TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CN) – A class action claims that Florida’s governor and other officials unconstitutionally deprived public colleges of $1 billion in grant aid in order to fund tax cuts.
As outlined in the complaint filed in the Leon County Circuit Court, the state is required to match private donations to public colleges and universities depriving the schools — and their students — of much-needed funding for facility improvements, financial aid, and scholarships.
“Florida, since 1979, had matching statutes that matched private donations to Florida colleges and universities,” explained Grace Mead of Stearns, Weaver, Miller, Weissler, Alhadeff & Sitterson, who represents the sibling lead plaintiffs, Alexis and Ryan Geffin.
“The Great Recession hit, and when that happened, we agreed to stop funding. But in 2012, we then had huge surpluses and they still won’t fund the colleges and universities. They hid it,” Mead said.
The lawsuit, filed June 30, accuses the defendants of violating the Florida Constitution “by defunding the matching statutes through appropriations bills during years with large projected and realized budget surpluses.”
By law, the plaintiffs state that in order to defund the statutes, the defendants must pass legislation to amend the statutes so that that the amendments are up for debate in the legislature.
“Rather than appropriate the over $600 million in State funds owed, the Governor and the Legislature have spent general revenue surpluses on multi-billion dollar tax cuts and to set aside billions in reserves,” the complaint states.
Florida has 28 state and community colleges, which hundreds of thousands of students attend. The Geffins say that the defendants are harming the students.
“Florida’s elected officials have not publicly acknowledged that the State has defaulted on its obligations under the matching gifts statue and claimed a degree of financial support for this critically important investment in the future that vastly overstates the State’s contribution … Instead of using its [the state’s] improved financial circumstances to meet its obligations, however, the State enacted multi-billion dollar tax cuts and set aside billions in reserves,” the complaint states.
Alexis Geffin, who graduated from the University of Florida in 2017, and Ryan Geffin, who graduated from the University of Florida in 2016, say they could have benefited from improvements throughout the campus, particularly at the university’s Computer Science Engineering building and the Harn Museum.
Representatives of the defendants said they were reviewing the claims in the lawsuit and declined further comment.