The Florida Senate has rolled out a plan its education budget chairman says is aimed at creating parity between state and local funding for school districts. The move sets up a potential showdown on tax cuts.
Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, says his plan would make the state a more equitable partner in the funding of schools.
“If we do nothing, the state of Florida this year, would be a minority partner in the partnership. But if we take the action proposed in the bill," he said. "We would establish, with respect to this fiscal year, a 50-50- definition of partnership.”
Gaetz is a former district superintendent. He says the idea, which the Senate has floated for weeks, isn’t an attack against Governor Rick Scott, or the House- which have based their education increases on property taxes.
“It’s not a criticism of anyone else who may view this issue differently. It’s a way to frame and capture the discussions we’ve had on this subcommittee and discussion other senators have had," Gaetz said.
The Senate wants to increase education funding by $650 million. Under Gaetz’s plan, the state would pay for half of the increase, the districts the rest, instead of districts paying the majority. Lawmakers have expressed concerns the state isn’t picking up a fair share of the costs of running schools. But Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, wants to make sure the local portion of the taxes are paid by actual homeowners, and not because new properties, through development, have been added onto the tax rolls.
“That portion should not be used as some basis for not having a fair required local effort being assessed. That’s what I’m concerned about.”
Both Senate President Andy Gardiner and Budget Chairman Tom Lee have expressed support for dropping the local share of what’s called the required local effort in exchange for the state paying more for schools. Also on board is Sen. Bill Montford ,D-Tallahassee, who also serves as the President of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.
“To me, a deals a deal and a 50-50 split, to the man on the street, sounds like a reasonable thing to do, he said.
The move to decrease property taxes for schools could be seen as a tax cut, setting up a clash with the House—which is pushing its own ideas for cutting taxes. The Florida House and Senate have passed different proposals for what’s shaping up to be an $80 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. They’ll begin meeting to iron out differences and come up with a final proposal to send to Governor Rick Scott.