State Politics

Superintendents ‘gravely concerned’ by Legislature’s proposed K-12 funding

The organization representing Florida's 67 county school district superintendents says the Legislature's small funding increase for K-12 public schools next year is "not sufficient to meet the basic funding needs of Florida's 2.8 million public school students."

The Florida Association of District School Superintendents says that "many school districts in Florida will receive less student funding next year" under the levels that House and Senate leaders set last Friday evening after private negotiations.

Under lawmakers' compromise proposal, per-student spending would rise slightly to $7,221 -- an increase of only 0.34 percent, or about $24.49 per student. The impact on each district's state funding varies greatly in some cases.

"Considering the overall economic strength of our state, it is alarming that the basic funding needs of Florida public school students could go unaddressed," said Malcolm Thomas, president of the superintendents' association and Escambia County schools' superintendent. "With a united voice, we call upon Florida legislators to increase the base student funding in support of public education in Florida."

RELATED: "Lawmakers at odds over ‘tax increase’ to fund public schools"

The proposed budget for 2017-18 isn't yet in stone, but House and Senate leaders have moved on from K-12 spending after resolving differences in that area over the weekend.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced yesterday they'd come to terms on the $83 billion budget and plan to make it public by Friday. They have to extend the 60-session through Monday because they failed to reach a budget compromise by a Tuesday deadline.

Once the public conference process ends Friday, the budget is subject to an up-or-down vote and cannot be amended.

The Senate originally wanted to increase K-12 spending by about $540 million more than the House proposed under the main funding formula, known as the Florida Education Finance Program. Gov. Rick Scott also called for similar large increases in spending, but Scott's and the senators' plans banked on using additional property tax revenue -- which came from rising property values in the state. House leaders stood firm in rejecting that option -- Corcoran bluntly said "hell, no" -- because they deemed that to be a tax increase.

House Republicans argue that looking only at the per-student funding isn't a fair assessment of their investments in education next year. Outside the FEFP, they also want to spend $414 million to help about 77,000 students in failing schools and to give potentially 20,000 qualifying teachers a bonus. The specific policy language for those programs has not yet been publicly finalized, but is linked to the overall budget.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, works as CEO for the superintendents' association.