State Politics

Senate, House seeking compromise on school funding

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, speaks to the Senate about overriding Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of the public schools budget during a special session of the Florida Legislature Wednesday June 7, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, speaks to the Senate about overriding Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of the public schools budget during a special session of the Florida Legislature Wednesday June 7, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. AP

Lawmakers on Thursday morning inched closer to agreeing on how to boost state funding to K-12 public schools starting on July 1, even as a few senators still have plans to revive a debate over a controversial education reform bill, which could wrinkle any compromise.

In amending legislation to add money to the K-12 budget in 2017-18, the Senate Appropriations Committee agreed to forgo the chamber’s plan of using local property tax money to pay for the new spending — a plan House Speaker Richard Corcoran had rejected outright as a “massive tax increase.”

The Senate now agrees with the House’s method of paying for the extra $215 million using general revenue — money freed up from Gov. Rick Scott’s vetoes handed down last week. About $150 million of that would be one-time spending that lawmakers would have to make up for the next budget year in order to keep spending level, or else schools would lose funding in 2018-19.

The Senate also withdrew its intent to demand the Legislature respect the Constitution’s required 72-hour “cooling off” period for general budget bills, which would have kept lawmakers in Tallahassee for longer than the three-day special session that’s supposed to end Friday evening.

By approaching the extra school money as “supplemental” spending to the K-12 budget lawmakers passed in May — instead of starting from scratch with a whole new budget — the 72-hour period wouldn’t be necessary, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said in explaining his changes to the Senate’s K-12 spending bill (SB 2500A).

To execute that workaround, senators had to override Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of the K-12 budget, an action the Senate took Wednesday.

“We’re just following the process we set up yesterday, and this will give us the flexibility on the 72 hours,” Latvala told reporters, saying that extending the special session past Friday would continue the $70,000-a-day expense for taxpayers. “This allows us the flexibility to add a supplemental amount and get it done expeditiously.”

Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said Wednesday the House would approve no veto overrides, and that chamber is going about the K-12 funding differently. They’ve proposed the additional $215 million through new budget language crafted in the form of a general policy bill, which similarly bypasses the 72-hour requirement.

“Our bill is the way to do it,” he told reporters Thursday. “This bifurcation that they [the Senate] do doesn’t make any sense.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s revised spending bill was approved 15-2, with Democrats Randolph Bracy of Orlando and Bobby Powell of Riviera Beach voting “no.” It now goes to the Senate floor Thursday afternoon.

The measure, coupled with the original K-12 budget approved in May, would increase school funding by $100 per student over this school year, an increase of 1.4 percent.

The May budget increased per-pupil spending only by $24 per student, or 0.34 percent. For some school districts, that would have yielded a decrease in state spending they get to pay for school operations, and they urged Scott to reject it.

Scott agreed the funding level was insufficient and, last Friday, called for the special session to address the K-12 funding, along with his priorities of additional economic development and tourism funding.

Meanwhile, Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, delayed his attempt to pay for the increases in school funding by pulling dollars out of a top Corcoran priority that has traditional public school advocates up in arms, HB 7069.

The measure has $419 million in spending attached, along with myriad education reforms. Its contents heavily favor charter schools — through friendly regulations and additional taxpayer funding — at the expense of traditional public schools, and several senators have voiced buyer’s remorse in letting the bill pass last month.

Simmons said he planned to work with House education leaders Thursday afternoon to try to reach a compromise, and he vowed he won’t give up in trying to fix the legislation during this special session.

“I believe this: Persistence erodes resistance,” he said. “For those who say this is done and over, it’s not done and over. It’s just begun.”

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

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