Senate focuses on boosting higher education money

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Senate leaders are advancing a higher-education budget that includes a proposed $383 million increase for state universities, colleges and other post-secondary programs.

Senate Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said Wednesday that the proposal amounts to a 6.6 percent increase, including a $187 million boost for universities and a $40 million increase in operating funds for state colleges, including the restoration of a $30 million cut made in this year’s budget.

A key difference between preliminary Senate and House budget proposals is that the Senate includes funding to pay for 75 percent of the tuition and fees for some 46,000 “medallion scholars” in the Bright Futures scholarship program.

The House does not have the increase for the medallion scholars, who now receive financial aid that covers about half of their tuition.

The Senate budget proposal includes $60 million in performance funding for state colleges, which is the same amount the schools received this year. Performance funding for universities would rise to $690 million in the 2018-2019 academic year, up from $520 million this year.

The Senate plan increases funding for two programs that were part of Senate President Joe Negron’s initiative to improve the quality of higher education in the state.

The Senate has a $20 million increase for a program aimed at helping state universities hire “world class” scholars and researchers and a $10 million increase for a program that recognizes high-performing professional schools.

The budget also includes $3.6 million for an ongoing plan to increase enrollment at New College of Florida, the smallest institution in the state university system.