News Service of Florida // Lloyd Dunkelburger
As the House and Senate prepare to take up their budget plans next week, state college leaders and students said Thursday the proposals contain unsustainable cuts for the 28-college system.
The Senate budget includes a $55 million reduction in remedial education funding and suspends $30 million in performance funding for the colleges. The House cuts $9.9 million, representing money the colleges now use to pay for personnel in their foundations, and imposes a one-time, $63 million reduction to the colleges’ reserve funds.
“We cannot sustain any of those cuts,” said Cynthia Bioteau, president of the Florida State College at Jacksonville.
Bioteau and other college presidents and students said the cuts will hurt a system designed to provide a higher-education opportunity to “non-traditional” students, including many minority students, older students and veterans.
“These are folks that need access to higher education and job training right within their communities,” said Bioteau, who said the median age of her student body was 27. “And that is exactly what we proudly provide. But we must maintain the wholeness to our operating budgets.”
A major concern is the Senate’s proposed $55 million cut in remedial education funding.
Senate leaders say the cut reflects a reduction in the number of students enrolled in remedial classes after the program was reformed four years ago.
But college leaders maintain that many students still need remediation and, while more are taking mainstream classes, they still need additional support, such as tutors and other services.
Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, said he supports the restoration of the remedial funding. “The numbers look a little funny on paper, but the need is still there,” Farmer said.
Jasmine Green, a second-year student at Tallahassee Community College, was one of the students who appeared with state college leaders at a press conference Thursday.
Preparing to transfer to Florida State University in the fall with her associate’s degree, Green said the ability to “interact one-on-one” with her college teachers and the lower cost of tuition were major factors that attracted her to the state college system.
Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, emphasized the role of state colleges with helping minority students earn degrees and certificates. About six out of every 10 students in the system are either black or Hispanic, according to the state Department of Education.
“It bothers me the direction we’re moving in in the cuts in our college system,” said Jones, a member of the House budget committee. “Stop picking on the little guys and fund them properly.”
As the college leaders and some lawmakers criticized the potential cuts, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted 17-1 to send another major state college bill (SB 374) to the Senate floor next week.
The measure would create a state Board of Community Colleges to oversee the 28 schools and it would cap enrollment for baccalaureate students at each college at no more than 15 percent of the total student body.
“What we are doing with this bill is creating additional oversight so we don’t have a creep away from the primary mission that this Legislature determined was important to the college system,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
The House has a similar bill (HB 929) but it calls for a review of the state college governance system, rather than creating a new governance board. The bill has cleared one committee but has two more committee assignments.