House education funding bill targets class size, VPK and more
To combat Florida's financial crisis, the House has put forth its proposal to deal with education funding.
It includes a 2 percent cut across the board. That would affect local districts as follows:
- Hernando, $3.03-million
- Hillsborough, $26.7-million
- Pasco, $9.25-million
- Pinellas, $14.8-million
Gov. Crist, meanwhile, has urged lawmakers to cut less and borrow more, the Buzz reports. The Senate's plan is due out tomorrow.
To make their plan work, House leaders aim to amend laws to allow for more flexibility in how districts use their money. For example, the bill would:
- Allow all school districts to use capital improvement money to pay for driver's education and maintenance vehicles, and to cover property and casualty insurance premiums.
- Lessen the penalty for districts that fail to meet the class-size amendment requirements.
- Increase the class size for summer prekindergarten, from 10 children per teacher to 12.
- Not require districts to implement the Merit Award Program for 2008-09.
The bill also would change the way the state handles school district financial emergencies. It sets forth methods for avoiding an emergency, but it also, in the words of Pre-K-12 Appropriations chair Anitere Flores, "creates a stick" for districts that can't find a solution.
Specifically, it would allow the state education commissioner to require districts to reduce all employee salaries (including School Board members') proportionately to ensure that the unreserved general operating fund balance remains at a minimum of 2 percent. For more details, read also the staff analysis of the bill.
During session this morning, lawmakers discussed the possibility of more flexibility in the use of categorical funds, such as money for textbooks. They also heard from members of the public who urged them to consider comprehensive changes to the tax structure.
Rep. Marty Kiar, the Democrats' point man on education in the House, called the bill "an easy no vote," in part because it would again cut per-student funding.
The Senate has some different provisions pending. Flores told her committee that the Senate bill is due to be published tomorrow.