The Senate committee crafting the budget for K-12 public and charter schools on Thursday received grim data on projected enrollment and tax revenues that, combined, promise to make its job more challenging.
In a 180-degree turn from last spring when education officials were projecting a 10,000-student decline in enrollment, state officials now say that more than 19,000 additional students are likely to show up in K-12 classrooms this fall.
"Last year we were talking about a 10,000 loss, and now we're talking about a 19,000 increase," said committee chairman Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville. "That's a big change. And that becomes problematic. We've got more students, we've got Haitians coming in and we weren't counting on them."
Yet money remains tight, with local school tax revenues (RLE) down by $680 million. Senate President Jeff Atwater earlier this week gave Wise's committee more than $8 billion to work with.
The proposal discussed in Wise's committee Thursday would bring per-student spending from $6,866 per student to $6,881 per student. That's negligible, and is made possible only by pumping an extra $766 million in general revenue to school districts to make up for their loss in local tax revenues.
So Wise and other senators are looking everywhere they can to save money - including school board members' paychecks. Wise's committee is considering budget language what would set all school board members' salaries at the same amount doled out to legislators - about $29,000.
Currently, larger school districts like Miami-Dade and Hillsborough pay their boards more, as much as $41,000. Any district that now pays more than that would have to reduce the pay to lawmakers' level, and school districts paying less would maintain that amount.
It would only save about $1.5 million, which Wise conceded is "chump change."
"But listen, we're in dire straits," he said.