Budget conference: House, Senate agree on funding for state university system priorities
Higher education budget leaders Rep. Randy Fine and Sen. Kelli Stargel disagree on merging Florida’s two smallest public universities into the state’s flagship institutions.

The House and Senate appear to agree on funding for national rankings and Universities of Distinction.

The Senate has agreed to accept the House’s recommendation on $45 million for initiatives sought by the Board of Governors, uniting at least for the moment on proposed funding for State University System priorities.

The Senate presented its offer to the House Sunday night. The lower chamber is expected to make a counteroffer Monday morning.

The two chamber are close on the numbers, but some hang-ups remain. For example, the House wants $15 million for a post-secondary certificate training program. Higher Education Appropriations Chair Randy Fine says that’s a priority of the Governor, so “it’s a priority to me.”

The Senate is still recommending $1 million for a FSU Institute of Politics, which Fine expressed some support for Saturday evening.

Currently, House and Senate leaders are both recommending spending $30 million to help preeminent research universities climb in national rankings, and $15 million for Universities of Distinction, a newly-created program intended to highlight Florida’s non-preeminent universities. While their initial positions on that item started a distance apart, they have since seemed to have agreed on those numbers. It’s below the ask from the board for those programs.

While the House budget plan from January omitted both requests, the Senate budget had initially put aside $65 million for national rankings and $15 million for Distinction.

Fine said adding some money was a concession to the Senate.

“That’s important over there, and we’ve been trying to listen to everyone’s perspective so we can land the plane in a great place for everybody,” Fine said.

The national ranking dollars would be distributed among the state’s three preeminent research universities — the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida.

The Distinction funding is meant to help the rest of the university system develop unique specialty programs in fields such as health care, the environment, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

The Senate is recommending $1.29 billion for Florida Colleges and $5.17 billion state universities, compared with the House’s first offer of $1.28 for colleges and $5.16 for universities.

Universities of Distinction arose after Sen. Kelli Stargel, the Senate’s education budget chief, voiced concerns about recognizing universities that don’t reach the state’s preeminent status.

“It’s a very interesting way to approach higher ed with a state as diverse as ours, so that students have opportunities depending on what their specialty may be,” Stargel said Saturday.

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to [email protected]


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