The Florida Board of Education’s new budget request promotes Governor Rick Scott’s pledge for record funding of K-12 public schools. If it’s approved by the legislature this Spring, the $17.5 billion request would one for the record books.
Scott has made education funding a priority for the past two years, a reversal from his first year in office when the legislature approved a $1.3 billion cut to public schools. The money has been steadily increasing since then. Now Scott is campaigning on even more money for education.
Monday The Florida Board of Education gave the governor backing, with a plan that calls on the Florida legislature to raise per-student funding levels to $7,176. That’s $232 more than the current year, and $50 more than the peak in per-student funding set under former Governor Charlie Crist in 2007.
“I think we all know this is an investment in the future and will pay dividends for Florida and ensure we all have a great future in our state," says Board Chairman Gary Chartrand who called the proposal, "historic."
The plan would also help fund a boost in technology in schools. For the past several years the state has been trying to move testing and teaching online, and this year new statewide student assessment is set to be administered through computer. But as Hillsboro School District Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia points out, many schools lack the technology needed to make the system work.
“We have, I think a focus of making sure by having the assessments online, that we get there quicker. The problem is the lack of resources schools and school districts don’t have the technology infrastructure to meet the demands of that instruction and testing," she says.
During the past legislative session the Florida house called for $80 million to go toward boosting schools’ technology infrastructure. The legislature settled on half that amount. Now the state board, and Governor Rick Scott are calling for $80 million again.
Board member Marva Johnson echoed Scott’s talking points in her praise of the budget request but she also referenced the debate over the preparedness of Florida schools to administer a new crop of standardized tests.
“I know everyone feels there are challenges as it relates to standardized testing, as it relates to teacher accountability, as it relates to digital technology," she says. "We know these aren’t easy things to accomplish but I like that this budget sets forward everything we think the schools need in terms of resources.”
School officials continue to worry the new exams tied to Florida's new education standards haven’t been properly vetted in the state. Superintendents have called for a year-long pause on both school grades and the penalties associated with them this year as new testing requirements for students, and standards for teachers begin this year.
Education funding has been one of the top issues during the gubernatorial race. Both Charlie Crist and Rick Scott have battled over who has spent more on schools and whose policies have been better for students.