Florida Politics

House Speaker hopes Scott won’t veto controversial education bill

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran AP

Two days after Gov. Rick Scott hinted at vetoing a controversial $419 million, 278-page education bill that narrowly passed the Legislature a week ago, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran visited the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation and said he was hopeful the bill will survive Scott’s veto pen.

“I haven’t spoken to him, but I don’t know, there’s still a lot of time,” said Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, after a meeting at Florida International University on Wednesday morning. “Hopefully it’ll go well.”

The massive K-12 public schools bill, which drew sharp criticism from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents on Tuesday, is part of the 2017-18 budget. It includes a $234 million bonus package for most teachers and some top principals and a $140 million “Schools of Hope” program to help struggling traditional public schools and bring in private charter schools to give parents in these areas an alternative.

It also requires school districts to share some capital funding with charter schools, which the association said would take much-needed money away from traditional public schools.

The association’s president called on Scott to veto the education funding bill, HB 7069, along with $23.7 billion in primary funding for K-12 schools, arguing the approved 0.34 percent increase in spending per student was not acceptable.

The bill, which passed the Senate on May 8 by a vote of 20-18 after passing the House 73-36, was a top priority for Corcoran, who called it “the most transformative, accountable, beneficial K-12 public education bill in the history of the state.”

“I know a lot of these superintendents, they’re good guys, but I wish they would focus more on not building $20 and $40 million Taj Mahal buildings,” Corcoran said. “What’s more important than beautiful buildings is beautiful minds, and this bill is about building beautiful minds. And to the extent that they can cut those buildings down in size and take that money and pour it into the classroom, which is what this bill does, I would love to have their support.”

Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz, pre-K-12 education budget chairman who helped craft the bill, said he would urge Scott to make a decision after reading the bill, independent from misleading “rhetoric” critics have used.

He said he would be surprised if Scott disagreed with any of the bill’s policies.

“I don’t see any reason why the governor would be against any of the policies in this bill,” he said, noting that Scott has supported school choice. “It would be unfortunate to allow politics to get in the way of transformational policy.”

Diaz emphasized the importance of the $30 million dedicated to the Gardiner Scholarship to help students with special needs, the money set aside in an effort to retain teachers, and the “Schools of Hope” program. He also mentioned money set aside to establish “wrap-around” services at needy public schools, like social services, and adding an extra hour to schooldays or extra days to a school year.

“As the Legislature, we pass the bill and then we send it to him, and that’s his prerogative,” Diaz said. “I would ask him to really look into the bill and look at the benefits that it provides for education in our state and not simply go off rhetoric.”

Diaz said most of the opposition that lawmakers have heard has come from “institutions,” while individuals — residents who live near failing schools, teachers and members of the “disabled community” — have been supportive.

Scott hasn’t said how he will act on the main budget or the education bill, but once the Legislature sends him the budget, he’ll have 15 days to decide. Although he can veto portions of the main budget, he can only accept or reject policy bills in their entirety.

Tallahassee bureau reporter Kristen Clark contributed to this report.