April 28, 2014

USF St. Pete, FIU among winners in higher education budget

UPDATE: Additional funding for Florida International University was among the list of projects on the supplemental funding list released late Monday, bringing the total amount for the school to $6.8 million.

ORIGINAL POST: Under a budget deal announced Monday, Florida universities will share more than $250 million in state funding for building projects, including $8 million for a business school at University of South Florida St. Petersburg. The plan also includes $10 million to expand a college of engineering shared by Florida State University and Florida A & M University that just days ago seemed headed for separation.

Florida International University is allocated $5 million toward completion of its student academic center and $10 million to begin the process of relocating the Miami-Dade County Fair and acquiring land near the Modesto Maidique Campus in Miami.

All told, universities will see an increase of nearly $83 million for construction projects next year compared to the current year. That includes $41 million from capital improvement fees that students pay.

The state funding is still subject to votes by the entire Legislature before it goes to Gov. Rick Scott. It includes $58 million for maintenance and renovation of existing buildings and $156 million to begin or complete construction of new buildings.

Meanwhile, the state's 28 community colleges will share $108 million, including $92 million for new construction, compared with $42 million last year. 

Read more here.

Legislature agrees to FAMU-FSU engineering study instead of automatic split

@tbtia

It was Sen. John Thrasher who successfully lobbied the Senate to add $3 million to the budget to help Florida State University begin creating its own engineering school separate from Florida A&M University.

But Thrasher said late Sunday that he concurs with the compromise agreement struck with the House to fund an independent study of the 32-year-old joint engineering school instead. Lawmakers will provide $500,000 for the study and allow the state Board of Governors to have final say on whether the engineering school should be separated, given to just one school or remain as-is.

"I'm happy about that," said Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican who is rumored to have his sight set on becoming FSU's next president. He said the discussion about the future of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering was a necessary one that would not have taken place if he hadn't proposed a budget amendment to fund the split.

Rep. Alan Williams, whose district includes FAMU, noted the House never agreed to fund the split and Speaker Will Weatherford initially floated the idea of a study as a diplomatic way to move forward.presented the study as a diplomatic way to move forward.

"I think the House position is the right direction to go in because we don't know all the details, we don't know the unintended consequences that might have occurred if we had gone with the Senate budget amendment," Williams, D-Tallahassee, said.

Continue reading "Legislature agrees to FAMU-FSU engineering study instead of automatic split" »

April 27, 2014

Senate proposes independent study of FAMU-FSU engineering split

@tbtia

The Florida Senate is offering to fund a study of the proposed split of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering that gives the state Board of Governors final say over whether changes should be made.

Under the Senate plan, which the House still must agree to, $150,000 in state funding would be set aside to conduct an independent review of the engineering program and decide if Florida State University, Florida A&M University or both should continue offering degrees.

Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the plan was devised in hopes of addressing concerns raised by House Speaker Will Weatherford, who said the Board of Governors should be consulted in the controversial plan to divide the 32-year-old joint engineering school.

Sen. John Thrasher, an FSU alum who is reportedly interested in becoming the school's next president, had proposed allocating $13 million to FSU to begin the process of creating an engineering school separate from FAMU, a historically black university just a few miles away. The money was inserted in the ninth hour in the Senate's budget proposal.

The House has refused to negotiate on the issue thus far, offering no money for Thrasher's plan. The House must now come up with a response to Sunday's proposal to allow the Board of Governors, which oversees the 12 state universities, to have final say.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, has been one of the most vocal opponents to the proposed engineering school split, saying she worried about the state's long-term commitment to funding two costly programs and wanted to ensure FAMU is protected.

Joyner said an independent study would be a step in the right direction, even though she believes more money would be needed to fully analyze the issue. "It slowed the process down," she said. "At least it's not happening overnight."

