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Sweeping higher education bill ready for House vote with changes

It removes funding for emerging preeminent universities.

The House is poised to take a final vote on higher education legislation after adopting a strike-all amendment Tuesday.

Rep. Ray Rodrigues added a strike-all to Sen. Kelli Stargel’s SB 72 that keeps many aspects of the bill but adds others.

Under both, each state university and Florida College System (FCS) institution with 15,000 or more full-time equivalent employees for the prior year must maintain a minimum carry forward balance of at least 7% of its state operating budget. If that university or FCS institution fails to maintain a 7% balance in state operating funds, it must submit a plan to the Board of Governors and the State Board of Education to attain it within the next fiscal year.

It also requires that the selection of a president by a university board of trustees be selected from at least three candidates. 

SB 72 makes changes to the preeminent research universities program and creates Universities of Distinction, which highlights Florida’s non-preeminent universities. Universities of Distinction replaces Programs of Excellence. 

The bill also removes an outdated SAT score scale and adds new ACT scoring. It also removes the funding for emerging preeminent universities and puts the Legislature in charge of directing annual funding for preeminent universities. 

Rodriguez’s amendment, meanwhile, lays out some priorities of the House, especially some championed by Higher Education Subcommittee Chair Randy Fine. The measure maintains a stipend for textbooks for students receiving the top “Academic” scholarship under the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program but removes the $300 requirement for that benefit, leaving the actual amount ambiguous.

Beginning in the fall 2021 semester, Florida Medallion Scholars enrolled in an associate degree program at a Florida College System institution are eligible for a free ride if they meet certain conditions. The Bright Futures changes were originally included in another measure (HB 7087) that proposed merging New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic University with the University of Florida. 

The amended bill is now on third reading. 

Written By

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 sarah@floridapolitics.com.

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