Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday vetoed the state’s entire budget of nearly $30 million for online learning, despite a spike in COVID-19 cases that have complicated the state’s plans to reopen.
The sudden loss of funding will put an end to the Complete Florida Plus Program, which provides online academic support services to colleges and universities, and many technology resources, including the state’s database of online courses and an online library service that provides 17 million books to more than one million students, faculty and staff.
The loss of education funding was part of a decision by DeSantis to veto $1 billion worth of local projects and line items from the Florida Legislature’s previously approved $93.2 billion state budget. DeSantis said in a statement that he “must remain a mindful steward of taxpayer dollars.”
“Despite the present challenges Florida faces due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 Budget ensures the state’s priorities are protected and funded,” a written statement from DeSantis reads.
The rejected funding for online education comes as colleges and universities across the country wrestle with developing plans to re-open their campuses for the fall semester, with most announcing they will take a hybrid learning approach — offering some classes in person with the added flexibility of taking classes online to keep students, faculty and staff safe.
Many schools and education organizations have advocated for funding increases to ensure students have continued access to education during the pandemic and to help institutions provide critical resources to support distance education. The DeSantis budget veto, however, will remove many of the resources for online learning that students and educators have come to rely on during the health crisis.
In addition to leaving Complete Florida without a new funding source, the veto also defunded the Florida Academic Library Services Cooperative, a virtual campus program that hosts online journals, e-books and other resources for schools across the state. It also defunds the Complete Florida Degree Program that helps former college students return to school to complete their degrees.
Adult learners could also lose scholarships to help them continue their educations, and without funding, library databases will be taken offline in the middle of the college summer semester, putting higher education institutions at risk of losing access to the “appropriate electronic resources” that are required by the state’s accreditation board.