Senate education spending plan trumps gov and house

Feb 7, 2012

It’s the Senate’s turn to begin work on its budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. Lawmakers in that chamber Tuesday began crafting the education section of the bill, which includes funding for K-12 and higher education. Lynn Hatter reports a preliminary view of the Senate’s plan includes a little more money for K-12 and a little less for colleges and universities.

Senator David Simmons chairs the chamber’s K-12 Appropriations committee. He unveiled a budget proposal that gives an extra $1.2 billion dollars to the state’s public schools, topping both the governor and the House proposals.  The Maitland Republican says the Senate’s plan is 130-million more than what the House wants to spend on schools.

“I applaud Speaker Dean Cannon for his commitment to education. I applaud the governor for his commitment to education. I think what we can do is work together, and they can meet the Senate proposal.”  

The extra billion-plus dollars will go to several things. It will provide funding for an extra 30,000 students who are expected to enter the state’s public school system next year, replace lost revenue from declining property taxes, and fill in holes left by the loss of federal stimulus money.

School transportation and instructional materials also gets a boost. And, so does the fund that supports school reading programs.

Under Simmons’ budget proposal, “D” and “F” -rated schools would receive extra money to hold after-hours reading courses for struggling students. State Senator Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat, says such programs have been proven to be successful.

 “When we talk about the programs we tend to focus on the struggling schools, which we should. But we have struggling students in non-struggling schools as well. And I believe there’s a provision in here to help all the schools. Sometimes we have a tendency to overlook the struggling student in the non-struggling school.”   

Meanwhile, Higher Education in the Senate would take an overall budget cut. The universities will take a one-time, 400 million dollar hit. Republican Senator Evelyn Lynn is the chamber’s chief higher education budget writer.

 “And that has to do with the fact that they have a great deal of money left in their operating funds.”  

Lynn wants the schools to spend down money left over from last year. The legislature would put the money back in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

Under the senate’s proposal, community and state colleges can raise tuition by 3-percent—something that’s at odds with the governor’s call for NO tuition increases. The chamber isn’t proposing an increase at the state’s universities, which can still choose to raise rates up to 15-percent by gaining approval from the Board of Governors.