TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s education establishment is describing a plan to increase education spending as a “starvation-level education budget” because some of the money will go to school choice options that compete with public schools.
The “starvation-level education budget” approved by the Legislature on May 8 “neglects the very children it is tasked with serving,” Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade union, told the Miami Herald.
“It will have a corrosive effect on our neighborhood public schools,” she alleged. “The state has the revenue; they just need to invest it in our children.”
The union president and other union officials, as well as superintendents of several large school districts, are urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto the $23.7 billion education spending plan, as well as $419 million education policy bill, because it shares the funding with private charter schools and other school choice options.
Specifically, critics in the education establishment don’t like incentives for charger schools, a $234 million plan to offer bonuses for top performing teachers and principals, and other policy changes included in House Bill 7069, such as sharing local tax revenues with charter schools for capital projects, the Herald reports.
“The details in this bill substantially hurt public schools, our students, teachers and our community,” Broward County schools superintendent Robert Runcie said.
Runcie alleges the $24.49 per student increase in state aid for public schools included in the budget is not enough, and contends some public schools could see a drop in overall funding as a result of HB 7069.
“It only passed by one vote,” he said of the Senate’s approval of the legislation. “That’s not a call to action in support of this bill. That is a clear indication there’s something amiss here, not only with the process but the contents of the bill.”
Critics have chided state lawmakers for approving the measure in the waning days of the recent legislative session.
Miami-Dade schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he met with Gov. Scott to urge him to veto the legislation, but did not reveal how the governor responded to his plea, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“The governor and I agree on one thing: There is a man-made crisis at play here that challenges the values of the state of Florida,” Carvalho said. “With $3 billion of surplus revenue at the beginning of the session, to end up with a historically low increase in overall (K-12 education) funding … that may very well define the state – what we stand for and what we value.”
Brevard Public Schools’ board of education is also urging Scott to veto the legislation, alleging the spending package will put the district into the red, Florida Today reports.
School officials allege the increase in per-pupil funding will be offset by reductions to Base Student Allocation and increased pension contributions for employees, and could ultimately result in less overall funding.
The district could also lose about $2.3 million from new rules that would require the district to share tax revenues for capital projects.
“It just seems unbearable in a non-recession year to start the year out in the negative,” Blackburn told Florida Today.
Gov. Scott’s office told the Herald its “reviewing” the budget and HB 7069, and Scott has not yet decided whether or not to veto the legislation. State law allows Scott to cut portions of the overall budget, but requires him to reject or approve policy bills like HB 7069 in their entirety.
The governor, however, made it clear earlier this month that he did not like how lawmakers passed the legislation.
“Last night, the Florida Legislature passed a budget that was done largely behind closed doors. It was done without important input from the public and many members of the Legislature who were elected by Floridians to serve them. That’s unfortunate,” he said.
“I ran for governor to fight career politicians, and it’s backroom deals like this that make families think politics is nothing more than a game.”
And as those who depended on the public school system for their livelihood want Scott to veto the spending plan, school choice proponents – including former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, the Florida Charter School Alliance and the Florida Coalition of School Board Members – are urging him to approve the changes.
“Governor Scott believes in empowering parents and expanding education options, so he should be thrilled with this legislation,” said Ericka Donalds, past president of the Florida Coalition of School Board members.
Donalds also pointed out exactly why the education establishment is up in arms.
“HB 7069 contains bold initiatives designed to help the children who need it most. There is so much good in this bill,” she said. “Those opposed to this bill seek to limit choice and continue directing power away from parents and into the bureaucracy.”