Setting up a debate over the future of Florida’s colleges and universities, the state Senate passed an ambitious proposal Thursday intended to lift schools in the Sunshine State into the ranks of elite counterparts nationwide.
For college students, the legislation means more financial aid and incentives designed to help them graduate faster. For universities, it includes more help to recruit and retain high-ranking faculty as they seek to join the ranks of more prominent universities elsewhere.
“We’re the number one destination in the world and our universities and college should be the number one destination in the nation and the world,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican and sponsor of the bill, a top priority for Senate leaders.
But like many other items up for consideration during this year’s legislative session, it’s not clear if Republicans in both the House and Senate can reach a consensus. That’s because House Republicans have asserted that state schools may be wasting money and don’t need any more help from taxpayers. The Senate bill comes with a hefty price tag that could be nearly $300 million if it is fully paid for in the annual state budget.
The Senate voted 35-1 for a bill (SB 2) that would require the state to cover 100 percent of tuition costs for top performing high school students who attend a state university or college. Florida used to pay 100 percent of tuition for those eligible for the top level of the state’s Bright Futures scholarship, but it was scaled back during the Great Recession.
The legislation also includes boosts for several other financial aid programs. Some Democrats questioned why the bill does not call for increasing financial aid for needy students, but Senate President Joe Negron promised that the Senate would set aside additional money for the state’s existing nearly $150