Florida lawmakers wrap up K-12 education budget negotiations

The $22.4 billion spending plan includes $1,000 bonuses for educators and principals.
The Capitol in Tallahassee is seen following Opening Day of the Florida Legislature on March 3, 2021.
The Capitol in Tallahassee is seen following Opening Day of the Florida Legislature on March 3, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published April 24, 2021|Updated April 24, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — In a meeting late Friday, House and Senate budget leaders closed a $22.4 billion spending plan for the state’s entire PreK-12 system for the upcoming fiscal year, and in the process delivered $1,000 bonuses to Florida educators and principals.

The final spending plan includes a number of highlights:

  • $550 million to continue raising teachers’ annual salaries to at least $47,500. The amount was requested by Gov. Ron DeSantis, and it is a $50 million increase from the current year’s budget.
  • $38 per-student increase in state funding that’s distributed based on enrollment, also known as the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP).
  • $464 million in a “student reserve allocation.” That pot of money includes $200 million for the state’s taxpayer-funded school choice programs, which will be significantly expanded under a nearly finalized deal moving in the Legislature. The rest of the money has been set aside for schools to draw from should students who left the public school system during the pandemic return throughout the next school year.
  • $120 million for school mental health programs, a $20 million increase from the current year’s budget.

Florida lawmakers also figured out what to do with $7 billion in federal relief aid meant to help schools safely reopen and support students who have experienced academic losses during the pandemic.

The disagreement on how to use the money caused some hiccups in the budget negotiating process earlier this week, but lawmakers on Friday night did two things with that massive pot of money.

  • $216 million of those federal dollars were put toward one-time $1,000 bonuses for classroom teachers, certified pre-kindergarten teachers and principals in district and charter schools and the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. This was also a request made by DeSantis.
  • The rest of the federal aid — $6.8 billion — will be placed in state reserves, and will be released to the Florida Department of Education when it submits detailed plans that describe how the funds will be used in accordance with the American Rescue Plan’s education relief fund. The budget language, however, does not say who the plan needs to be submitted to or whether the plans would need approval from the Legislature or the governor.

In addition to the PreK-12 budget, Florida lawmakers on Friday night also closed out the state’s entire higher education, criminal justice and healthcare budgets. Now that some of the most contentious areas of the state’s massive funding plan have been closed out, lawmakers expect to finish negotiations on a near-$100 billion state budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, beginning July 1.

Lawmakers expect to hash out all budget differences by Sunday night or Monday morning, which would mean they would wrap up the 60-day legislative session on time April 30.

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