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Florida officials predict increased student aid costs for taxpayers

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(The Center Square) — Florida officials project that taxpayer-funded student aid will increase in coming years as more students graduate from high school in the Sunshine State.

The Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research’s Education Estimating Conference was held on Friday to discuss projections for various scholarship programs for Florida college students in fiscal 2023-24 to fiscal 2028-29.

During the conference, the Office of Economic and Demographic Research’s Cassidy Willever stated that the conference’s fiscal 2022-23 student financial aid award estimates, adopted by EDR and the Florida Department of Education at the last conference, were below projections and undercounted by 2,352.

Forecasts are based on the number of high school graduates per year, and according to Willever, those numbers are projected to increase in the coming years after dipping by half a percentage point during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February, the conference predicted that for fiscal 2023-24, there would be 115,029 Bright Future Scholarships awarded and 5,945 early summer enrollments for the 2024 summer term.

Willever noted that since the February conference, preliminary numbers show that the state Department of Education and EDR forecast overcounted full-time equivalent awards by 2,065. EDR forecasts were far closer to preliminary actuals than state projections, which are estimated to be higher.

The state Department of Education’s Shaun Haskin stated that Effective Access to Student Education Grants has increased from $2,000 to $3,500, with new policies added since the last conference in February.

Taking the increase in scholarships into account, Haskin noted that DOE estimates for fiscal 2023-24 project that there will be 35,002 full-time disbursements, totaling $122.5 million.

“Forecasted expenditures are $12.3 million under the appropriation of $134.8 million and approximately 3,526 FTE under the maximum 38,528 FTE authorized within the General Appropriations Act,” Haskin said.

EDR’s estimates for children/spouses of deceased/disabled veterans in fiscal 2023-24 remain on par with previous February projections and are forecast to increase by 529 to an estimated 3,897.

The Benacquisto Scholarship Program is expected to decrease by 116 awards or 5.7% in fiscal 2023-24, due to the phaseout of nonresidents from the program.

While noting a need for additional data to accurately predict growth rates, the conference adopted DOE’s higher forecast for fiscal 2023-24 and again for fiscal 2024-25 before switching back to EDR’s estimates until fiscal 2028-29.

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