April 24, 2014

Performance funding for state universities among unresolved budget issues

UPDATE: A spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford said the House proposal for performance funding found in HB 5105 is effectively dead after failing to pass its final committee. The House will not waive rules to resurrect the proposal, even though it started out on solid ground as a bill introduced by the Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee.

Instead, the House inserted language in its version of the budget that is very similar to the Senate proposal and embraces the Board of Governors' performance funding criteria.

As it stands, the main disagreement between the two chambers is how much the lowest-performance schools would lose. The House would only require a 1 percent cut in base formula. The Senate wants a 3.7 percent reduction.

The two chambers agree to put $200 million into performance funding, including $100 million in new funding that would be divided by the top-performing schools. There is also an additional $5 million each for the two pre-eminent institutions: Florida State University and University of Florida.

ORIGINAL POST: Efforts to finalize the education portion of the state budget stalled Wednesday night when House negotiators rejected a pivotal Senate deal. Sen. Bill Galvano, the Senate’s education budget chief, responded by putting negotiations essentially back at square one and negating almost 48-hours of work.

But even before that meltdown occurred, there were key disagreements on several higher education spending issues.

Continue reading "Performance funding for state universities among unresolved budget issues" »

April 23, 2014

Lawmakers agree to delay controversial hospital funding model

@tbtia

Specifics still need to be ironed out, but hospitals across Florida are already celebrating the news that a controversial funding model will not be implemented as planned this year.

The so-called "tiering" law would have required counties that use local dollars to draw down more federal money for hospitals to begin sharing that money statewide. Jackson Health System in Miami was bracing for a $140 million hit as a result of the new law. Tampa General Hospital said its loss would have been $43 million. Miami Children’s Hospital and All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg estimated they would collectively see funding cut $17.6 million.

The Legislature's two health care budget chiefs -- Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, and Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring-- agreed this morning that the law should be delayed at least for a year. That gives the state time to complete a study of its existing Medicaid funding mechanisms and come up with recommendations, as required by the federal government.

"We don’t know what happens next year so the best thing to do is maintain the status quo," Grimsley said. "When we come back in session next year, we will then have a better idea of what direction we need to go."

Continue reading "Lawmakers agree to delay controversial hospital funding model" »

April 21, 2014

Legislature decides to stay out of juvenile justice funding spat

@tbtia

Counties had hoped a last-minute budget deal would end their lengthy battle with state over juvenile justice costs. But the House and the Senate have not added the topic to their growing budget negotiations list, and time is running out.

"Lights are dimming on that issue quickly," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the Senate's criminal justice budget chief.

The funding dispute affects 38 counties that are expected to pay a portion of the costs of incarcerating youths before they are sentenced. These counties say the Department of Juvenile Justice erroneously billed them $140 million in recent years, and half of them filed legal challenges.

The Florida Association of Counties had hoped lawmakers would agree on a new billing formula that would also reimburse counties for past overpayments. Since that doesn't seem to be happening, Gov. Rick Scott's billing plan will be implemented.

Under that plan, counties will be expected to pay for about 57 percent of juvenile detention costs and receive no back payments. Counties had considered this option their worst-case scenario, and it also means the litigation and disputes about past billings will continue.

Budget negotiations have begun

@tbtia

 The House and Senate have agreed on overall budget figures and negotiations began tonight with remarks from Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford. Smaller budget conference subcommittees are now negotiating on various aspects of the budget.

Weatherford said the relatively short window -- the Legislature is coming off a weeklong holiday break and has only two weeks to finalize the budget  -- means contentious issues will be "bumped" to the next level of review sooner, Wednesday at the latest.

In order for lawmakers to vote on the budget on the scheduled final day of session, May 2, the document needs to be finalized by April 29 to trigger the required 72-hour "cooling off" period in enough time.

Click here for the list of House budget conference members.

Click here for the list of Senate budget conference members.

