TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers said they were finished negotiating the preK-12 education portion of the budget during a Sunday evening meeting, closing out one of the largest and typically one of the most contentious areas of the state’s massive funding plan. If the session is to finish on time, the entire state budget must be finished by the end of the day Tuesday.
Highlights of the preK-12 education budget include a $248 per-student increase in state funding that’s distributed based on enrollment, also called the “FEFP.” However, it’s important to note that lawmakers have also boosted the number of programs that are funded through the per-student pot, so comparing that to last year’s $101 per-pupil increase is not completely representative.
The best measure, perhaps, is the portion of that increase dedicated to flexible district spending, in a category called the “base student allocation.” This year, lawmakers have agreed to a $75 per-student boost to that portion.
Last year’s increase to the base student allocation was only 47 cents, which sparked outrage among districts and superintendents demanded that the Legislature reconvene to redo their education funding after the session had ended.
This year’s amount elicited a much warmer response from school leaders.
Pinellas County schools superintendent Mike Grego, who was a vocal critic of last year’s budget, praised the agreement, saying he was “very much more excited about the budget this year than last.”
“It’s obviously moving in the right direction,” said Grego, vice president of the state superintendents association.
He said this increase to the base student allocation could help the district cover retirement costs, electric bills and health insurance benefits — all of which are rising. At $75 per student, Pinellas schools would get about $7.3 million, Grego said.
Other than the base student allocation, there are other important categories within the per-student funding that are dedicated to certain expenses, such as school safety and mental health services offered in schools by counselors and school psychologists. The breakdown of those categories was not yet released as of early Monday evening.
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho noted that this $75 boost represents the highest increase in the flexible district spending, which he called the “clearest indicator” of state education funding, since the 2015-2016 budget.
“We certainly should celebrate a $75 increase to the BSA,” he said. “We could very well see ourselves in a position where … in this next year, we would not have to make reductions to balance the budget as was the case in the last four years.”
Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning, president-elect of the state superintendents association, got word of the base-student allocation amount while traveling abroad. He was among the superintendents who most loudly criticized the Legislature's 47-cent increase a year ago.
“The additional $75 in BSA is welcomed,” Browning said via text message, noting he had not seen all the other details in the budget. “Grateful, but hoping for more for teacher raises.”
Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman Tamara Shamburger said she viewed the budget as more of a mixed message.
“We’re grateful and we’re happy that the legislators have heard us,” she said, but noted the higher funding level does little to boost Florida’s national standing when it comes to per-student funding. “We certainly will encourage everyone next year to do a little bit better."