Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Education

Browning vows to revive fight over dual enrollment fees

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LAND O'LAKES — Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning is abandoning his fight with Pasco-Hernando Community College over dual enrollment fees.

He's not planning to let the subject die, though.

"We're going to try to push them out of the driver's seat, and we're going to take it," Browning said.

The superintendent, his staff and School Board members have strenuously opposed the college's insistence that the district pay an administrative fee for students taking college credit-bearing courses taught by district teachers at high schools.

College leaders set the charge at $37.73 per student per semester, as part of a new funding model that lawmakers imposed.

That new law required school districts to pay tuition and fees for their high school students taking college courses. It came at the end of session and caught district leaders across Florida unprepared for the expense.

While college and school officials in other jurisdictions reached funding agreements, Pasco County wound up the lone holdout. The state Board of Education had summoned PHCC and Pasco district leaders to its meeting Tuesday in Gainesville to explain themselves.

Then Browning told department lawyers not to bother. He would give the Pasco School Board the proposal and recommend they vote for it.

"My hope is that will be the last time we do that," Browning said. "We're going to work with the legislative delegation to get that repealed."

He noted the district never challenged the tuition or fees for students taking dual enrollment courses at PHCC, or courses taught by PHCC instructors in the high schools.

But he couldn't get his mind around the notion of paying the college fees for work done totally within the district. He said it "defied common sense."

The district offered the college four separate proposals seeking to reduce, if not eliminate, the one fee. Each time the college rejected the ideas.

"The calculation of the fees is in accordance with Florida Statutes and utilized a methodology that was approved by the college and Hernando County School District," college vice president Burt Harres said via e-mail. "To ensure consistency and fairness among the three entities, the same methodology for determining fees was applied to the Pasco County School District."

PHCC president Katherine Johnson let Browning know in a letter last week that his efforts would not change her position. Johnson wrote that she considered the negotiations at an "impasse" and said she would send an invoice to the district for the fees and tuition the college deemed appropriate.

That amount is estimated to be about $515,000.

The Hernando County School Board approved its dual enrollment agreement on Nov. 5 with little discussion. The district estimates its tuition and fee costs at about $370,000.

Browning said he felt backed into a legal corner, with few options. So he will ask the board on Tuesday to approve the fee for this year and to support legislative changes for the future.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican and Browning friend, said he backed the funding change, so the state does not pay for students' education twice. He did not see a need for the Legislature to get in the middle of negotiations between districts and colleges over specific fee schedules.

At the same time, Weatherford did not rule out clarifications to the law if needed.

Changes to dual enrollment funding are part of the legislative priorities for the Florida School Boards Association and Florida Association of District School Superintendents, as well as several other districts.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected]

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