By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – When the Florida legislature meets in January, it will scour through a range of funding initiatives prioritized in the fiscal 2023 budget proposal from Gov. Ron DeSantis. A big chunk of it includes an historic $23.9 billion in proposed funding to education, of which $13.3 billion would go to K-12 public schools serving Florida’s nearly 3 million students.
Gov. DeSantis’ education budget also seeks to allocate $4 billion to fund Florida state colleges and universities, as well as extensive funding to overhaul and expand workforce development programs, grants and scholarships.
If approved by lawmakers, it would allocate $1.3 billion to fund Florida’s state colleges and $2.7 billion to Florida’s state universities, with no tuition or fee increases.
“Our students and families should not face any additional financial burdens as they are completing their education,” the governor’s budget summary states.
It also would allocate roughly $122 million in operating funds to Florida’s historically black colleges and universities, including over $90 million to Florida A&M University, $16.96 million to Bethune-Cookman University, $7.4 million to Edward Waters College, and $7 million to Florida Memorial University.
The budget also maintains $20.8 million for the Florida Postsecondary Academic Library Network used by the Florida College System and State University System. This includes $9 million in proposed funding to state colleges and $11.8 million to state universities for e-resources, technical support and distance learning technology.
The governor’s budget proposal also allocates $602 million to fund the state’s Bright Futures Scholarship Program and $40 million to provide a $300 stipend to each Florida Academic Scholar for both fall and spring semesters. It also would provide $35 million to the Open Door Grant Program to fund school district workforce education institutions and Florida College System institutions.
Another priority of the education portion of the budget is to expand the affordability of workforce training and credentialing for Floridians. To do this, the budget seeks to allocate more than $534 million to support workforce education programs, including $15 million for the governor’s Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program, which supports pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs for high school and college students.
It proposes $560 million in performance funding for state universities, $25 million for two incentive funds for state colleges, and funding for students earning industry certifications in high-skill, high-demand areas at state colleges ($14 million) and career technical centers ($6.5 million).
It also would completely overhaul Florida’s workforce training and development system, allocating another $100 million to implement the Consumer-first Workforce System.
In addition to apprenticeship programs, technical centers and state college and university workforce development programs, it also would fund two new programs designed to expand Florida’s police force.
Gov. DeSantis earlier this year invited law enforcement officers from other states or cities impacted by movements to defund their police departments to relocate to Florida. He offered to pay officers a $5,000 hiring bonus, cover their relocation expenses and costs related to exams and other related training programs. Several from New York City have already taken him up on the offer and moved to Florida.
The budget proposal would fund this initiative by allocating $25 million to cover the cost of the $5,000 bonus payments, which is also offered to new recruits who live in Florida. It also allocates $6 million to fund two educational and workforce development programs: $5 million to a Law Enforcement Academy Scholarship Program and $1 million to establish an Out-of-State Law Enforcement Equivalency Reimbursement initiative.
The funding would cover the cost of law enforcement academies for prospective officers, the State Officer Certification Exam fee and any necessary equivalency training program costs for relocating officers.
Gov. DeSantis’ budget also seeks to spend $100 million to fund workforce development capitalization incentive grants to help recipients purchase instructional equipment, laboratory equipment, supplies or other expenses.
Florida’s higher education system has been ranked the best in the nation for five consecutive years by U.S. News and World Report. The Sunshine state boasts five of the top 100 public universities in the country, including one in the top 5, and another in the top 20.
The University of Florida was just ranked the fifth best public university in the nation by U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 Best College report. It also ranked ninth best for student outcomes, tying with Stanford and Brown universities. It was also listed among the top schools for undergraduate research and for veterans, and its online undergraduate program was ranked the third best in the country.
Florida Southern College was named the best Christian College in the state for 2022 by EDsmart. The Princeton Review’s Best 387 Colleges guide also listed it in its top 20 most beautiful campuses in the nation.
Florida’s colleges and universities also provide some of the lowest tuitions in the U.S. for public four-year institutions, the governor’s office notes.