Lobbyist: funds could be diverted

In the wake of the state Board of Education’s request to the Legislature for $1.9 billion in the next budget to meet class size goals, funds intended for state universities could be diverted to aid the class size amendment.

“Right now it’s just rumors,” Associate Vice President of Government Relations Jeff Muir said. “But the rumor stage is when we start working.”

If the rumors come to pass, funds will be diverted from Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) revenue, which is shared by public schools and universities. Typically, universities and community colleges get about 55 percent of the revenue, while elementary, middle and high schools split the rest.

The BOE requested the amount in September. Muir said it immediately raised a red flag. In response, Muir said he has met with legislators, who he said have not given him a black-or-white answer.

“No legislator has said, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re crazy,'” Muir said. “But the good thing is, no legislator told me it’s absolutely going to happen, either.”

Ed Homan, R-Tampa, who sits on the Committee of College and Universities and works at USF as an assistant clinical professor, said he hasn’t heard any rumors.

“But that doesn’t mean it’s not being talked about,” he said.

Because PECO revenue is only about $200 million, Muir said diverting its funds wouldn’t make much of a dent in the $1.9-billion price tag attached to the class size amendment.

“It’s just as likely that the Legislature will have to look elsewhere other than PECO,” Muir said. “It would make better sense to not put a temporary embargo on PECO and look elsewhere.”

The amendment, which voters endorsed in 2002, caps class sizes at 25 in high school, 22 in grades four through eight and 18 in pre-kindergarten through third grade. Schools have until 2011 to meet the requirements.

The amendment does not directly affect state colleges, unless the rumors Muir is hearing are true.

“There’s a concern that this is serious,” Muir said.

If it is indeed serious, Homan doesn’t believe it would be approved by the Legislature, but knows that anything is possible.

“Sometimes there’s smoke behind these things,” he said.