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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate plan would reduce Bright Futures, suspend sales of Florida Prepaid College contracts



A Senate draft spending plan for higher education holds the line on base tuition but would reduce the Bright Futures scholarships by $1,000 and suspend new enrollment in the Florida Prepaid College program.

The draft budget presented today by Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, chairwoman of the higher education appropriations committee, is $6.8 billion, a $320 million (or 4.5 percent) decrease from the current year. A large part of that difference is due to the loss of $329.3 million in federal stimulus funds.

A House plan released on Wednesday raises base tuition that universities and colleges charge and also sets higher standards to qualify for Bright Futures. The Senate plan takes neither of those steps.

The $1,000 Bright Futures reduction would be offset for most students by the $1,000 federal American Opportunity Tax Credit, said Lynn.

Lynn’s plan also suspends the sale of the popular Florida prepaid college tuition contracts, which allow families to lock in present-day tuition rates for their future college students. 

State Board of Administration handles the investments for that program, and Lynn said the state is already on the hook should those investments not take care of the contracts.

“That’s a huge liability – larger than the pension or anything we have,” she said.

Lynn’s plan also suspends indefinitely a program that promises matching dollars for private donations to certain university and college building projects and academic programs. That program hasn’t been funded since 2007-2008 and has a backlog of nearly $500 million projects that have been approved for matching dollars.

The proposal also increases the state’s main need-based financial program by $1 million and funds with $3.4 million a new need-based scholarship program for students who study science, engineering, math or technology.

[Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2011 1:21pm]


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