It took two months and nearly three extra weeks of a special session, but the Florida Legislature avoided a government shutdown by sending a highly contested budget bill to Governor Rick Scott for approval.  After $462 million in vetoes, the governor signed into law a $78.2 billion budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, the highest ever for the State of Florida.

What are the notable policy changes and appropriations that will impact higher education in Florida?  Here is a brief overview, with more details provided in this special report from Florida CAN.

Performance-based funding for state universities
The legislature doubled down on performance-based funding during the 2015 session, increasing the total amount available to state universities from $200 to $400 million for the 2015-16 academic year.

Performance-based funding for state and community colleges
In 2014, the Florida Legislature tasked Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart to recommend a performance-based funding model for Florida College System institutions.  This summer, lawmakers approved $40 million in state funds to fund the model, which will be based on metrics pertaining to retention; program completion and graduation rates; job placement and postgraduation salaries; or further education.

Funding for state aid programs
Total funding for all state aid programs has decreased by $19.2 million to $542 million for fiscal year 2015-16, down 3.4% from the previous year.  This is primarily due to cuts to the state’s largest financial aid program, Bright Futures, which is down 9.9% to $239.8 million in the 2015-16 budget, based on an estimated 15,338 fewer students to receive the award.

Textbook tax cuts
Included in Governor Rick Scott’s 2015 plan to make college more affordable was a proposal to eliminate the 6% sales tax on textbooks.  The tax cut was signed into law this session and went into effect on July 1.

College opportunities for veterans
The bill amends last year’s Congressman C.W. “Bill” Young Veteran Tuition Waiver Program to expand eligibility for the out-of-state tuition waiver to a veteran’s dependents (child, spouse) using G.I. Bill benefits.  In addition to the expansion of the veteran tuition waiver program, $1 million was again allocated in the 2015 budget to provide need-based gap funding to supplement the cost of living during holiday and semester breaks to veterans enrolled in college.

Bright Futures voluntary service work expansion
Starting July 1, students applying for a Bright Futures scholarship will receive voluntary service credit for a business or government internship, work on behalf of a candidate for public office, or work for a nonprofit community service organization.

Read more here for Florida CAN’s special report on legislative changes impacting Florida’s college students.


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