POLK COUNTY – Around a month ago, Polk State College staff learned that state legislators placed funding for the JD Alexander Center, a campus in downtown Lake Wales, as a line item in the proposed state budget.
What that meant at the time was that the chances that line item would be vetoed — and that the campus would not continue to receive the crucial funding — was slightly higher than if the expense was attached to a larger line item.
Supporters of the campus rallied, saying the campus is important because many residents in southeast Polk County would have difficulty taking classes at the college’s campuses Winter Haven or Lakeland.
On May 16 Polk State College staff, Lake Wales Mayor Eugene Fultz and others hosted a press conference to share their message with the public and to encourage Governor Ron DeSantis not to veto the line item.
Their pleas were not in vain.
On Friday, June 21, the governor signed a nearly $91 billion state budget that included funding for the JD Alexander Center.
“We are incredibly grateful to Gov. DeSantis, the Polk County legislative delegation, and members of the Polk County community for supporting our students,” Polk State College President Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti said in a statement. “Thanks to the advocacy of local businesses, chambers of commerce, economic development councils, community partners, and more, a Polk State education will remain in reach for all residents of Polk County.”
Around 1,100 students attend classes on the campus. Staff say 38 percent of the students have transportation challenges and 44 percent of students are Pell Grant eligible, meaning they struggle financially.
In addition to the $2.5 million in JD Alexander Center funding, PSC staff will also benefit from $1.25 million in extra funding to reduce the ratio of students to college advisor. Part of this funding will also be used to pay for armed deputies on campus.
PSC staff did not receive all of the funding they lobbied for, though, and specifically were not granted the requested funding to renovate one of the older buildings on the Winter Haven campus. Some maintenance of facilities costs were also not funded.
Still, Falconetti and her team have been enthusiastic since the budget was signed, celebrating what they perceive to be a successful legislative session.
“We are honored that our governor, our legislators, and our community understand the critical role Polk State pays in building a future for the state of Florida,” Falconetti said. “Together we will continue to transform lives one student at a time as we move ahead into another prosperous year for Polk State College.”