Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a wide-sweeping higher education bill, saying the legislation “impedes the ability of state colleges to meet the needs of the communities and families they serve.”
The bill (SB 374) was a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, who has made improving the State University System a cornerstone of his term as Senate President.
The bill, among other things, enhanced policy and funding options for state universities to “recruit and retain exemplary faculty, enhance the quality of professional and graduate schools, and upgrade facilities and research infrastructure,” according to a May 5 conference report. It also restructured the governance of the Florida College System and modified “the mission of the system and its institutions.”
Scott appeared to take issue with the provisions dealing with the state college system. In a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner explaining his veto, Scott said the legislation “impedes the State College System’s mission.”
“This legislation impedes the State College System’s mission by capping the enrollment level of baccalaureate degrees and unnecessarily increasing red tape. This interference impedes the ability of state colleges to meet the needs of the communities and families they serve,” he wrote. “In addition to this legislation, the total budget of the State College System was cut by $26.7 million during the 2017 Regular Session.”
Scott went on to say that while the bill makes “positive changes to several State University System programs, and there are many provisions I think would be good for students, it does so at the expense of the Florida College System.”
Negron said he fundamentally disagrees with that assessment.
“I fundamentally disagree that SB 374 makes positive changes to our universities at the expense of Florida’s community colleges. Like Governor Scott, many members of the Senate attended our state’s community colleges and we recognize the vital role they play in our public education system,” said Negron. “For that very reason, we crafted SB 374 to further elevate Florida’s nationally-ranked community colleges through a renewed focus on their core mission – on-time completion of vital associate degrees and workforce credentials that prepare students for jobs in communities across our state.”
In addition to changes to the state university and state college systems, the bill also increased student financial aid and tuition assistance by expanding the Florida Bright Futures Academic Scholars award to cover 100 percent of tuition and specified fees, plus $3000 per fall and spring semester for textbooks and other college-related expenses; expanding the Benacquisto Scholarship Program to include eligible students graduating from out-of-state; and establishing the Florida Farmworker Student Scholarship Program.
In his veto letter, Scott said the expansion of Bright Futures will still occur in fiscal 2017-18.
“Because this important expansion currently exists in the budget and proviso language in SB 2500, Florida’s students will still benefit from this critical program,” wrote Scott. “I urge the Legislature to pass legislation that revisits these issues and expands Bright Future Scholarships permanently while recognizing the importance of both our state colleges and universities in the 2018 Legislative Session.”
Negron said his travels across the state have taught him the importance of Bright Futures, and said the governor’s veto makes advance planning “much more difficult.
“As I have traveled the state talking to families, I have learned what an important role Bright Futures plays as students plan their financial investment in a college or university education,” he said. “Students and families deserve certainty when making these important decisions, and today’s veto makes advance planning much more difficult.”
The veto comes just days after the end a Special Session, where Scott saw many of his priorities approved. While the Senate backed Scott throughout the regular Session, there appeared to be some tension between the Senate and the governor during the three-day special session.
The special session also saw a reconciliation between Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who were often at odds with each other throughout the regular session.
Scott and Corcoran embarked on a one-day, multi-city victory tour Tuesday to highlight the legislative victories. A spokeswoman for Negron said Tuesday that Negron had already departed for a prior commitment in California before the events were confirmed, but said he “looks forward to attending future events with the Governor and Speaker Corcoran to discuss the important accomplishments of the 2017 Session.”