Lawmakers reach deal on higher ed foundations


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – University and state college foundations would be prohibited from using public funds to pay for their employees beginning in 2022 and would face more disclosure requirements under an agreement reached Friday by legislative leaders.

The agreement is a modification of a House proposal that would have immediately prohibited the use of public employees or public funding in the largely private foundations, which are also known as direct-support organizations.

Universities are currently spending about $53 million to support foundation personnel, while state colleges are spending $9.9 million. Under the agreement, they will have five years to end that practice.

In addition, the bill would immediately prohibit the use of state funds for travel by the organizations and would require disclosure of all expenditures involving public funds and the disclosure of all travel expenditures involving private funds.

The House originally sought a fuller disclosure of all expenditures and activity by the foundations, with the exception of the identities of private donors.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, called the compromise a significant advancement in transparency for the direct-support organizations.

“Is it where we wanted to go? We would like to go even further,” Corcoran said. “But to move that along to the extent that we have and to have that accountability for the first time is something that is remarkable.”

The foundation language is part of a broader higher-education bill (SB 374) linked to a nearly $83 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The bill includes an array of major policy changes for the 12 state universities and 28 state colleges.

The bill would require universities to offer block tuition, where students pay a flat fee per semester rather than a credit-hour charge, by the fall of 2018. It would create a 13-member Board of Community Colleges to oversee the state college system, which is now under the Board of Education.

In addition, the legislation would cap enrollment for students pursuing four-year degrees at state colleges to no more than 15 percent of the total enrollment at each school.

Universities would be held to a new performance standard, measuring the schools on their ability to graduate students in four years, rather than the current six-year standard.