What about the rural communities, Mr. Chairman?
Florida House Education Committee chairman Rep. Michael Bileca turned up at the Florida Board of Education meeting in his hometown Tuesday, offering his "high level" overview of how the Legislature arrived at its "schools of hope" proposal that's headed to Gov. Rick Scott.
Bileca spoke of members seeking to find ways to "consistently close the achievement gap" and "erase the negative effects of poverty."
He offered a 10-minute rundown of lawmakers' attempts to remove financial and regulatory barriers for high performing charters to come into the communities, and further noted the added attempt to pour some resources into traditional public schools in turnaround mode, too.
When he was done, State Board member Andy Tuck couldn't help but notice one obvious fact.
"Some of our poorest communities are our rural communities," said Tuck, a citrus farmer from Highlands County. "Most of our rural communities are seeing a decrease in funding."
The Legislature-approved funding plan shows 18 counties, including Highlands, set to receive less money for education in 2017-18 than in the current year.
Bileca paused briefly, then observed the Legislature had increased overall K-12 education funding by about $200 million, an "historic level." But, he continued, "we chose to do some elements not through the FEFP."
The leadership wanted to stick with its philosophical goal of affecting change for the perpetually low-performing schools, Bileca said, so it put the money into other items than the general fund. He pointed specifically to bonuses of $1,200 for teachers who earn a "highly effective" rating, and $800 for those who earn an "effective" mark.
The funding goes to educators in the rural communities, Bileca said. "It's just not through the FEFP."
Tuck did not respond.