Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Florida Board of Education to consider budget request with no change in tax rates

One phrase stands out in the guidelines Florida Board of Education members used in developing their 2019-20 legislative budget request, which comes up for adoption Friday:

"Include no change in 2018-19 millage rates, tuition or fees."

It's an issue that has proven a sticky wicket for lawmakers over the past several years. Some, primarily in the Senate, have pushed to let school districts maintain their local tax rates to take advantage of rising property values. Others, mostly in the House, have insisted that districts drop their rates so the tax revenue property owners pay remains mostly unchanged.

Related coverage: Speaker Richard Corcoran draws bright line on Florida school taxing issue 

Gov. Rick Scott took the Senate's (losing) side last year, and the Board of Education aims to align with the governor's priorities. So it looks to be posturing for another discussion on whether to allow school funding to grow naturally through increasing values.

Such a move could placate many school district leaders who complained loudly last year that the state provided only a tiny bit of additional funding without strings attached — not to mention failing to cover the full costs of required measures relating to security and mental health services.

Related coverage: The Legislature raised funding by 47 cents per student. Here's how Florida schools are coping. 

State Board members discussed such needs at their August budget workshop. They mentioned the need to better pay employees and secure schools, without making Florida become a tax heavy state.

They asked the staff to bring more details so they could consider a spending plan that meets such needs and provides districts flexibility, something they suggested was in too short supply.

The two-page agenda backup material for Thursday did not include many details of the actual legislative budget proposal, which is expected to be provided separately. That didn't concern some observers too much, though, because the state's final education budget rarely resembles the board's first pass.

"The budget process is going to carry the stamp of the leaders," Florida School Boards Association lobbyist Ruth Melton said, and many leaders will be new for the next session. "We have to take this with the recognition it is very likely to change."

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