Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Supremes rule that legislature, not BOG, has power over tuition

Last week, on January 31st, the Florida Supreme Court ruled against a lawsuit claiming that the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) has the power to set tuition rates in the State University System of Florida (SUS). An unanimous opinion authored by Justice Barbara Pariente said that that Florida Legislature’s authority over tuition wasn’t changed by the 2002 constitutional amendment that created the BOG.

“[W]e hold that the constitutional source of the Legislature’s authority to set and appropriate for the expenditure of tuition and fees derives from its power to raise revenue and appropriate for the expenditure of state funds,” Pariente wrote. “Nothing within the language of article IX, section 7, of the Florida Constitution indicates an intent to transfer this quintessentially legislative power to the Board of Governors.”

The BOG originally signed on in support of the lawsuit in 2007. The additional plaintiffs included former U.S. Senator and Governor Bob Graham and former Florida State University President Sandy D’Alemberte.

But in 2010, the BOG negotiated a compromise with the legislature. It permitted the BOG to set differential tuition rates. Under the law, the BOG has the power to approve university-level requests to hike tuition by an up to 15 percent “differential” that goes beyond the rates set by the legislature in the annual appropriations bill. The differential is not covered by Bright Futures.

Despite the ruling, the Associated Press reported that “the plaintiffs' lawyer, Robin Gibson, said a finding that the Legislature's taxing power — rather than its legislating authority — lets it set tuition and fees also means lawmakers cannot dictate academic policies such as creating new law or medical schools.”

Gibson’s interpretation won’t change the fact that the legislature will still have to approve any taxpayer or tuition funds that are required to operate new academic programs. It also won’t change the fact that health science programs will still need an affirmative legislative vote in order for their graduates to be eligible for state-license exams.  

The state Boards of Pharmacy, Dentistry, and Medicine are all part of the Florida Department of Health. That department operates under the laws passed by the legislature and will only permit its boards to grant licenses to students from legislatively-certified programs.

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