Monday, August 20, 2018

Democrats’ push for special session on education funding falls along party lines

To almost no one's surprise, a last ditch effort to bring Florida lawmakers back to Tallahassee for another conversation about public education funding has failed.

A group of House Democrats, led by Reps. Shevrin Jones and Nicholas Duran, used an obscure law by which 20 percent of the Legislature could require a poll to determine whether a special session would take place.

Three-fifths of the members in each chamber would have to agree. The vote fell far short.

In the House, all 41 Democrats supported the measure. Not a single Republican did.

In the Senate, all 16 Democrats backed the call. Not one Republican joined them. In fact, the nearly half the Senate Republicans did not even participate in the survey, including former president Tom Lee (Hillsborough), future president Wilton Simpson (Pasco) and president pro tempore Anitere Flores (Miami-Dade).

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the survey results Thursday, after the noon deadline had passed. [See how each member voted here.] The outcome was all but certain two days earlier, though, as the emerging tally made clear the 60 percent threshold wouldn't be reached.

The Democrats made their push amid school leader complaints that the state's public education budget for the coming fiscal year did not include enough added funding to cover rising daily costs, while also not meeting the Legislature's demands for increased school security and mental health services.

Republican leaders fired back with a video insisting the state's education funding had reached record levels, and arguing the detractors misrepresented the budget. Gov. Rick Scott also stood by the spending plan, which he signed despite calls for a veto by superintendents and others.

Soon after Detzner's official pronouncement that the special session hadn't passed, the Florida Education Association issued a statement noting that Scott easily could have called lawmakers back on his own, if he had the will.

"This is very sad news for our schools, but no surprise given the current political landscape," FEA president Joanne McCall said in the release. "It's sad news for all of us, because the whole state loses when public education is harmed. The only bright spot I see, going forward, is that we can change our political landscape this fall at the polls."

Rep. Jones, the ranking Democrat on the House Education committee, said it was unfortunate the effort failed.

"I'm thankful for my Democratic colleagues for understanding and keeping true to our values, which we have consistently been fighting for," he said. "We will continue our commitment to fight on behalf of our teachers and on behalf of our students.

"How do we do that? The people will always rise."

Students, parents and educators are becoming fed up with a legislative system that does not share that priority, Jones said, suggesting the electorate will take matters into its own hands.

"We fight on," he said.

Related: Florida Dems use obscure law in last-ditch effort to call Legislature back for more school funding 

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