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Higher ed budget takes shape, but House and Senate disagree on tuition

The House and Senate are reaching a consensus on many higher education funding issues. But neither side is yet budging on tuition: the House wants an increase and the Senate does not.

Both chambers have agreed on allocating $65 million for state university performance funding. They also would send $15 million each to Florida State University and the University of Florida for being top-ranked, "pre-eminent" universities. Another $15 million will go to UF to create an institute that improves online education.

Initially, the Senate had not budgeted the online education money or as much in performance funding. House education budget Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, called the Senate's offer "significant" and said the two sides were nearing an overall agreement.

Despite some early hand-wringing, $22 million for Florida Polytechnic University is in the budget. Senate education budget chief Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, initially put Polytechnic funding "below the line" because he didn't receive satisfactory answers on how the money would be used.

The one big area of disagreement that remains is tuition increases. Galvano said the upper chamber was "holding the line" that tuition should not be increased.

"The whole idea is to try to make it easier for young people to get a college education," he told reporters on Saturday.

The House has budgeted a 6 percent tuition increase for state universities that would would provide an extra $93 million in revenue. The House also proposed a similar tuition hike for state colleges worth $53 million.

Even if the two sides agree on boosting tuition, Gov. Rick Scott is likely to veto it. Let's just say school leaders are not banking on that money.

All along, the House and the Senate agreed to restore last-year's budget cuts and add back $300 million slashed from state university operating funds. There are also signficant increases in K-12 spending.

On the K-12 side, the two chambers remain at odds on the issue of teacher pay.

The Senate would like to dedicate $480 million to performance-based salary increases for teachers. The House would like to see that figure increased to $676 million, but give districts a little more flexibility on how to spend the cash.

Galvano said the House and Senate will need to continue negotiations.

With reporting from Kathleen McGrory.