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Senate Budget Group Ok's $74.9 Billion Plan; Calls Out State Colleges Over Degrees

Florida Senate

The Senate's 2014-2015 budget proposal is worth $74.9 billion but the chamber's appropriations committee spent most of its time targeting community and state colleges.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron touted a $225 million infusion into budgets for water projects in and around Lake Okeecheobee and Indian River Lagoon, near where he lives. That area of the state was hit with damaging floods and toxic algae blooms which spawned an environmental crisis last summer. Thursday, Negron showcased what’s coming under the Senate’s plan, such as constructing new reservoirs around Lake-O, and restoring the Kissimmee River to slow down the flow of water.

“We’re also bridging 2.5 miles of the roadway between Fort Lauderdale and Naples—the Tamiami Trail," Negron said. "Once we do that, water will be able to flow in an unobstructed way into Florida Bay, thus eliminating a lot of the need for discharges.” 

The Senate wants to spend $14.7 billion on public schools for the upcoming fiscal year. That includes increasing the state’s per-student funding level by $175. That’s still a bit less than what those levels were in the record per-student spending year of 2006, but it’s more than what Governor Rick Scott proposed in his budget.

Public community and state colleges as well as universities are also in for budget boosts if the Senate’s plan becomes law. Both systems will soon be able to cash in on more performance-based funding, says Senate Education Appropriations Chairman Bill Galvano.

“[There are] no tuition increases. Within the college system, $1.2 billion. This includes $10 million in compression equalization funding, $30 million in performance," Galvano said. "With regards to state university system,  $2.4 billion, which includes $200 million in performance funding based on the board of governors model.

Public state colleges will now be eligible for additional dollars based upon their performance in terms of graduation rates and workforce placement, among other metrics. But an amendment to that section of the budget generated a lot of conversation. Galvano has proposed removing the state board of education’s authority to grant the colleges’ requests for new baccalaureate degree programs. The concern is that those schools have created programs that don’t fit in their mission, and some conflict with similar offerings at public universities in the same area. An amendment to the budget by Negron would mean the colleges could lose 10 percent of the proposed increase to universities.

“The underlying premise of the amendment, is, with the 175 programs that have been approved--four last week--that there are at least 10 percent," Negron said in explaining his amendment. "I would suggest more than that, of degree programs currently being offered that don’t fall within that rubric.”

The Senate has been discussing the issue of community and state college baccalaureate degree creation throughout the session, and targeting state funding is a way lawmakers can show they’re serious.  Saint St. Johns College President Joe Pickens says both Negron and Galvano have made their point.

“I came in to let you know, sir, that you’ve got my attention. And I wanted to explain that to you personally," Pickens said.

After winning approval from the Senate Appropriations committee, the full budget now heads to the chamber floor for an up or down vote. Once that vote has taken place, conference committees from both the House and Senate will meet to iron out any remaining differences.

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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. 

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