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Senate's higher ed chairwoman downplays proposed suspension of Florida Prepaid

Sen. Evelyn Lynn said she had wanted only to give the state some “breathing room” when she pitched a controversial proposal last week to close the Florida Prepaid College program to new participants.

Last week, Lynn, the Ormond Beach Republican who heads up the higher education appropriations committee, called for suspending sales of new contracts in the program. She did not say for how long but said she was worried about the state’s guarantee of the contracts and called it a “huge liability.”

On Monday, she added the word “temporarily” to her draft proposal and gushed over the program’s success.

She also released a four-paragraph statement that said she had pitched the idea “to allow the fiscal situation to stabilize and help purchasers be aware of what their current contracts cover and what additional investment products they might need to add to cover the increasing costs of higher education.”

The program is the nation's largest and has sold more than 1.4 million plans since 1988, letting parents lock in present-day tuition and fees for their future students Nearly 20 percent of undergraduate students at Florida universities have a prepaid college plan.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who serves on Lynn's committee, said he didn’t support suspending the program for even a year. “Frankly, I don’t see the purpose of postponing the program,” he said.

Lynn said she wanted to highlight some confusion among parents over what exactly the plan covers and explore the state’s role in guaranteeing the contracts. Universities are eating the costs of  the so-called tuition "differential" for prepaid contracts purchased before 2007. The differential is a supplemental increase that universities can chose to charge students on top of any base tuition increases approved by the legislature, as long as the combined increase doesn’t exceed 15 percent. Since 2007, families have had the option of purchasing tuition differential contracts to cover that cost.

Lynn said after today’s committee meeting, which included a presentation from Prepaid officials, that she had not discussed her proposal with Senate President Mike Haridopolos.