College Funding

The funding fate of Florida’s 11 public universities now rests with budget writers in the House and Senate. Negotiations begin next week.

There is a 260 million dollar difference in how the two chambers fund higher education. Until yesterday there was a huge disparity in funding for the University of South Florida, but Tampa Senator Jim Norman amended the budget to restore 40 million dollars to the school. ”That community embraced this university like I’ve never seen ever before how a university has actually lifted that whole community up.”

As USF’s funding issue is being put to rest, efforts to split the campus are at center stage. The House Speaker won’t say if his chamber is willing to take Polytechnic away from USF and create the state’s 12th university.

A tough decision by state senators faced with a 2 billion dollar shortfall. “This is a very difficult year.” They passed a budget Thursday with a 400 million dollar cut to higher education. To fill in the budget gap, senators want universities to dip into reserves, raise tuition three percent and reduce spending.

The House passed a much smaller cut, about 140 million dollars, but they want to raise tuition eight percent to help make up for the shortfall.

Budget chiefs for the two chambers will now go into conference to negotiate a compromise. At the heart of the horse trading is the University of South Florida and plans to make its Lakeland Polytechnic school its own university. House Speaker Dean Cannon won’t say if he supports creating a 12th state university. “I don’t want any position I may or may not take on Polytechnic to distract from what we are focused on in the House.”

The legislative plan originated in the Senate, under the direction of JD Alexander. It quickly caught the ire of USF President Judy Genshaft. Even though Polytechnic’s split is a senate play, Tampa Bay area Representative Janet Cruz says she can see the house getting behind the deal, if not now, in the near future. “It sounds as if Judy Genshaft and JD Alexander have come to some sort of an agreement so we’ll see if it spills over to the House now.”

Rep. Shawn Harrison of Temple Terrace is optimistic. “If we run out of time I would like to see us take this issue up next session.”

What happens with USF could have implications for other state colleges, because funding a 12th public university leaves fewer dollars for existing schools.

Senators argue the higher education cuts are not really cuts because the schools have reserve funds for budget shortfalls. Universities say after five straight years of budget cuts, the reserves have already been allocated.

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