Gov. Scott pushing for ‘Finish in Four’ program

Mariella Roque/ Staff Writer

On Jan. 31, Scott announced his $74.2 billion budget proposal, focusing primarily on K-12 and higher education.

“We appreciate the governor’s recognition of the importance of higher education and his support in funding higher education,” said Steve Sauls, vice president of Governmental Relations. “What we’re asking the legislature to do is keep the promise to restore our funding because we would have some serious challenges maintaining what we’re doing now if that money is not restored.”

Following last year’s alleged “one-time” $300 million cut to the State University System budget, Scott’s proposal vows to keep that promise and restore the money in general revenue. This increase includes $118 million for operating expenses, $167 million for performance funding and $15 million for the University of Florida to achieve a national ranking in the top 10.

“I think the governor will get some of the things he wants, but ultimately the legislature will work out all the details,” Sauls said. “In addition, the Board of Governors is asking for $118 million for performance funding.”

The BOG has submitted its SUS operating request to the state legislature. The executive summary contains projects for the University including $1 million in renovations for the Wolfe University Center at the Biscayne Bay Campus, $22 million for an expansion of the Graham Center at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus and $4 million for the Student Academic Support Center at MMC.

“There’s a certain amount of gamesmanship in the legislature, they may hold some things hostage,” Sauls said. “It will be up to the legislature to decide how much to provide and how to allocate it and sometimes the devil is in the details.”

In Scott’s budget, $10.7 billion in state contributions is allocated to Florida public schools, a feat he touts to be the highest in history, the most significant increase being $480 million to increase teachers’ salaries by $2,500 apiece.

“A lot of governors do this, they want to be the education governor,” said Kathryn DePalo, senior lecturer in politics and international relations. “Governors can budget for anything.”

DePalo explained that her worry lies in the funding of the budget, her guess being it might come from the public universities.

“It’s not a zero-sum game, it’s not as if K-12 teachers win, then universities lose, but it does seem that universities’ budgets are easier to cut than elementary schools,” DePalo said.
Sauls, however, emphasized that K-12 and higher education are not mutually exclusive when it comes to funding.

“Pre-K education is important right through Ph.D.,” Sauls said. “A strong public education system is in our interest, not an either-or, but public higher education needs to be a priority, too.”

Another major higher education initiative Scott is pushing for is the Finish in Four program, offering students flat tuition rates the first four years of their university education, an incentive he hopes will motivate students to graduate quickly.

“Students have a stake in the outcomes because the legislature provides money that funds access, quality improvements and tuition policy,” Sauls said. “We want to be very positive about what we can do ourselves and we don’t want to complain, but we do want to try to make the case about how higher education is important to the economic development of our community.”

Sauls encourages students to contact their representatives and ask them to keep the University in mind when voting on legislation.

“Scott’s budget will likely not stay the way it is,” DePalo said. “The legislature has to play bad cop and say ‘we don’t have that kind of money available or where are we essentially cutting?’ That is the big question.”

In an effort to promote university student interests, on April 2 and April 3, the University’s Student Government Association is holding Rally in Tally, when SGA, in collaboration with the Florida Student Association, takes students to Tallahassee for free to meet with state senators and representatives and lobby their cause.

“It’s a great experience, this is my third year participating,” said SGC-MMC Vice President Alex Castro. “Student presence is very important in order to share emotional and logical ideas with our legislators so that they vote for more university funding.”