While both the House and Senate are interested in more than quadrupling funding to expand the "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program next year, only the House actually proposes a dollar figure in its budget proposal.
Both chambers' education budget plans were unveiled Tuesday in advance of the full budget roll-out this week.
The House plan calls for $214 million in the 2017-18 budget for the teacher bonuses, up from the $49 million the Legislature allocated this year. But the Senate proposal zeros out the program funding -- setting up another year of negotiations over the controversial program.
"That's part of the process; this is not the first go-around with that in dealing with the Senate," said Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman. "That's par for the course."
Senate Pre-K-12 Education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, revealed in February that lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol were interested in expanding the "Best & Brightest" program so that teachers could be eligible in more ways than just their SAT/ACT score from high school and so that principals could also qualify for bonus dollars.
Simmons said then the House was exploring potentially $250 million for next year, which he said the Senate was supportive of.
Diaz released the House's proposed policy changes to expand the program earlier this month but the bill lacked a pricetag. HB 7069 has its second and final committee hearing on Wednesday before the full House Appropriations Committee.
"The Speaker is committed to putting in these dollars, rewarding these teachers, but if you expand the criteria, you have to make a financial commitment to go along with it," Diaz said Tuesday.
Two policy bills have been filed in the Senate to expand "Best & Brightest" for teachers and principals, but both bills have gotten zero attention so far. And they both have long odds of passing the chamber; each has four committee stops, when most bills get three. (The bills are SB 1410 from Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville -- which is identical to Diaz's bill -- and SB 1552 from Simmons.)
However, the program could still expand next year even without the legislation.
Lawmakers could detail the policy in proviso language in the budget -- which is what they did in 2015 when the program was created and again last year when policy bills stalled in the Senate.
"There is always that possibility of becoming a one-year fix, like it's been before," Diaz said. "So that's on the table. I don't know if it'll get to that point or if it will be the bills; right now, everything is up in the air, and we have those options."
The "Best & Brightest" program is a House creation of current House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. The Senate last year was hesitant to expand it for a second year -- citing the opposition from teachers' groups and the lack of evidence correlating teachers' high school SAT/ACT scores with their effectiveness in the classroom -- but ultimately agreed to do so in late-session budget compromise.