The House approved higher education legislation (SB 72) without opposition Wednesday after shedding a controversial provision in the spirit of compromise.
The House on Tuesday ditched a proposal that would have required state colleges and universities to survey students and faculty members about their viewpoints.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley warned Senators last spring that the survey idea would likely keep coming back and urged the Senate to continue blocking it. House Republicans, however, have pushed for the surveys to test whether people at colleges and universities feel free to “express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.” But the survey idea has drawn fierce push back from faculty members.
The move clears the way for Senate approval. The rest of the legislation is likely to garner support from the Senate.
Under the measure, 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The bill also removes an outdated SAT score scale and adds new ACT scoring.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 eliminates the funding for emerging preeminent universities and puts the Legislature in charge of directing annual funding for preeminent universities.
A strike-all amendment adopted Tuesday added some priorities of the House, especially some championed by Higher Education Subcommittee Chair Randy Fine. The measure replaces the $300 stipend for textbooks for students receiving the top “Academic” scholarship under the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program with an unspecified amount.
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 News Service of Florida contributed to this report.