Continue reading "Budget negotiations have begun" »

April 04, 2014

FAMU leaders say Thrasher mischaracterized their position on FSU split

@tbtia

The Senate agreed to spend $13 million in state funding to help Florida State University begin creating its own engineering school separate from Florida A&M University largely based on the testimony of Sen. John Thrasher. The St. Augustine Republican is an FSU alum and is rumored to have an interest in becoming the university's next president. But he also one of the lions of the Legislature and his opinion carries lots of sway in Tallahassee.

But was Thrasher wrong when he said FAMU's new President Elmira Mangum had agreed to begin working with FSU's interim President Garnett Stokes to map out a plan for splitting the two schools' joint College of Engineering? A spokeswoman for Mangum says, "Yes."

"There was no such agreement," said Alonda Thomas, FAMU's communications director, in an email to the Times/Herald. "Dr. Mangum and Dr. Stokes agreed that they need to review the current amendment to understand its impact on FAMU if it should be approved. They agreed that the process is not collegial and that it is not the process in which collaboration is conducted."

Thomas said there was no agreement to begin drafting a "memorandum of understanding" about how the split would occur. Confronted with the conflicting information after the Senate adjourned Thursday night, Thrasher said his comments were based on what Stokes told him after she met with Mangum Thursday morning.

But there are more discrepancies. Larry Robinson, whose tenure as FAMU's interim president ended when Mangum took office Tuesday, said Thrasher also mischaracterized conversations he had with former FSU President Eric Barron. Barron's last day was Wednesday; he becomes president of Pennsylvania State University next month.

Robinson said he and Barron had informal conversations about the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, but he never agreed that a split was the right course of action. Thrasher said during Thursday's debate that the two presidents had spoken about the plan and gave the impression they were on board.

Continue reading "FAMU leaders say Thrasher mischaracterized their position on FSU split" »

April 03, 2014

Negron dials back plan to limit community college bachelor degrees

@tbtia

Sen. Joe Negron has agreed to a compromise with the state's community colleges that will create a one-year moratorium on new bachelor's degrees instead of a new law that would have led to permanent restrictions.

Negron, the Senate's budget chief, had initially proposed a requirement that the Legislature approve new four-year degrees at state colleges instead of the Board of Education. He also removed $3.4 million in funding from the 24 colleges that currently offer bachelor's degrees and redistributed the money to the two pre-eminent universities, Florida State University and University of Florida.

That plan, which was never in the House version of the budget, is now off the table after Negron heard from college system leaders. The funding has been restored in the Senate's budget and Negron said the moratorium will give educators and lawmakers time to address so-called "mission creep" and duplication of programs at state colleges and universities.

"Right now, I think that the way the bacclaureate programs have exploded at our state colleges is not what the Legislature had intended," Negron, R-Stuart said.

Negron said he initial proposed the limits and reduced funding to reduce duplication between two- and four-year colleges. But he is also behind a separate budget proposal to split the joint FSU-FAMU College of Engineering and create two duplicate programs in the same city.

Senate approves funding to split FAMU-FSU engineering school

@tbtia

Amid conflicting reports about where Florida A&M University stands on the issue, the Senate agreed to fund a proposal to create a new, separate engineering school at Florida State University.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a FAMU alumna who spoke passionately against the measure, later said she would support the larger budget that contains the FSU funding because of promises made by Sen. John Thrasher during debate.

He reported that FAMU's brand new president -- Elmira Mangum has been on the job two days -- met with FSU interim president Garnett Stokes this morning and agreed to iron out a "memorandum of understanding" determining how the break would occur. The Legislature would abide by whatever that memo contains, Thrasher said.

Earlier, Joyner had opposed Thrasher's amendment to increase FSU's funding for a new engineering school from $10 million to $13 million. That amendment passed on a voice vote. Even with that money included in the budget, Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, voted "yes."

"I'm going to support this budget today, but I'll be here until the end, God willing," Joyner said. "If things work differently, then action in the future will be different. But today I'm going with it based on the word of two gentlemen whom I respect."

Continue reading "Senate approves funding to split FAMU-FSU engineering school" »