$21M needed from colleges to save programs vetoed by DeSantis

By Andrew Atterbury
Colleges and universities need to come up with a combined $21 million to pay for critical education resources cut by Gov. Ron DeSantis, according to a proposal sent to schools Monday.
The draft funding proposal from the State University System board of governors and the Department of Education shows that schools will bear the brunt of a record veto that was meant to ease Florida’s budget constraints from the coronavirus outbreak. The plan calls for cutting a scholarship program and K-12 career services that also could end up passing additional costs to school districts.
The background: DeSantis in June wiped out the entire $29.4 million budget for the Complete Florida Plus Program, a suite of online education services that faculty, staff and students throughout Florida have relied on during the pandemic, which has amplified reliance on distance learning.
The BOG stepped in to rescue what it called “essential” pieces of Complete Florida, including the Florida Academic Library Services Cooperative, a program that hosts online journals, e-books and other resources for schools across the state.
To survive, the program would have to be removed from the University of West Florida, the besieged manager of Complete Florida, and some initiatives would be carved out.
The plan: Complete Florida needs $21 million to continue operating for the upcoming school year. State leaders hope the Legislature will commit to funding the program beyond 2020-21, according to the proposal obtained by POLITICO.
But first, both the State University System and Florida College System have to get on board with paying for the services. Most colleges would have to endure hundreds of thousands of dollars in new costs, while bigger schools could face bills higher than $1 million.
If one system backs out of Complete Florida services, the other system would have to come up with the full cost or drop that service altogether, the plan warns.
What’s gone: The proposal cuts the Complete Florida Degree Program, a $3 million initiative that helps former college students return to school to complete their degree. That money went toward scholarships and support services.
Also gone under the plan is $3.7 million used on K-12 services like college and career planning.
What’s next: A funding commitment from the Florida’s 40 colleges and universities is needed before the state can begin considering proposals from institutions that want to manage Complete Florida.
An audit led by the BOG into UWF’s oversight is ongoing. In March, an auditor general report slammed the university’s management and suggested the school owed the programs $2.4 million. It’s uncertain whether that money will be returned to Complete Florida.