1. Gradebook

Florida Senate unveils plan to add $1.1B to education budget

The House has yet to release its proposal.
Senate Education Appropriations chairwoman Kelli Stargel [Steve Cannon | Associated Press (2016)]
Published Mar. 19


Senate Republicans rolled out an education budget Tuesday that would increase spending by $1.1 billion for Florida public schools compared with the current year, a proposal that is also higher than the plan released by the state's GOP governor.

The Senate spending plan outlined Tuesday envisions $22.2 billion for public schools, an increase of about $350 per student over current levels. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed education spending budget calls for $21.7 billion in school spending. Both proposals are higher than this year’s budget.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, who chairs the Senate Appropriations education subcommittee, said the percentage increase in per-student funding is the most in the last six years.

“We do value education, all education. And we get the money there,” said Stargel, a Lakeland Republican. “We are about students.”

The Senate plan would also provide $68 million to help Florida schools hire at least one safety officer for each school, $46 million to assist struggling schools, $31 million to address youth mental health issues and $14.2 million to help Panhandle schools that have lost enrollment because of Hurricane Michael.

There would also be $50 million in "school hardening grants" to help districts and charter schools increase security and $2 million for Jewish day school security.

The measure also carves out $233 million for bonuses for teachers and principals based on the academic improvement of schools. Many teachers and administrators say the best way to recruit and retain them is to raise their salaries rather than pay one-time bonuses.

"Fewer people are choosing teaching because they can't afford to support their families that way," said Pamela Schwartz of the Florida Retired Teachers Association.

The Senate budget does include about $600 million in "flexible funds" that local school districts can tap into for such things as teacher raises or other needs.

The House has not yet released its education budget proposal. Eventually, the Legislature and DeSantis must come together on a single balanced state budget by the end of the 60-day session in May. Education spending represents more about a quarter of the total state budget.

The panel also voted Tuesday for a voucher bill that would for the first time allow thousands of students to attend private and parochial schools using taxpayer dollars typically spent on traditional public schools. The measure envisions about 15,000 students as eligible for the new Family Empowerment Scholarship Program with income levels capped at just under $67,000 for a family of four. The House has a more expansive version.

The voucher bills, a priority for DeSantis and GOP legislative leaders, draw heated debate on both sides and Tuesday was no exception.

Democratic Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee called it a "fundamental change" in Florida education spending that will wind up short-changing traditional public schools attended by about 2.8 million students.

"I believe we're going down the wrong path," he said.

But Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley of Lady Lake said it's wrong to think that struggling schools can be fixed simply by spending more money and that students have a variety of reasons to choose to enroll in private schools.

"We are not going back to being told where to go. Families are done with that," Baxley said. "I think our traditional schools will be fine because they'll adapt, too."

Florida currently has four scholarship programs that provide for more than 100,000 students to attend private and religious schools, including many children with disabilities and special needs. Those programs are not funded with money usually spent on public schools.


  1. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    The proposal is short on details, with officials saying they want to work through specifics during negotiations.
  2. Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia holds a back-to-school press conference at Rampello K-8 School, [TIMES files]
    MaryEllen Elia, who led the Hillsborough district from 2005 to 2015, has been an educator since 1970.
  3. Jeff Eakins and MaryEllen Elia, Hillsborough's last two superintendents, were hired from inside the school system. So have all others since 1967. [TIMES FILES] Times staff
    Two more public meetings are planned, and the online survey is up until Saturday.
  4. Pasco School District headquarters in Land O' Lakes
    The board’s 2019-20 budget totals $1.39 billion.
  5. The DeLucio family of Trinity toured the Mitchell High School campus and showed the visit on their YouTube channel, which has more than 1 million subscribers. Many parents, students and school officials were not amused. YouTube
    The proposed policy comes up for a vote on Oct. 1.
  6. United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace denounces the school district's pay raise proposal in a YouTube video sent to all district employees Sept. 9, 2019. United School Employees of Pasco
    The local teachers union already has denounced the idea.
  7. Goodwill's BookWorks preschool literacy program strives to instill a love of reading and helps provide children books.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  8. Greco Middle School in Temple Terrace has 183 more students this school year than last. Middle schools grew in enrollment this year, while elementary schools lost more than 1,200 students.  [Times | 2013]
    The 20 day count shows ever more crowding in southeast Hillsborough.
  9. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. The Florida Channel
    Gov. Ron DeSantis also had set a priority of getting more youngsters ready for kindergarten.
  10. Wendell Krinn Technical High School in Pasco County opened in August 2018. The district wants to open an east-side technical high school in 2022. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    The past department head was removed over several performance concerns.