Lawmakers have more mea culpas to make

Tampa Bay Times

Florida’s public schools lost out to charters school when is come to state funding.
Florida’s public schools lost out to charters school when is come to state funding. Miami Herald file

The Florida Legislature apologized this spring for decades of violent abuse at a state-run reform school for boys. It apologized to the families of the Groveland Four, the young black men wrongly accused of raping a white woman nearly 70 years ago. Legislators, set to approve the state budget and adjourn on Monday, owe a few apologies for their own actions.

▪ They should apologize to teachers, students and their families for micromanaging and financially starving public schools. Local school districts would get a token increase in per student spending while taxes are being cut and more than $1 billion is being socked away in state reserves. They would get even less money for maintenance and construction than last year, and privately run charter schools that enroll a fraction of the students would get the same amount. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, insisted on $200 million to attract charter schools that would essentially replace struggling public schools, and voucher programs were expanded to send more poor kids and kids with disabilities to private schools.

▪ They should apologize to voters who approved constitutional amendments requiring money to be spent on conserving environmental lands, making it easier to install rooftop solar panels and legalizing medical marijuana. They spent no money on Florida Forever, the state’s land-buying program. They added unnecessary hurdles to installing solar panels, and they tried to make it harder to obtain medical marijuana than a fair reading of the amendment contemplates.

▪ They should apologize to the poor who need healthcare and the hospitals who treat them whether they can pay or not. They cut Medicaid payments to hospitals by more than $500 million. They bet on a deal with the federal government to create a $1.5 billion Low Income Pool for uncompensated care will mitigate the cuts, but there is no guarantee.

▪ They should apologize to renters, businesses and local governments for placing a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would raise the homestead exemption by $25,000. That would be an unneeded middle-class tax cut for homeowners and shift more of the tax burden to everyone else. It also would force counties and cities to either raise local property taxes or cut millions in spending on law enforcement, parks, and other services.

▪ They should apologize to the tourism industry for slashing Visit Florida’s budget by about two-thirds. The state’s marketing arm has made some questionable spending decisions, but it requires advertising to reach tourists, and this is nothing but a vendetta by Corcoran against Gov. Rick Scott.

▪ They should apologize to community college students. Universities will receive significant additional funding, but community colleges would lose millions for remedial education. In a state where more students need affordable options close to home, there also would be a cap on enrollment for students seeking four-year degrees at state colleges to 15 percent of the total enrollment at each school.

The apologies for Florida’s past sins were appropriate and a long time coming. The apologies for the Legislature’s latest failures would be just as necessary and more timely — but don’t hold your breath.

The original version of this editorial appeared in the Tampa Bay Times.