Florida TaxWatch Looks at Financial and Economic Benefits of Effective Access to Student Education Grants

Last week, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released “The Importance of Effective Access to Student Education (EASE) Grants.”

In the report, FTW underscores the financial and economic benefits of the EASE Grant Program, which was established by the Florida Legislature in 1979 to offset declining student enrollment at private colleges and universities.

Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro weighed in on the report.

“Education is key to maintaining Florida’s healthy, diverse, and steadily growing economy, and the fiscal impacts of the Effective Access to Student Education, or EASE, Grant Program, in particular, are well documented. In Fiscal Year 2019-2020 alone, the EASE Grant Program was responsible for generating more than $136 million in state tax revenue and $146 million in local tax revenue, with each recipient representing an economic contribution to Florida’s economy of over $88,000. This means that every $1 the state invested in the program resulted in a return of $2.48 in tax revenues. This is a great and solid return on investment for Florida’s hard-working taxpayers,” Calabro said.

“Florida TaxWatch believes that withholding or reducing EASE Grant funding based on private college or university performance significantly limits access to higher education, hurting the pocketbooks of everyday, hard-working taxpayers and ultimately compromising Florida’s economic success. Regular monitoring and performance-based incentives are appropriate, but we encourage the Florida Legislature not to take any action that will limit access to higher education during the upcoming legislative session, and instead, make wise and strategic investments in the EASE Grant Program,” he added.

The EASE Grant Program modestly reduces the difference between public and private tuition to make private institutions more affordable to Florida residents, while fueling enrollment growth and increasing retention and degree completions in the state. FTW notes that this is critical to workforce development and ensuring Florida students are prepared to fill high-demand, high-wage jobs.

The maximum EASE Grant funding per student and the maximum number of students to be served annually are determined by the Florida Legislature. In the report, FTW states that the maximum per-student EASE Grant appropriation for fiscal year 2022-23 ($2,000) is the lowest since the start of the millennium, and the maximum number of students to receive EASE Grants for fiscal year 2022-23 (37,705) is the lowest since fiscal year 2013-14.

According to FTW, this is the result of attempts made during the 2022 Legislative Session to establish a tiered structure for EASE Grant award amounts commensurate with an institution’s performance against established benchmarks, with those on the lowest tier receiving $0 (zero dollars) in tuition assistance. Though that specific legislation did not pass, the General Appropriations Act included a $39.45 million (34 percent) reduction in program funding and 2,725 fewer EASE Grant recipients when compared to fiscal year 2021-22.

FTW warns against similar legislation being filed during the 2023 Legislative Session, citing a failed performance-based funding model presented by the State University System (SUS) in the 2014-2015 academic year, which included penalties for the lowest performing universities. However, valuing transparency and accountability, the government watchdog supports the establishment of a performance-based incentive funding program for private colleges and universities that receive EASE Grant funding, just without denying needed tuition assistance for eligible students.

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