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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Senate panel proposes $650M increase to K-12 education funding in 2016-17

26

January

The education budget committee of the Florida Senate wants to raise funding for K-12 public schools by $650 million next year, about $150 million more than what Republican Gov. Rick Scott proposed.

The Senate Education Appropriations Committee rolled out its 2016-17 budget proposal on Tuesday, with plans to discuss it further on Thursday and send it to the full Appropriations Committee by week's end. The House budget committee plans to unveil its budget plan on Thursday.

Substantial changes in the Senate education budget committee's recommendation are unlikely, chairman Sen. Don Gaetz cautioned before he made his presentation.

"The concrete has been poured and it's hardening," said Gaetz, R-Niceville.

A big unknown, however, is how the $650 million increase would be funded, Gaetz said.

He said the committee is using Scott's funding model as a baseline, but senators object to Scott's method of paying for increases to public education predominantly through local property tax dollars, rather than a greater share from the state.

Gaetz said he brought the committee's concerns to Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Gaetz said "they've asked us to keep working" on that.

Under the Senate committee's proposal, the K-12 education budget would rise to $20.3 billion, the "highest in Florida history," Gaetz said. It includes $7,249 in per-pupil funding, up from $7,107 this year.

By comparison, Scott's budget proposal called for a $20.2 billion education budget with funding of $7,221 per student. He wants to increase K-12 dollars by $507.3 million in 2016-17. But only about $80 million of that would be extra state aide, while $427.3 million — 85 percent — would come from property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay, revenue that’s increasing thanks to rebounding property values.

Some lawmakers, like Gaetz, argue that using that using a greater share of local dollars would constitute a local tax increase.

Meanwhile, in the Senate proposal, included in the K-12 dollars is $53 million to support an initiative to offer an extra hour of instruction for students in the state's 300 lowest-performing schools, a priority of the Senate, Gaetz said.

"Done right, the extra hour a day changes the lives of these children," Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said, citing pilot programs already operating in the state.

Gaetz said the committee is still working on a figure for Public Education Capital Outlay (or PECO) dollars, which the state doles out for districts to build new schools or repair aging ones --a point of contention in the ongoing "school choice" debate. Scott had recommended $75.2 million each for traditional K-12 schools and charter schools.

Meanwhile, though, the Senate recommends $4.3 million in other capital funding for K-12 schools plus $100 million for "special facilities" construction -- dollars directed to eight small, mostly rural school districts that need state aide to supplement a low tax base. Scott's budget plan included $75.4 million in "special facilities" dollars.

Other highlights of the Senate plan, according to Gaetz:

-- 41 groups and education organizations that altogether asked for $38.2 million either did not or would not explain how they used state dollars they received last year, so senators are recommending zero funding for them in 2016-17. Gaetz said there are "interesting names" on that cut list.

-- $40 million to fund a new statewide competitive grant program, including after-care and mentoring programs

-- $475 million increase to public university funding, $25 million less than Scott recommended.

-- $60 million increase to public colleges, the same as Scott recommended.

[Last modified: Friday, January 29, 2016 10:01am]

    

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