March 17, 2017
Legislature Talks of Higher Education Budget Cuts – OUCH!
With week 2 of the Legislative Session ending, budget deliberations are beginning to pick up speed at the Capitol. Higher education has been prioritized in the Senate over these two weeks with the passage of CS/CS/SB 2 and the fast track of the so-called “College Competitiveness Act” (SB 374).
But Senate Higher Education Appropriations Chairperson Bill Galvano (R – Bradenton) has proposed a cut of $131 million in higher education base budget amounts with 74.8% of the hit at the College level, a total of $98 million of which $55 million cut remediation education. UFF is not sure how that will make the colleges more competitive. The only positive from this cut is the suspension of college performance funding – $30 million of the $98 million cut.
And the House of Representatives, not to be outdone, is proposing cutting as much as $80 million across the board to universities. This follows two weeks of the House Appropriations Committee and its Higher Education Subcommittee holding hearings and asking university finance directors difficult questions related to funding for direct support organizations and cost of foreign travel. That was followed by reporting from the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA for short) that found university student growth was 9% but administration grew 12% while faculty only grew by 6% over the six-year period from 2010 to 2016. The OPPAGA report also found that the students to administrative staff ratio was 28:1 while the students to full-time faculty ratio was 29:1 for the period 2010-2014. Another alarming fact from the report is that University Executive Positions, exclusive of the University Presidents, average salary over the six-year period grew 23% to an average of $267,582. This is compared to a 12% increase in average faculty salaries which is $89,678. In other words, University executives earn three times the average of faculty without consideration of fringe benefits.
Unfortunately, this is seen as verification for cuts and we know that performance funding has led to these increases at both the university and college levels. This is only the beginning and much will change by May 5th but certainly these discussions are not a positive sign. We can only hope to use this information to restore priorities to the students’ classroom and laboratories.
HB 351 Dims the Sunshine and Promotes Secrecy
On Monday of week 2, the House Postsecondary Subcommittee passed out HB 351. The bill, sponsored by Representative Bob Rommel (R – Naples), will create an exemption from public record and meeting requirements for information associated with the applicant recruitment process and discussions associated with the applicant search for president, provost, or dean at any state university, college, or community college.
UFF opposes this legislation that permits a cloak of secrecy around the process. UFF President Jennifer Proffitt spoke at the committee hearing in opposition. “Secrecy is not in the best interest of our universities and colleges, especially when it comes to choosing leadership,” said Jennifer. University of Florida, University of West Florida, and Florida State University have all selected quality presidents using an open process within the full Sunshine for Florida’s citizens.
Week Three – HB 3 and State Employee Health Insurance
HB 3 by Representative Bryan Avila (R – Hialeah) has mysteriously shown up as the companion to SB 2, the “Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017.” Avila’s website indicates he is an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College.
Like SB 2, HB 3 was a “shell” bill only indicating it had to do with education when first filed. Now it has been drafted and ready for consideration. HB 3 will be considered by the House Postsecondary Education Subcommittee on Monday afternoon.
HB 3 does not include amendments to SB 2, which has passed the Senate. It does change metrics to a 4-year graduation rate from 6-year and requires block tuition. The bill contains the same deficits as SB 2 in regards to access and need-based scholarships.
HB 7007 by Health & Human Services Committee and Brodeur (R – Sanford) has been scheduled for the House Special Order Calendar on Wednesday, March 22. The bill establishes health plan choices which will lead to cost shifting to older and more medically-needy state employees. Sound familiar?
SB 374 Amended and Moves Forward. SB 374 was amended in the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Committee in week 2 and passed from the committee. The so-called “College Competiveness Act” would establish a new State Board of Community Colleges and remove those institutions from the purview of the State Board of Education. One of the major concerns about the bill was the de-emphasis on 4-year baccalaureate degree programs. Amendments were adopted that allowed those programs to grow at a rate faster than the original bill. The next stop for SB 374 is the Appropriations Committee. UFF still has concerns over access and the impact that possible budget cuts would have especially in the remediation programs (see lead story).
Anti-Public Employee Union Legislation
HB 11 by Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood), if passed, would add an additional requirement to an employee union’s annual renewal with the Public Employees Relations Commission. That requirement is that each certified bargaining unit (each UFF chapter) of a registered employee organization (in our case UFF) must provide the number of eligible employees for union membership and the number of members who pay dues or do not pay dues. If that information is not presented then the certification for that bargaining unit is revoked.
If the certified bargaining unit dues paying membership is less than 50%, that bargaining unit must petition PERC for recertification as the exclusive bargaining representative within one month after the date on which the bargaining unit applied for renewal. Application for PERC recertification requires either voluntary recognition of the union by the employer or petition to PERC for recertification upon submission of call for union representation election cards from at least 30% of the full bargaining unit.
UFF, FEA, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, and other public employee unions oppose this legislation. All public employee unions in Florida are unions of voluntary members, where union membership or payment of union dues cannot be compelled or made a condition of employment.
Status: No activity in week 2 on HB 11 or its Senate companion, SB 1292 by Senator Dennis Baxley (R – Ocala).
Some Legislative Briefs
SB 622 by Senator Greg Steube (R – Sarasota), GUNS ON CAMPUS
SB 622 is legislation to allow carrying of concealed weapons on college and university campuses. The bill is deceptively titled and at first glance appears to only impact athletic events. But it removes college and university facilities from the list where guns are not permitted. The bill has not been scheduled for a committee hearing at this time. Note: Steube chairs the Judiciary Committee which is the first reference for the bill.
Status: No activity in week 2 on SB 622 or its House companion HB 6005 by Representative Plakon, no less!
FEE WAIVERS FOR GRADUATE ASSISTANTS
Partial fee waivers for graduate assistants are part of Governor Scott’s college tuition/fees package. Those bills are HB 1073 by Representative Chuck Clemons (R-Alachua, Dixie, and Gilchrist) and SB 1276 by Senator Stargel (R-Lakeland). The bill will waive 25% of fees for graduate teaching assistants and graduate research assistants.
Status: No activity in week 2
HB 1125 and SB 1456 – Performance Funding Study
These bills by Representative Ramon Alexander (D – Tallahassee) and Senator Jeff Clemens (D – Lake Worth) will have OPPAGA study both Florida and national higher education performance funding models. It is hoped that a formal study might lead to a more credible and fair system of judging true performance based on the institution’s mission and providing recurring incentives and eliminating unjust penalties.
Status: Bills were referred to committees.