Florida education commissioner offers budget cutting ideas to House committee
Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart recommended millions of dollars in spending cuts Thursday, as the Florida House goes through an "exercise" aimed at slashing the budget in advance of anticipated revenue shortfalls.
Stewart said she targeted programs that had the least statewide impact, and those that had the highest cost per student. Still, she acknowledged during testimony to the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee that the proposals could significantly affect children and schools.
She spoke, for example, about a recommendation to reduce per-student funding to $6,943 from $7,204.
"It would have a direct impact," Stewart said, suggesting lawmakers think back about a decade when the state faced recession.
School districts laid off staff, held salaries flat and eliminated services through those lean years.
"They would find themselves in the same situation if we have to make those cuts," Stewart said.
The reductions might be bigger, she added, if the department and Legislature do not target other areas with complete defunding.
For instance, Stewart proposed ending funding to several local programs, such as AMI Kids, Pasco County's regional aerospace program and SEED School of Miami. She also called for zeroing out expenses such as Florida's Best and Brightest teacher bonus, a student standardized attire incentive program and public broadcasting.
Such programs have value, she said, but their statewide reach or, in the case of public broadcasting, their direct impact on students is small. Some of her recommendations did not jibe with stated House priorities.
State Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami, echoed several members' view when he said he did not like the idea of hurting children by killing programs that help them.
"Looking at the education budget being cut like this, it shocks my heart," Hardemon said, asking for more information.
Chairman Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, reminded members that Stewart had only made suggestions. The committee will get more details about every program under review, so it can vet each one before making a decision, he said.
"I understand this is an exercise," Hardemon responded. "But I want to make sure we're all on the same page going forward, that this is real disturbing to me."
The committee plans to meet again Feb. 9 to discuss each member's ideas for cutting the education budget.