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Florida House majority office goes on offense to tout its public education funding plan

The budget has come under fire from Democrats and school district leaders.

The Florida House Republican leadership has had enough of what it's calling the "47 cent myth."

That's where several groups, including superintendents and teacher unions, have accused lawmakers of shortchanging public education with a 47-cent increase in base student allocation, rather than acknowledging the Legislature put an added $101.50 into all facets of per-student funding in the 2018-19 education budget.

So on Thursday, the Majority Office went on the offensive, launching a 5-minute online ad making its case for how it raised the education budget to new levels — just with some requirements attached to ensure the money isn't squandered. (That claim of record funding has been challenged, because GOP leaders tend to talk in terms of sheer dollar figures without taking inflation into account.)

Its video, in the works for about two weeks, arrived on the same day that 35 House Democrats called for a special session to improve education funding. Fred Piccolo, spokesman for the Speaker's Office, called the timing coincidental but beneficial, saying, "We were going to address the issue anyway."

The ad takes issue with the "union bosses" and the media who "parrot" them in suggesting that education spending will rise by less than a dollar per student overall. Most reports have noted that the concerns have been that the amount available for unrestricted use was limited, particularly after lawmakers funneled large amounts into school safety.

Related: The Legislature raised funding by 47 cents per student. Here's how Florida schools are coping.

But "working Floridians who pay for our schools are not fooled," the narrator intones.

"To those Floridians, if it walks like education spending, and talks like education spending and comes out of their wallet like education spending, then it's education spending."

The ad also takes to task districts it suggests spend too much money outside the classroom. It states that less than 55 percent of school employees are classroom teachers, with more than 1,100 social workers, 31,000 paraprofessionals, 22,000 secretaries and clerical staff, and 45,000 service workers in the ranks.

"That's why we put this $100 increase in per student funding directly into the classroom, bypassing the bureaucracy," the narrator says. (Much of the new funding is allocated into security and mental health services.)

She adds, "To them [bureaucrats], it's not about kids. It's about control."

Piccolo acknowledged that making such statement could be viewed as over broad, in that many districts do not face such concerns as too-high administrator to teacher ratios. But the goal, he said, is to get the message out that problems like this do exist in some large systems that need to control their spending.

The ad sparked discontent among some groups that were displeased that tax dollars might be spent to promote such "propaganda." The current House leadership has made several ads like this one, promoting its education priorities and taking to task its opponents.

Piccolo said the video came out of the House Majority Office, which like the Minority Office can do "more political things."

"The Democrats have the ability to do things like this too," he said. "They just don't."