million of the Senate budget would be set aside for student financial aid, with the bulk of that money -- over $591 million -- going towards the state’s Bright Futures Scholarship Program, which doles out scholarships to Florida students who meet certain academic benchmarks.
Increasing funding for state colleges and universities has been on Senate President Joe Negron’s “must-do” list since he took the reins of that chamber in 2016.
On Friday, Negron asserted the Senate’s new budget numbers reflected the promise he made to prioritize higher education during his time as Senate President.
“From unprecedented per-student funding for our K-12 schools, to continuing historic investments in need-based student financial aid and setting aside funds for the permanent expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship, the Senate budget recognizes the link between education and our economy and the significant return for taxpayers when we invest in Florida’s future,” Negron said.
Negron’s goal of ramping up spending for the state university system isn’t entirely in line with the House’s budget numbers, which are currently lower than the Senate’s proposal.
House leaders unveiled a budget earlier this week which proposes cuts to the state university system, potentially forcing them to tap into their reserves for extra money.
Unlike the Senate, the House’s education budget would keep performance money for state colleges and universities at their current levels of $60 million and $520 million, respectively, numbers which are nearly $130 million less than the Senate’s pitch.
Colleges would see a $68 million cut in the House’s budget.
The House’s higher education proposal also fails to include a $110 million expansion of the Bright Futures “Medallion Scholarship” program, which covers 75 percent of tuition and fees for qualified recipients.
Florida students must score an 1170 on the SAT or a 26 on the ACT to qualify for the Medallion Scholarship.
House Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, said state universities’ budgets have grown over the years since they keep the leftover taxpayer money they haven’t spent each year.
The numbers are starting points for both the House and Senate, which will have to reach a consensus on the budget before the legislative session ends March 9.
Gov. Rick Scott is currently proposing $87.4 billion for the 2018-2019 budget.
Reach reporter Allison Nielsen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.
READ MORE FROM SUNSHINE STATE NEWS