Sen. Wise: Get the hankies ready
The Senate's higher education and Pre-K through 12 committees won't know until next week how much money they have to work with for the 2008-09 budget, but they are anticipating cuts of more than $1-billion and as much as $1.5-billion.
That means per-student spending is likely to decline for the first time in years, conceded Sen. Stephen Wise, chair of the Pre-K through 12 appropriations committee.
The base funding pot used for students could decline by at least $15-million next year, for example.
"I have hankies for next week," joked Wise, R-Jacksonville. "It is going to be really tough."
Wise said his approach will be targeted cuts, not across-the board cuts that affect all equally. Veteran Sen. Jim King, fellow Jacksonville Republican, has warned against that approach, which he says is politically divisive and unfair.
But Wise, echoing a sentiment voiced by House Speaker Marco Rubio, said "maybe there's programs we ought not to have. I don't know what that will be. But if we just cut it equally, we'll have a whole lot more groups saying, 'Oh, Geez!' "
A budget spreadsheet that shows the starting point for education next year shows that some programs could be eliminated altogether, because they are currently funded with one-time money. Those include a $1.9-million pilot reading program and a $2.9-million school safety and preparedness program.
Other programs could see dramatic cuts, including the Excellent Teaching incentive program, which stands to lose $30-million from its $88-million budget. Reading initiatives could lose nearly $18-million, bringing their base budget to $58-million.
And Wise warned that those figures are "as good as it's going to look." Translation: the cuts ultimately approved by the time session ends will be far steeper and more painful.
He vowed to seek input from education lobbyists and educators, and to consider options like delaying the implementation of the class size amendment - a move that could save the state $600-million next year.
"We have to be mindful of the constitution, but if we can delay it a little bit without affecting education, we're going to look at that," he said.
House schools and learning council chairman Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, said earlier this week that he doesn't want to cut the full $1.5-billion from education. But he conceded it is inevitable costly school programs like mentoring will see cuts.