When Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a major higher education reform bill last month, it didn’t strip away millions of dollars for Florida’s public universities that was already approved separately in the state budget but linked to that proposed policy.
Because the policy didn’t become law, the universities aren’t as limited now in how they can spend the money.
Scott sent letters to each of the 12 public universities this week urging them to use the dollars — more than $120 million among the individual institutions — to “focus on graduation rates” and encourage post-graduation career opportunities.
He asked each university to provide a report by Aug. 15 that explains “how your university chooses to spend this funding and how it will benefit Florida’s students.”
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Scott’s office told the Herald/Times the governor will “review” the responses. His office offered no explanation for what he’ll do with the universities’ reports or whether there would be consequences to universities that don’t provide a report or don’t spend the money in a manner Scott approves.
For Florida International University, specifically, Scott noted the institution received $16.1 million in funding that was supposed to be tied to policy in Senate Bill 374.
“As Senate Bill 374 was vetoed, I encourage you to spend the funds judiciously and invest in funding in initiatives that will help your students graduate in four years with less debt and the ability to get a great job,” Scott wrote to FIU President Mark Rosenberg and the presidents of the other 11 universities.
The 12 letters are identical except for a single complimentary sentence specific to each university.
For example, Scott told FIU: “I applaud you for consistently scoring well in the wages of undergraduates earned one year after graduation performance funding metric, ensuring that Florida’s students and families have every opportunity to succeed.”
FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana said university leaders are putting together a response to Scott’s letter.
“We are thankful that both the governor and the state Legislature have put great emphasis on universities’ funding this year and look forward to working together to support our students’ success,” she said.
Scott rejected SB 374 — a top priority of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart — because he said it “impeded” the ability of state colleges to provide access to low-cost, quality education.
The bill had put new regulations on the 28 state colleges while also pouring more resources into the universities in Negron’s effort to make them nationally competitive, “elite” destinations.
In contrast to other budget-related bills that might have a section detailing where money appropriated by the bill will be spent, SB 374 refers directly to the main budget act (SB 2500).
Because the dollars for the policies and programs were separately appropriated there, the money wasn’t affected by Scott’s veto.
That was the case for the restoration of full funding to Bright Futures scholars, who will see their aid increased at least for the 2017-18 school year.
Earlier this week, Negron also sent a letter to all senators addressing SB 374 and its funding. He reiterated his commitment to the policies within the legislation — specifically, a desire to see the restoration of full funding to Bright Futures scholars made permanent.
“I feel a deep sense of obligation to the tens of thousands of students and families who are reasonably relying on Bright Futures scholarships their students have earned,” Negron wrote. “As Florida students and their families plan for their investment in a college or university education, they deserve the financial security that comes with the permanent changes in law contemplated in SB 374.”
Negron added: “I look forward to discussing these important issues in more detail when interim committee weeks begin in September.” The 2018 legislative session begins in January.