New College Foundation enlists Ballard Partners for federal legislation push

by | Nov 27, 2023



  • The New College Foundation in Florida has hired Ballard Partners, a leading lobbying firm, to assist in federal education and infrastructure legislation.
  • The college seeks $400 million in state funding over five years, which would result in a higher-than-typical $600,000 capital outlay per student.
  • The college’s substantial funding request and restructuring under Richard Corcoran, a DeSantis ally, are drawing scrutiny for the financial burden on taxpayers.

Ballard Partners, one of Florida’s top lobbying firms, has been enlisted by the New College Foundation to guide its federal education and infrastructure legislation efforts.

The New College Foundation seeks to raise $400 million in state funding over the coming five years to support its transformation, with Ballard executives Brian Ballard, who served as Former President Donald Trump’s chief fundraiser in Florida, and Daniel McFaul, former chief of staff to Congressman Matt Gaetz central to the plan.

The college, under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ influence, has seen a shift in governance with the appointment of six conservative trustees and former Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran as president, aligning with the governor’s stance against what he labels “woke” education.

New College has also undergone drastic reorganization efforts, including a sharp reduction of facilities and the elimination of its diversity and equity departments as part of its goal to rebrand as a classical liberal arts college, described as the “Hillsdale of the South.”

The $400 million funding request comes just weeks after the college presented its business plan that included a request that state lawmakers allocate $420 million in direct and indirect state investment, which, if granted, would translate into a high capital outlay ratio of $600,000 per student for the state’s smallest higher education institution.

The fiscal figure was included in the newest version of a business plan prepared ahead of a Board of Governors meeting earlier this month. A previously submitted plan sent to the Board of Trustees in August did not contain the figure, though auxiliary dollar amounts and related asks contained in the August plan have already started raising eyebrows even among otherwise sympathetic Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee.

Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo told the Capitolist that she had concerns and expected her legislative colleagues to “review the plan more closely” when lawmakers convene to set the budget for the upcoming year.

“She does have concerns, and the cost per student for Florida taxpayers is certainly among those concerns,” said Passidomo spokeswoman Katie Betta in an email to The Capitolist. “Ultimately, Senate committees with jurisdiction over these issues would review the plan more closely in the context of the budget process.”

Even so, the ballooning financial blueprint under Corcoran, a DeSantis ally, is starting to draw increasing scrutiny for its sheer scale and the burden it places on taxpayers, including his high salary.

A line item in a previously submitted budget document, also obtained by The Capitolist, appears to show that New College anticipates Corcoran’s full compensation package to reach nearly $1.06 million during the 2024 school year.

The NCF business plan, approved by Corcoran, breaks down a $420 million capital outlay request into several financial silos. The first $ 227 million is requested in the form of “direct state investment,” with another $173 million requested as “indirect investment,” while the final $20 million is requested in the form of “defeasance,” or debt forgiveness.

The money would be used for a range of initiatives, including facility upgrades, enrollment growth, and program expansions. When the funding is broken down to a per-student figure, the cost is starkly higher than any other public higher education institution in Florida.

But some of the facilities themselves are also generating controversy, including plans that are already in motion for a school bass fishing team and the equipment and facilities necessary to support similar endeavors.

This month, NCF’s board of trustees was forced to convene in order to clean up an accounting mess created after approximately $600,000 in tax dollars had been improperly spent on the school’s athletic programs, which are required by law to be self-supporting and not draw on recurring state dollars.

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