House Democrats Question Whether Ed Funding Plans Are A Real Record

Apr 1, 2015

Credit peoriapublicradio.org

Some Florida lawmakers are questioning whether the billions of dollars proposed for education actually constitute a record spending figure. They’re also questioning other parts of the spending plans.

One of Governor Rick Scott’s priorities has been to top the 2007-08 school year—when the state spent more than $7,100 per student. The Florida House wants to spend $7,130 dollars per student this year, a $3.41 increase. Rep. Eric Fresen, R-Miami, was asked whether the House’s recommended per-student spending proposal is a real record.

"It would still be historic, because that was the then-historic, and this one’s higher," Fresen says.

But Democrats don’t think that’s the case. Choosing his words carefully,  Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami,  attempted to pick apart Fresen’s position. Richardson compares the peak high of $7,126 in 2008, to what the figure would be in today’s dollars.

“Student funding in 07-08 0f $7,126 using CPI’s [consumer price index] would bring the present-day amount to $8,291," Richardson says. The figure accounts for inflation.

But Fresen says that’s not a fair comparison because Florida had down years during the recession.

Direct student-spending isn’t the only issue on the list. Education funding, along with policy often go hand-in-hand. And the chambers differ significantly on a few key areas. One of them is how much to give to charter schools for maintenance and construction projects. The House wants to steer $100 million to those schools, while the Senate gives nothing.

Also targeted for cuts is the state’s bright futures scholarship program. The Senate is cutting Bright futures by about $25 million, but it’s not a true decrease,  as Education Budget Chair Senator Don Gaetz points out:

“That’s not a reduction in the award amount—it’s a reduction in the amount of students who qualified for the award.”

The criteria to earn a Bright Future's scholarship award has gone up in recent years, and fewer students have been able to get the scholarships. It's something that continues to concern democrats, who say the increased requirements have disproportionately affected minority students.

It’s the midpoint in the legislative session and both chambers will still have to negotiate their differences. There’s already talk about the session going into overtime.