Florida legislators started the 2015 session raring to score sweet deals and pass some of the most hostile public-education bills to date. Within weeks, the session fell apart and bills were dead, steamrolled by the messy healthcare juggernaut.
Mired in gridlock, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Rep. Richard Corcoran stared down the Senate, thumbed their noses at taxpayers and walked off the job like cranky toddlers. They wasted our time and money and failed to do the one thing required by law — pass a budget.
In June, legislators will convene a special budget session, spending hundreds of thousands of additional tax dollars to hold a do-over. It’s hard not to wonder how this will affect public education. It better not mean cutting classroom funds.
Sadly, Florida is famous for pitting healthcare against education. When questioned, legislators always ask, “Do you want us to choose between funding education and providing for Florida’s poor and sick?”
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What lawmakers ignore is that Florida’s public school children, the poor and the sick are one and the same. More than 50 percent of Florida’s almost 3 million public school students live at or below poverty. These are the families that will be crushed if the Legislature is unable to compromise on healthcare.
The first casualty will be the increase in per-pupil funding proposed by Gov. Rick Scott. If deadlock prevails and healthcare crashes and burns, public education, children, the poor and the medically needy will pay dearly.
Despite cash reserves, legislators will look to cut public education dollars to cover the threatened $2.2 billion federal hospital funding program. Who’s going to cover the gap created by the defunct Low Income Pool? It’s always the same answer: public education.
Right now, districts are scrambling to reserve every penny in anticipation of another round of devastating cuts to public schools.
Superintendents are worrying about paying for an unexpected 21,482 students who had to be covered this year by cutting the funding for enrolled students.
Then there’s the additional 30,056 expected to enter next year. Enrolled or expected, there are 51,539 students who were not considered when the current budget was passed and signed by the governor.
Florida doesn’t need to rob public education to fund healthcare. There is money to fund both. Getting there requires mature lawmakers with the humility to compromise. Our leaders need to set aside their differences or risk making Florida a national emblem for callously hurting the citizens who need the most help. It’s their choice.
Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder, FundEducationNow.org, Orlando