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University Construction Requests Under Scrutiny In Wake of UCF Scandal

Rep. Jose Oliva (R-Hialeah)
The Florida Channel

The Florida House is weighing funding for building projects at public universities across the state. While these meetings happen every year,  they are under more scrutiny now.

Higher education spending is a concern of House Speaker Jose Oliva, who says he wants to cut back on appropriations to higher education.

The concern arises after scandals with Florida public universities. Most notably, the University of Central Florida, which improperly spent $38 million in state funding on the construction of the Trevor Colbourn Hall.

“I think that we can create a stronger, better, more viable university system without just throwing more money at it. The carry-overs of these universities are over a billion dollars. Sometimes they don’t know how to spend the money, we throw so much of it at them.”

During Monday’s appropriations hearing, representatives peppered university presenters with questions about the numbers behind the projects and how the buildings would benefit the universities.

“How many buildings on your campus are these services currently housing?”

“The faculty, the staff that you have, did they join a federal funding for research?”

“What will that bring you to a percentage but more importantly what will that bring you to overall and how much more do you need?”

That’s Tallahassee Democratic representatives Robinson, Gregory and Newton.

Representative Ramon Alexander said legislators are trying to be more cautious with appropriating funds.

“We have to come up with smart and effective ways to make sure that when the state makes an investment the institutions are able to complete those projects in a timely manner and subsequently fulfill their strategic missions and focuses as institutions,” Alexander said.

During the hearing he backed Florida A&M University’s request to finish building a student success center, which lawmakers authorized two years ago.

“It is a critical need and I hope the committee fully understands that there’s a significant reason that Florida A&M University has had this as their number one priority over the last five years, and it’s a very critical important project toward FAMU being able to compete,” Alexander said.

Senate budget leaders have said they are not interested in overhauling university spending. The News Service of Florida reported Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) said there is no urgent need for change.

Casey Chapter is a graduate student at Florida State University studying Public Interest Media & Communication. She got her start in journalism at the FSView & Florida Flambeau, where she served as a reporter, News Editor, and eventually Managing Editor. She has previously reported on COVID-19 and K-12 education for the Tallahassee Democrat, and currently serves as the Managing Editor of the Florida Student News Watch, a journalism program that aims to get students and recent graduates' work published with a focus on environmental reporting.