TALLAHASSEE -- Teachers won raises. School districts got a boost in per-pupil funding. Charter schools nearly doubled their construction and maintenance dollars.
When it came to the state budget, education was one of the session’s biggest winners.
Lawmakers were also able to tweak the state’s high-school graduation requirements, putting new emphasis on career and technical training, and heading off a potential logjam of graduates.
But the Legislature failed to pass a controversial bill that would have let parents make changes at failing schools, and never acted on a proposal to give charter schools recurring revenue for capital improvements.
Here’s a look at how Florida’s public schools fared in this year’s 60-day legislative sprint:
Lawmakers pumped more than $1 billion in new money into this year’s education budget, including a $407 increase in per-pupil spending.
“We increased funding across the board to every single school district in the state of Florida,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, who chairs the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
The budget also included $480 million for educator pay raises, one of two top priorities for Gov. Rick Scott. Lawmakers initially wanted to tie the raises to 2013-14 student achievement data, meaning the money wouldn’t be available to teachers until June 2014. But union leaders and schools superintendents pushed back, prompting lawmakers to revise the language. School systems may now develop their own plans and speed up the payout.
Charter schools, which are run by private boards, will benefit from the increase per-pupil spending, as well as the educator pay raises. Charter schools also won $91 million for their facilities and maintenance needs — an increase of $36 million over last year.
Early learning coalitions, meanwhile, saw their budgets boosted by $5.1 million.
“With these funds, children learn while parents work,” said Evelio Torres, President and CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade and Monroe.
Before the session began, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho warned that the state’s new, more rigorous graduation requirements would prevent thousands of Florida teenagers from earning a diploma. His term for the imminent problem: “the graduation bottleneck.”
The Legislature addressed the problem with SB 1076, which removes some of the requirements. It also creates two new diploma designations: one for students pursuing college-level coursework and one for students who complete industry-certification courses such as those offered by Adobe, Oracle and Microsoft.
There was early criticism from the Foundation for Florida’s Future, former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education nonprofit, that the bill would water down Florida’s challenging curriculum. But the foundation ultimately signed off after receiving assurances that the two graduation tracks would be equally as rigorous.
Scott signed the bill into law in April.
Florida lawmakers sought to tighten school security in the aftermath of December’s fatal shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Conn.
A proposal to let certain teachers carry concealed weapons in classrooms made headlines, but never made it to the House or Senate floor. Efforts to let municipalities tax for school security officers, and to create a school safety trust fund from the taxes levied on gun and ammunition sales, also fell flat.