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Lawmakers Debate University Performance Funding

Florida A&M University's Lee Hall

An education bill is sparking debate about how universities receive performance funding and lawmakers are facing an important decision about the future of the program.

The Florida House is pursuing a change in how state universities receive performance-based funding after some state universities, backed by lawmakers, argue the current system is not fair.

Schools like Florida A&M University argue they’re being shortchanged.

Under the current system, the Florida Board of Governors ranks state universities on 10 criteria. The school’s ranking corresponds to the amount of state funding it receives. With the three lowest-scoring schools receiving no additional performance funding at all.

For the 2017-2018 academic year, the available funds totaled $245 million. The three bottom schools this year are Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida A&M University, and the University of North Florida.

Rep. Ramon Alexander (D-Tallahassee) says this is a broken system.

“All 12 of our state universities deserve an opportunity to flourish, to provide the quality of life experience," argues Alexander. "There’s no one-size-fits-all approach in regards to providing high-quality education within the state university system.”

Alexander notes that of the nearly $720 million doled out since 2014, FAMU and FGCU have only received $16 million , UNF has only received $11 million, and New College of Florida has only received $2.4 million.

For comparison, this year’s top-ranking school, the University of Florida, earned $55 million for the 2017-2018 academic year alone.

He argues it’s useless to compare a large research university like UF with a small liberal arts school like New College.

“We’re picking winners and losers and it creates a larger and larger and larger gap," Alexander says.

Alexander also points out the current system penalizes universities even if they improve. He says it’s unfair to withhold money from the bottom three schools if the improvement doesn’t outpace top schools in the performance funding criteria.

“So what we’re saying is that we want you to go out here and improve your retention rates, your progression rates, your job placement rates but then if you’re in the bottom three, regardless if you’ve improved, we’re going to penalize you," Alexander notes.

These arguments are echoed by other House lawmakers who are backing a provision in a higher education bill that would revamp the performance funding system.

It would require the Board of Governors to create a system that measures each school’s success individually rather than against all 12 schools in the Florida state system. Under this plan, schools would not receive extra funding if they failed to show improvement from the previous year.

However the Senate version of the bill, put forth by Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), does not include changes to performance funding.

Galvano says the program is similar to a bonus system, and is intended to make schools competitive and work better for students.

"Understanding that at the end of the day the more effectively and efficiently a student can go through the university system, the better off that student is going to be in terms of financial status, cost into the system and to be able to get out into the work force,” says Galvano.

The Senate budget proposes an additional $100 million for the university performance fund, while the House proposes to keep it at the current $245 million level.

The House bill has another stop in the Education Committee before moving to the floor for a vote. The Senate bill has passed that chamber.