DeSantis kills online learning program amid virus resurgence

Governor Ron DeSantis speaking at a conference. The | AP photo

TALLAHASSEE – With a swipe of his veto pen, Governor Ron DeSantis cut the entire $ 29.4 million budget for a suite of online education services that have become critical to students and faculty during the Covid-19 outbreak. .

The measure, which bans action before midnight Tuesday, will kill the Florida Plus Comprehensive Program, a variety of technology systems trusted by teachers, staff and students across Florida, never more than now, in between of a pandemic that has increased confidence in distance education. The cuts include an online course database and an online library service that provides 17 million books to 1.3 million students, faculty, and staff.


At least 2,000 adult students could be deprived of their scholarships, and school accreditation could even be at risk without the resources housed at Complete Florida, which are used by high school, state college, and university students. About 150 employees in Tallahassee, Gainesville and Pensacola can lose their jobs.

DeSantis, whose office declined to comment on the cut, on Monday vetoed $ 1 billion from Florida’s 2020-21 budget, as the state tries to suppress a resurgence of the viral outbreak, which has sickened 152,434 people and killed 3,505 in one of the hottest countries in the country. Covid-19 zones.

The governor’s office and the Department of Education have remained publicly silent about Complete Florida’s sudden and broad veto, prompting some higher education officials to wonder if there was any kind of mistake.

“This would be one of the biggest negative impacts on higher education in the past two decades,” said Tom Messner, executive dean of the Library Learning Commons at Florida State College in Jacksonville. “It just seems like a mistake.”

When asked about the justification for the veto and if there was a plan to replicate Complete Florida’s services, DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré referred to the Department of Education.

Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for DOE, the agency that oversees Florida’s university system, has been referred to the Board of Governors for the State University and West Florida University System, which oversees Florida as a whole.

Renee Fargason, director of strategic communications and advocacy for the Board of Governors, declined to comment on the full Florida veto as of noon Tuesday.

“We are currently seeking clarification on the veto of this state program that provides resources to more than 100 public universities, public schools and K-12 school districts,” Megan González, a UWF spokeswoman, wrote in a statement to POLITICO.

At midnight, when the 2020-21 budget year begins, Complete Florida will go offline without a new source of funding. The program will have no budget or authority to spend, so there is no way that staff can help desks or make daily payments for services.

The Florida Academic Library Services Cooperative, a virtual campus program that houses online magazines, e-books, and other resources for schools across the state, would be rejected, as would the Florida Comprehensive Degree Program that helps students. former university students to return to school to complete their studies. degree.

The library’s databases would go offline in the mid-summer semester of the university, which is largely conducted online, as university campuses remain closed to students during the Covid-19 outbreak. The veto could compel schools to create their own programs on the fly, putting them at risk of losing access to the “appropriate electronic resources” required by the state accreditation board.

Complete Florida and its budget have been in the spotlight since library administrators last year accused UWF of diverting money from state programs, a complaint that prompted a BOG-supervised audit and the attention of lawmakers.

The Florida Senate earlier this year removed the Plus Program from the UWF budget, and DeSantis even proposed to withhold $ 5 million from the program depending on the audit findings, an idea that ultimately failed to cut.

The BOG-led audit is still ongoing. A report by the Auditor General in March questioned the legality of UWF’s financial management of Complete Florida. That audit criticized UWF, declaring that the university should return $ 2.4 million to programs it took advantage of, including Florida Virtual Campus, a host of online library resources at Florida’s 40 public colleges and universities.

UWF “strongly disagrees” with the findings of the Florida Auditor General, contesting that the school had every right to take advantage of Florida’s excess full funds, or transfer money, to pay administrative costs.

Legislation to remove Complete Florida from UWF was enacted in 2020-21, but the proposal was never put into action. The Department of Education has been a recommended landing place for some of its programs.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report was flawed when Renee Fargason declined to comment.

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