$1 billion boost for schools settled; university spending is notby John Kennedy | March 1st, 2012
Florida school funding is set — with per-pupil cash expected to rise 2.34 percent next year — but higher education dollars remain up-in-the-air as House and Senate budget negotiators worked Thursday night on dozens of details separating the two sides.
The agreed-on school cash represents a $1 billion increase — complying with Gov. Rick Scott’s demand for a big boost to partially offset last year’s $1.3 billion reduction. That brought classroom spending to its lowest level in six years.
“We’ve done well. Schools are well served,” said Senate Pre-K-12 budget chief David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.
The increase settled by Simmons and his House counterpart, Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, amounts to a $145.48 per-pupil hike, bringing average spending to $6,370 for each of Florida’s 2.7 million school kids. The funding level is closer to the $141 level where the House started out, than the Senate’s more robust plan for increasing school cash by $1.3 billion, or $192-per-student.
The fate of university dollars, though, remains unsettled.
The House and Senate have agreed to cut universities by $300 million, but how to apply the cuts has stumped negotiators. The final deal-cutting, involving scores of issues, was turned over Thursday night to Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and House Appropriations Chair Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, to settle.
Florida Atlantic University is among several schools warily watching how the final deal is structured. Many also have questioned Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander’scharacterization that Florida’s 11 public universities have more than $800 million in reserves.
FAU President M.J. Saunders described the Senate’s initial plan to cut $400 million as “disastrous.” It would have sliced $47 million from the Boca Raton-based university, costing it about one-third of its operating budget.
Under the smaller reduction, FAU is looking at losing between $23.1 million and $27.2 million, officials said. But the school’s cushion for softening this cut isn’t as large as lawmakers claimed. FAU’s purported $66 million reserve is actually closer to $16 million, when a range of spending commitments and already planned reductions are deducted, official said.