Florida public schools get more, but are still cheated after special session

Miami Herald Editorial Board

State House Speaker Richard Corcoran shakes hands with Gov. Scott. Senate President Joe Negron stands to the right.
State House Speaker Richard Corcoran shakes hands with Gov. Scott. Senate President Joe Negron stands to the right. Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Rick Scott got Visit Florida and an $85 million economic-development piggy bank. House Speaker Richard Corcoran got school reforms. Senate President Joe Negron got money to strengthen Herbert Hoover dike.

And Floridians, including a lot of state lawmakers, got shut out of the process. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when legislative leaders and the governor go into a room and lock the door.

The Legislature’s three-day special session ended Friday. Propelled by educators’ outcry statewide over the pitiable public-education budget that lawmakers cooked up during the traditional annual session and, especially the lack of funding for his pet projects, Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, Scott called them back for a do-over on key issues.

Scott was right to spurn the alternative — vetoing the entire $82 billion budget. That would have meant that good things, including funds to jump-start the long-stalled water-storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, would have fallen by the wayside.

By Friday, months-long skirmishes among Scott, Corcoran and Negron had been smoothed over, with everyone declaring a win.

Visit Florida avoided a deep budget cut and, instead, will get $76 million. Enterprise Florida, the governor’s other favorite, lost the bulk of its money for job incentives. However, Scott gets to control an $85 million pot of money for job-creating road and infrastructure projects.

Why the governor can better gauge the most valuable projects for the state, as opposed to the pros at Enterprise Florida, is a head-scratcher. How equitably Scott will disburse the funds is anyone’s guess. The Democrats have called it a “slush fund.” We agree. But it’s a great way for the governor, with his eye on higher elected office, to curry favor across the state. So the money might indeed be doled out more equitably than we expect. Sounds cynical, yes, but this is Florida.

The health of the environment got a boost with $50 million to strengthen Herbert Hoover Dike, surrounding Lake Okeechobee, to keep overflow from causing toxic algae blooms in estuaries and coastal waters.

Miami Dade College will receive $4.2 million for a campus gym renovation. Florida International University will get $12.7 million for a new School of International and Public Affairs.

However, public-school and K-12 advocates are still crying foul, even though schools received an enhanced allocation in the new education budget. They are right to be aggrieved. Even taking into account the additional $100 per pupil that lawmakers inserted last week, state funding for public schools still lags the national average of $10,600, at just over $7,000. That’s a disgrace for the third-largest state in the nation, especially since Republican lawmakers and the governor are intent on hobbling public schools, which must take all comers, in favor of for-profit charter schools, which don’t.

Last month, we urged the governor to veto this. This month, we still say it’s a raw deal for public school students.