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Florida House locates $462.6 million for teacher raises

The PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee cutting exercise would come in nearly 25 percent below Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal.
Thousands rallied and marched from the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center to the Florida Historic Capitol to demand more money for public schools Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Thousands of school workers from around the state thronged Florida's Capitol on Monday to press Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature to more than double the nearly $1 billion the governor is proposing for teacher raises and bonuses. (Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP) [TORI LYNN SCHNEIDER | AP]

Florida House Speaker José Oliva has consistently remained cool to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call for $603 million in teacher raises.

On Thursday, his chamber revealed where it could be headed with the idea, based on the amount of money it can find in existing budgets, and how contentious negotiations might get.

At the end of a morning House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee session, chairman Rep. Chris Latvala unveiled leadership recommendations to reallocate funds within the budget for the coming fiscal year. It represented a first pass, or an exercise, to find where the House might be able to move existing resources, said Fred Piccolo, Oliva’s spokesman.

The total shift would reach $520 million, with $462.6 of that going into the base student allocation with the intent of it being directed toward teacher pay.

The money would come from line items previously used to fund other areas, with the biggest reductions coming from the disliked Best and Brightest teacher bonus ($284.5 million), supplemental academic instruction funds ($150 million) and funding compression appropriations ($54.2 million).

Other smaller areas targeted for cuts included declining enrollment supplements ($1.8 million), virtual education ($2.2 million), and digital classroom expenses ($20 million).

Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, quickly noted that Latvala’s list did not match the governor’s plan. It offered less for raises, and did not mention the $300 million bonus plan that DeSantis has spoken of.

“Where are we going with trying to meet his number?” Davis asked. “Do we get there with $462 million?”

Latvala answered that his assignment was to come up with $520 million from within the budget. “That’s what we did.”

Davis observed a gap still existed, and wanted to know about the other $58 million not going to raises. Latvala said that amount was recommended for mental health programs ($25 million) and turnaround supplemental funding ($32.4 million).

No one asked any other questions.

After the meeting, Latvala told the Tampa Bay Times that it is possible more money might be available for teacher wages, and that his charge was to deal only with reallocations at this point.

“When we release the budget in two weeks, there will be more details,” he said.

Piccolo observed that the effort helped leadership know how much money it would need to find in order to get to the governor’s figures — something that might or might not happen. None of the recommendations have been formally adopted yet, he added.

Latvala also presented a few other possible shifts, including moving $21.3 million in recurring projects to cover annual expenses in the Gardiner Scholarship ($13.2 million) and the voluntary prekindergarten base student allocation ($8.2 million)

The House teacher pay figures so far, in addition to standing in contrast to the governor’s request, do not match any of the proposals introduced so far in the Senate. Senate Republicans and Democrats have offered differing ideas within that chamber, as well.

Teachers, meanwhile, have rallied and urged lawmakers for yet another approach to salaries and funding.

Latvala has stressed that the House leadership intends to find a way to improve educators’ wages.

“We fully agree with (DeSantis) on salary increases for teachers. He deserves the credit for starting that conversation,” Latvala said. “The question will be how big will those increases be able to be, and where will the money come from.”

Finding a compromise that works is likely to take time. Senate Education chairman Manny Diaz Jr. has said he expected the issue to be one that lasts the entire two-month session.

Related: Florida is buzzing about a raise for teachers. Will it happen?