State Politics

Despite extra dollars for schools, controversial bill remains a concern for many

Gov. Rick Scott announces budget deal

Governor Rick Scott holds a press conference at the Miami International Airport to announce budget deal.
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Governor Rick Scott holds a press conference at the Miami International Airport to announce budget deal.

Advocates of traditional public education welcomed Gov. Rick Scott’s demand on Friday that lawmakers redo the K-12 education budget for next year and boost it with $215 million in additional spending.

But school superintendents, teachers union leaders and others cautioned that those added dollars won’t be good enough if Scott intends to also sign House Republicans’ controversial education bill (HB 7069) — which could cost traditional schools money while making it easier for privately managed charter schools to expand in Florida through financial incentives and additional taxpayer funding.

“It may be a step forward, if we get the funding — but then a bigger step backward” if HB 7069 is signed into law, Hillsborough County schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins said.

Lawmakers unveiled and passed the sweeping $419 million policy bill in the final days of session; many want to see it vetoed, with the primary exception being school choice advocates.

It may be a step forward, if we get the funding — but then a bigger step backward.

Jeff Eakins, Hillsborough County schools superintendent

Even as he unveiled a budget compromise on Friday with House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, Scott wouldn’t commit to an opinion on the legislation.

“We’re still reviewing 7069, but I believe we’re on a pathway to a very good special session and that we’re on a pathway where everything we’re doing is going to be good for all students,” Scott told reporters in Miami.

However, some senators told the Herald/Times they expect Scott to sign it, and House Republicans who helped craft the bill emphasized Scott’s record as a proponent of school choice expansion.

“I believe the governor will stay true to his support for school choice and innovation,” said Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 budget chairman and one of the architects of HB 7069. “He’s always been supportive of that, and I think he will keep supporting those concepts.”

School district superintendents statewide, though, are doubling down on their calls for Scott to veto the bill.

They warn their annual budgets would still suffer if he approves HB 7069, even if lawmakers add the influx of cash to base K-12 spending. Most concerning to them about HB 7069: Districts would be forced to share with charter schools millions in local tax dollars earmarked for school construction and maintenance, as well as federal Title I funds.

“We absolutely welcome the governor’s veto” of the K-12 budget, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. “We remain hopeful regarding a like action on [HB 7069] due to its numerous provisions and their impact on school systems across the state of Florida.”

carvalho at MH editboard 031417 (1)
Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Miami Herald file photo

Local and state teachers unions on Friday aimed their renewed criticism of HB 7069 to one of its key components: a new $140 million “Schools of Hope” plan — a top priority of Corcoran’s, which represents his answer to perpetually failing public schools.

The program would primarily subsidize specialized charter schools so they can set up in mostly low-income areas, and it would encourage them to directly compete with — and in some cases, take over and replace — struggling neighborhood schools.

Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, said in a statement that “unless the governor vetoes HB 7069, there isn’t enough money to offset the incredible damage that will hit our public schools.”

“The gaping flaws in HB 7069 haven’t changed with this suggested increase in funding,” McCall added. “It doesn’t even pay for the massive giveaway to charter schools included in the bill.”

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, explains why the House wants to invest $200 million to bring in high-performing charter schools as "schools of hope" to serve low-income areas in Florida that have perpetually failing traditi

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, of Tampa, called “Schools of Hope” a “slush fund for private charter school operators” and criticized Scott, Corcoran and Negron for coordinating a special session she called “a farce.”

“To pretend this newest backroom deal will help public education in our state is laughable,” she said in a statement.

Asked whether Scott would sign HB 7069, former Hialeah Republican Rep. Ralph Arza, who’s now a lobbyist for the Florida Charter School Alliance, said: “There are a lot of people who want to see school choice expand.”

Indeed, that support is reflected in the massive amount of input Scott’s office has received from Floridians since May 8 urging him to sign or veto the bill.

In the first 10 days after HB 7069 passed the Legislature, Floridians told Scott, by a 3-to-1 margin, to reject it.

But since then, school choice advocates aggressively stepped up their pressure on Scott — in some cases, by offering incentives to students and to parents who voiced support for the measure.

Similar to last week, supporters of the bill as of Friday afternoon held a slight advantage. By a 1.2-to-1 margin, Floridians asked Scott to support the bill, out of about 38,700 emails, letters, phone calls and petition signatures sent so far.

Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei and Tampa Bay Times staff writers Marlene Sokol and Colleen Wright contributed.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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