Budget boosts school construction

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida lawmakers approved a 45 percent increase in construction and maintenance money for universities, state colleges and public schools in the new state budget.

The annual Public Education Capital Outlay program for the 2018-19 academic year will total $487 million, including $33 million in funding contingent on reimbursements from the federal government related to emergency spending during Hurricane Irma.

The university system will have $112 million in individual projects and $47 million in maintenance money, which will be distributed by formula to the 12 state universities.

The state college system has $43 million in projects and $35 million in maintenance funding, which will be distributed to the 28 schools.

Public schools will receive $50 million in maintenance and renovation funding, while charter schools will receive $150 million, including $5 million contingent on federal reimbursements.

Lawmakers said the charter school funding was increased because under a new law (HB 7055), the school districts will not have to share local property taxes used for construction and maintenance with the charter schools.

The largest project on the university PECO list is $50 million for a data-science and information-technology building at the University of Florida.

According to a presentation given to the Board of Governors in the fall, the data-science project will expand UF’s degree production in areas such as electrical engineering, computer science and biomedical informatics. The facility would double UF’s research funding in computer engineering to $33 million over a decade and increase health-care research in data science areas by 33 percent to $36 million, UF officials said.