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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Under governor's plan, local taxpayers would bear most of $500M increase to K-12 education



One of Gov. Rick Scott's main initiatives in his 2016-17 proposal is more investments in education -- specifically $500 million he proposes to add to funding for K-12 public schools.

But Scott is getting swift blow-back from critics, because 85 percent of that extra funding would be shouldered not by the state, but through local property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay.

Of the $507.3 million suggested increase, $80 million -- or 15 percent -- is state dollars, while $427.3 million would come from the "required local effort."

In touting his proposal to make an "historic investment in education," Scott vows that Floridians' "will not see an increase in your millage rate."

However, that doesn't mean businesses and homeowners won't see a larger tax bill. As property values rebound statewide, the amount property owners pay in taxes also increases, even if the tax rate remains the same.

When reporters asked Scott about this Monday, he responded: "Property values, when they go up, that's good for us."

One senior Democrat in the Legislature accused Scott of caring "a lot more about corporations than he does the people of Florida," because Scott's other big initiative is a $1 billion tax cut, mostly benefiting businesses.

“This budget proposal is more about political payback than it is about sound fiscal policy and strong leadership," said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, of West Palm Beach.

The Legislature, not the governor, ultimately sets the state's annual budget.

Education groups say the state should be more consciously investing in education, rather than shifting the cost of more funding to homeowners and businesses.

"The Florida Constitution says that providing for public education is of paramount importance, but today’s budget proposal barely exceeds the budget for education from nine years ago in terms of total dollars and falls short when one accounts for inflation," said Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association. "The state continues to shift the burden of paying for education increases onto local property owners. The state should get it right and make our public schools a top priority.”

Other highlights from Scott's 2016-17 budget proposal for education:

-- increases per-pupil K-12 funding by $116 to $7,221 per student. That's the highest ever, exceeding the previous record set in 2007-08, which was before the economic recession.

-- raises K-12 education funding to $20.2 billion.

-- adds $20 million more to support digital classrooms, for a total funding level of $80 million.

-- allocates $33.5 million toward continued implementation of the Florida Standards Assessments. That's down about $12.8 million from this year, under the terms of the contract for test administration.

-- provides equal funding for maintenance, renovations and repairs for K-12 public schools as charter schools, with $75.2 million in suggested funding for each.

-- increases per-pupil funding for voluntary pre-kindergarten by $50 per student during the school year and $43 per student for summer programs. That equates to $2,487 per 4-year-old during the school year and $2,123 per 4-year-old during the summer.

-- boosts performance funding for state universities by $100 million, but $50 million of that would come from the universities' base budgets.

[Last modified: Monday, November 23, 2015 4:20pm]


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