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Plan could help hurricane-hampered colleges

House version has been approved by committees
Posted at 5:44 PM, Apr 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-16 17:44:52-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — After Hurricane Michael hit Northwest Florida in October, a state college in the epicenter of the storm has seen its student enrollment numbers drop.

School officials say Gulf Coast State College in Panama City lost 841 students during the spring 2019 semester.

That’s a 15 percent drop in enrollment, compared to the same time last year. Another school, Chipola College in Marianna, was also heavily affected by Michael.

Bills moving in the legislature would allow state colleges that serve areas directly impacted by hurricanes, and whose enrollment decreased by more than 10 percent as a result of the storms, to waive out-of-state fees for three years.

The measure passed the Senate Education Appropriations Committee unanimously Tuesday. State Senator Bill Montford represents many small counties in North Florida that were impacted by the storm.

“This bill would be an invaluable tool for state colleges throughout the state, and it would provide local workforce training and support the recovery of the Panhandle immediately," said Montford.

The proposal needs to clear one more Senate committee before it can go to the floor.

The House version has been approved by committees and is ready to be heard by the full House.

As the college bills move forward, lawmakers continue to negotiate a broader Hurricane Michael aid package.

The House and Senate budget proposals would direct about $225 million next fiscal year for Michael-related expenses, though many Northwest Florida leaders are seeking more state and federal assistance.