Over in the House ...
The Policy and Budget Council has adopted several measures this morning to trim education funding while giving school districts some flexibility in how to do it. Among the proposals, the House would:
- Allow school districts to postpone adoption of new instructional materials by one year.
- Waive for one year the penalty assessed against districts that do not meet the state class-size reduction amendment requirements. The amount that districts have had to transfer from general operations to capital improvements through this penalty is minimal, Schools and Learning chairman Joe Pickens said, about $5-million a year.
- Require that funding of teacher performance pay under the Merit Award Program be included in the fiscal year in which the bonuses get paid. This essentially would allow the state to put off funding the $147-million program until next fall, when the next round of bonuses are announced.
Even key Democrats like Shelley Vana of West Palm Beach supported the recommendations, saying districts should have the flexibility they need when making budget decisions. But she warned against gutting the class-size amendment and against devaluing the importance of textbooks and other materials in the long term.
The council also agreed to a proposal that would not only increase in-state tuition for Florida's colleges and universities by 5 percent next year, but also provide for an annual automatic adjustment for inflation (unless lawmakers decide to do otherwise).
All told, the council would cut education funding by $603.3-million for the year, though some would be replaced from nonrecurring sources. To see the numbers, click here. (The education recommendations begin on page 25 of the document.)
UPDATE: Pickens told the Gradebook that the Senate has similar, though not identical, provisions in its education spending plan, and he expected the minor differences to be hashed out over the weekend. In the meantime, he said, don't expect another budget-cutting session like this next year, because lawmakers already have the sense of how bad things will be. Another revenue estimate comes out in a month or two. "What we are hoping is we have seen the bottom," Pickens said.