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Florida Board of Education adopts DeSantis budget as its own

Board members call the governor’s agenda ‘bold’ and ‘incredible,’ offer to help promote it.

In an unusual but not uncharacteristic move, the Florida Board of Education met by phone Thursday to adopt Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education 2020-21 spending proposal as its own.

The board previously had voted for a separate legislative budget request, as in the past. But members said they wanted to get on the same page as the governor and the Department of Education, and speak as one in promoting the DeSantis agenda.

That type of vote hasn’t historically occurred, even if the lobbying efforts have.

“It’s an incredible budget,” board member Ben Gibson said during the brief session, adding that he was excited by the regular announcements of new education initiatives by DeSantis and education commissioner Richard Corcoran.

He mentioned specifically the most recent proposal on civics education, in which the governor called for added lessons and testing for students about the nation’s government and foundations.

“Let us know what we can do to assist you in the months to come,” Gibson told the staff.

In presenting the budget to the board, department chief of staff Alex Kelly said the governor’s office had adopted several ideas from the board’s legislative request, including added funding for prekindergarten and continued support for apprenticeship programs.

Kelly also spoke about the governor’s plans to increase teacher pay, revamp bonuses, enhance school security and mental health services, and raise the overarching base student allocation.

“This agenda is shockingly more transformational than last year’s,” Corcoran told the board. That makes it important to say “this is where we’re all at, and we’re on the same page,” he said.

Only board member Michael Olenick had a question. He wanted to know if the board should weigh in on the importance of providing added wages for veteran teachers who would not be affected by DeSantis’ plan to boost the minimum salary.

Corcoran said the proposed bonus model would help many veteran educators, and added that the higher base student allocation would allow school boards to improve wages locally beyond the state proposal.

“The package itself is the greatest teacher compensation package in the history of the state,” Corcoran said. “I am sure the local districts will do the right thing with the BSA.”

Board vice chairwoman Marva Johnson praised the department for its presentations, and like Gibson urged the staff to tell the board how they can help promote “this very bold and wonderful budget agenda.”

Corcoran said they could count on it. With several big asks on the table, he said, “We will be calling.”