House proposes cuts to EASE voucher program

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Most private colleges and universities would receive less funding or none at all.

In a House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing Thursday, Chairman Rene Plasencia released a proposal that will make drastic changes to the Effective Access to Student Education (EASE) voucher program for higher education.

The proposal establishes five tiers for Florida’s private institutions to be eligible for their students to receive the EASE voucher, with some schools receiving more funding for students, but the vast majority of schools receiving less or none for their students. The changes, if passed, would affect students in the 2022-2023 school year.

Multiple advocates for higher education and school access pushed back in the committee hearing. The common theme was a concern that this change would impact tens of thousands of students because it affects a voucher that has historically followed the student, not the school.

Bob Boyd, president of Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF), which represents Florida’s 30 independent, nonprofit higher education institutions in Florida, urged the committee to oppose the measure.

“EASE is a workforce education initiative. With the help of EASE, students are earning their degrees to become nurses, teachers and engineers,” Boyd said. “Cutting EASE will have a serious impact on these students and our workforce.”

David Armstrong, president of St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, testified that the bill would limit school choice.

“If Florida is supporting school choice, they are supporting families to choose the school that is right for them,” he said. “By cutting EASE, we are going to knee-cap them and take away their choice. Importantly, this bill discriminates against faith-based institutions and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).”

Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro expressed concern about the impact of the proposal on the taxpayer.

“EASE grants help to reduce the difference between public and private tuition and make private institutions more affordable. It ultimately reduces the tax burden,” said Calabro. “The importance of an educated student to the continued growth and diversity in Florida’s economy cannot be overstated. We should do everything in our power to increase access to college education. Remember the EASE voucher follows the student.”

The Florida Chamber of Commerce also testified in opposition to the proposal.

Recently, ICUF released results of their economic impact study.

The study conducted by the Regional Economic Consulting Group for the 2019-20 academic year found that EASE created 21,934 jobs, generated $3.5 billion in economic impact and contributed $282 million in state and local taxes each year.

The study ultimately reflected that for every $1 the state spends on an EASE student, it gets back $2.50, meaning the state’s return on investment is more than double.

“EASE is working well in Florida,” Boyd said. “The return on investment is incredible.”

The committee voted 10-3 in support of the measure. The PCB will be heard next by the House Appropriations Committee.

Staff Reports



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