In funding, Senate bill differs slightly from House version
In many ways -- including a 2 percent across-the-board funding cut and increasing the class size of summer VPK -- the Florida Senate agrees with the Florida House in how to cut millions from public education as part of its budget balancing act.
It has raised a few different ideas, though, to slash spending. Among them, in its bill, which just passed its first committee, the Senate:
- Would not set a 2 percent general fund reserve threshold for declaring a financial emergency, though it would allow the Florida education commissioner to require salary cuts if the district can't reach a negotiated resolution.
- Would not permit districts to offer employee buyouts that cost more than one year's salary.
- Would waive the requirement to purchase new textbooks within two years of adoption. (This has been discussed in the House.)
The bill also would make specific reductions to other non-district education allocations, such as bonuses for National Board certified teachers and funding for 30 positions at the state Department of Education.
The biggest controversy centered on the provisions to allow the commissioner to cut district salaries to solve a fiscal emergency. Democrat Larcenia Bullard of Miami and representatives of the Florida Education Association continued to argue against the proposal.
Even some Republicans weren't comfortable with the language, asking for revisions to make it more palatable. "I do think this could be potentially unconstitutional," said Sen. Nancy Detert, chairwoman of the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee, who noted the bill needed a specific definition of "emergency."
Education Appropriations Committee chairman Stephen Wise noted this issue needed quick attention because nine districts currently face fiscal emergencies with depleted fund balances, a situation that commissioner Eric J. Smith detailed.
You can track the bill, which passed committee, on the Senate's Web site.