The Martin Luther King holiday made this another short week for the legislature.
House Higher Education Committee
Each of the state’s eleven university presidents was invited to join the full House committee to discuss their views on ways to reform the system as a whole. The general tone of the individual meetings, which extended over three days, was casual and conversational, encouraging dialogue. Common themes included the need to charge more tuition for STEM degrees, the importance of humanities courses to a student’s critical thinking skills, and the need for more flexibility in funding. President Bradshaw appeared on Wednesday afternoon, offering FGCU’s unique viewpoint within the SUS, and made a strong case for increased per student funding to bring us up to the level of like institutions. Chairman Proctor stated when the meetings were concluded, that it was “clear the universities reject a "one size fits all" approach that restricts growth and stifles innovation.” The Committee is expected to discuss the information presented at length before making any recommendations.
Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford issued a statement indicating his interest in developing a virtual university that would be totally online. It is likely this idea will generate considerable discussion during the coming year, but it is not expected to be enacted during this session.
Senate Higher Education Committee
The Senate committee took up and unanimously approved our three new trustees (John Little, Dorene McShea, and Russell Priddy). The full Senate vote will complete the confirmation process. The Committee also debated a proposal to include into the state system a new, private, non-profit vocational school targeting developmentally disabled students. The bill passed out of committee, but the fiscal impact on the state will be more closely examined at the next stop.
House Budget Committee
House Speaker Cannon released allocations (the amount each appropriating committee is authorized to spend) with an increase of $1 billion for K-12 over the current year. Actual revenues are down between $1 and $1.5 billion dollars from last year, due to the slow economy. What program cuts will be needed to increase education funding is unclear, but the Governor’s proposal to use Medicaid reimbursement changes is not part of the House plan.
Senate Higher Education Budget Committee
The meeting was taken up with a spirited discussion of the state audits of colleges which revealed some serious flaws and inconsistencies. Higher Education funding was not discussed this week, but the outlook for new construction funds (PECO) is grim. State economists project there will be no money for new capital projects this year or next. The Board of Governors appointed a task force at their quarterly meeting this week to look for new funding sources for SUS projects.
Complete allocations for the Senate budget writing committees are not yet public, but K-12 Budget Chair Simmons said Friday they will be adding $1.3 billion to schools this year.
The full Senate passed their reapportionment bills (SB 1174, SB 1176) for Congress and the state senate on Tuesday and sent them to the House. Their proposal for new State House Districts is being held back, pending the final map to be approved by the House.
The House Redistricting Committee met Friday in a workshop and heard new public input on the proposed maps published December 6th. After discussion and member input, one preferred map for Congress and for the House were selected to be the basis for amendments at the meeting next week. The state Senate proposal in the House is identical to the one created by the Senate which is now in messages.