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Florida Board of Education seeks more money for vouchers, charter schools

Critics urge the board to pay more attention to public schools.
The Florida Board of Education is asking lawmakers to increase education funding by 1.9 percent. [Florida Department of Education]
The Florida Board of Education is asking lawmakers to increase education funding by 1.9 percent. [Florida Department of Education]
Published Aug. 22, 2019

Sure, it’s just a request from an appointed board that has wielded little clout in the halls of the capitol.

But the Florida Board of Education this year is more aligned with the Governor’s Office now than in any other point in recent memory. And as members pointed out, education commissioner Richard Corcoran knows his way around not just writing budgets, but also getting them passed as a powerful recent House speaker.

So the board’s legislative budget request, which in past years hasn’t always even jibed with the governor’s proposal, gained some critical attention as it emerged this week during a meeting in Broward County. A phalanx of teachers decked out in red showed up to rally out front and then speak inside — until lately a rare occurrence — as a growing group of residents has begun to take the board more seriously.

Board members touted the proposal for its $25 million increase to mental health services funding, saying the addition could help create a more manageable ratio of counselor to students. They also liked the idea of spending $8 million to help school districts communicate better with emergency responders, and $10 million to pay off loans of new teachers in certain fields who agree to work for a set period at historically low-performing schools.

The “teacher talent pipeline” aims to bring about 1,700 new teachers into hard-to-staff schools, department chief of staff Alex Kelly told the board.

Board members expressed hope that the loan forgiveness program, combined with a base-student allocation increase of $50 per student, would help stem the tide of teachers leaving while also luring new ones to come. The base-student allocation hike, which would come from phasing out obsolete categoricals, could be used to raise teacher pay, Kelly pointed out.

Any such added money should come as salary, and not bonuses, insisted board member Michael Olenick, winning one of the few rounds of applause from a generally hostile crowd.

“You can’t get a mortgage or a car loan with a bonus,” Olenick said, suggesting the board and Legislature must make a long-range public commitment to boosting wages.

Corcoran stressed, too, that Gov. Ron DeSantis has made a priority of “elevating and celebrating the teaching profession,” adding, “I think there are opportunities ahead.”

What caught the critics’ attention, though, was the proposal to put $174 million of $264 million for fixed capital projects into charter schools. (The remainder would go to colleges.)

And the recommendation to put another $40 million into the Schools of Hope charter school program that has yet to open a single school in Florida, though some are planned in Miami and Tampa.

And the call to boost funding of the Gardiner Scholarship for disabled students by $42 million, to provide vouchers for an additional 4,000 children.

They blasted the board for any plan to take taxpayer dollars and send them to privately managed schools that don’t have to follow the same rules.

“Please fund our public schools,” Broward Teachers Union president Anna Fusco urged the board. “It’s not much to ask.”

United Teachers of Dade president Karla Hernandez-Mats followed by telling the board that people don’t think the board is doing a good job, and its budget request reflects the concerns.

“Forty-ninth? Is that really what we are touting here?” Hernandez-Mats said, referring to one of Florida’s national rankings in funding levels. “There is a problem here. The problem is systematic underfunding.”

She and others asked the board to listen to the teachers who are in the schools, rather than pushing an agenda that includes test-based accountability and shifting standards.

“Our children deserve better,” she said.

Overall, the board’s legislative budget request includes a $146.8 million (1.57 percent) increase in the Florida Education Funding Program. It also calls for resurrecting state funding for districts that newly require student uniforms ($3 million), increasing spending on $500 reading scholarships to $10 million (up 32 percent), boosting teacher professional development by $12.8 million (including $3 million for work on the coming new standards), $13 million in cuts to special programs, and no change to the Best and Brightest teacher bonus funding ($284.5 million).

See the full LBR for more details.


  1. First Lady Casey DeSantis talks with students during the Hope for Healing a mental and substance abuse initiative held Roland Park K-8 School in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, May 16, 2019. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said state officials worked closely with DeSantis to craft the new rule. OCTAVIO JONES | Times
  2. In this Feb. 14, 2018, photo, students hold their hands in the air as they are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland after a shooter opened fire on the campus.
  3. Pinellas County School Board member Carol Cook, left, celebrates her reelection to her fifth term in 2016. If ultimately approved, a term limits proposal would force Florida's school board members out after two consecutive terms.
  4. State Rep. Anthony Sabatini fields questions on the House floor on Feb. 19, 2020, about his proposal to ask voters to limit school board member terms.
  5. Chicken and vegetable dumplings with soy sauce were offered to students to test during the 2nd Annual Student Food Connection taste-testing, Wednesday, February 19, 2020 at Pinellas Technical College. Twenty-eight new food items were tested and rated.  Some will be added to next year's school menus.
  6. Patrick Suiters, 10, left, and Gabriel Stanford, 9, both fourth-graders at San Jose Elementary School in Dunedin, fill out a survey after tasting falafel tots and nuggets during the 2nd Annual Student Food Connection taste test at Pinellas Technical College. About 120 students tasted and rated 28 new food items that could be added to school breakfast and lunch menus next year.
  7. Pasco School District headquarters in Land O' Lakes
  8. The Pinellas County school system is offering driver education camps to hundreds of students like this one over the summer. The program will be held over two sessions at nine high school campuses across the county.
  9. Incoming Superintendent Addison Davis (center) and School Board Chair Melissa Snively (right) sign Davis' contract with the Hillsborough County School District after it was unanimously approved by the school board on February 18, 2020.
  10. Incoming Hillsborough School Superintendent Addison Davis (center), School Board Chair Melissa Snively (right) and the other board members pose as Davis signs his contract with the district on Tuesday night. The board unanimously approved the contract beforehand.
  11. Jarvis Delon West was arrested on child neglect charges after he didn't report an employee at AMI Kids who slammed a boy to the ground, according to police.
  12. Associate professor of biology Caitlin Gille leads the Pasco-Hernando State College faculty union, which challenged the school's public comment rules.  (Photo Courtesy of Caitlin Gille)