Bob Graham, Others Argue Before Florida High Court for More Tuition Hike Authority

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: October 5, 2012 3:55 AM
Bob Graham

Bob Graham

Less than 24 hours after holding a press conference lambasting Florida Republicans for raising public university tuition and decreasing state subsidies to students, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham appeared before the state Supreme Court arguing that universities should be allowed to raise them even higher.

Graham, a Democrat who also served as governor of the Sunshine State from 1979 to 1987, is a plaintiff in a case (Graham v. Haridopolos) arguing that the Florida university system’s Board of Governors (BOG) has complete constitutional authority to determine whether and by how much to increase tuition and fees at each of the state’s 12 public universities. The BOG has long agitated for higher increases than the Florida Legislature has been willing to admit.

The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Thursday morning.

What the parties to the case dispute is how to properly interpret Article IX, Section 7(d) of the Florida Constitution, which reads in part:

"The board [of governors] shall operate, regulate, control, and be fully responsible for the management of the whole university system. These responsibilities shall include, but not be limited to, defining the distinctive mission of each constituent university and its articulation with free public schools and community colleges, ensuring the well-planned coordination and operation of the system, and avoiding wasteful duplication of facilities or programs. The board’s management shall be subject to the powers of the Legislature to appropriate for the expenditure of funds, and the board shall account for such expenditures as provided by law."

Graham and others argue that this section, which was added to the Constitution by a citizen-initiated amendment approved by voters in 2002, allows the Legislature to direct how the board of governors may spend the funds it raises, but not to direct how, or by how much, those funds are raised.

Under the Florida statutes, tuition increases every year to adjust for inflation, unless the Legislature provides otherwise. The BOG may authorize additional tuition increases, but not by more than 15 percent of the previous year’s rate.

Florida’s universities are among the cheapest in the nation. The average annual tuition at a state college or university is $5,531 – the 45th lowest state average in the country, while the national public tuition average is $8,200.

When asked at the Wednesday press conference how he could consistently condemn Republicans for permitting tuition increases in recent years while arguing for a constitutional interpretation that experts say is sure to hike costs up even further, Graham conceded that tuition will probably rise even higher if the Supreme Court rules in his favor, but said the Legislature can and should offset those costs by directing more funds to the university system or to students via financial aid.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at 954-235-0116.

Comments (1)

akinola ebenezer
6:03PM OCT 5TH 2012
Link me up to free tuition universities

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