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Gov's Ed Budget slammed by lawmakers

By Lynn Hatter

Tallahassee, FL – The area bearing the brunt of Governor Rick Scott's budget cuts is education the largest part of the state's budget. But while legislators knew another wave of cuts was looming, Governor Scott's proposed reduction of more than three-billion dollars took lawmakers on both sides of the isle by surprise. And as Lynn Hatter reports, it also garnered the new governor a rare, bi-partisan response: "No."

Under Scott's proposal education would lose 3.3-billion dollars. Half of that comes from the loss of stimulus money set to go away this year. The other half comes from a whopping 700-dollar per student decrease. That was enough for Republican Representative Janet Adkins. She sits on the House education committee assigned to budgeting, and she told the governor's budget office to go back to the drawing board.

"I think it's imperative that you go back and you redo the numbers so you show the FRS employee contribution as part of the FEFP so that we have continuity in how we calculate these numbers."

The governor's office placed the per-student decrease, at 300 dollars, not 700. The governor's education budget advisor Scott Kittel says the difference is made up once school employees start paying five percent of their income into the state pension system, the FRS. But Republican Representative Kelli Stargel didn't buy it.

"That's still an ultimate decrease to the formula. Even though they're paying it in, when we look at the overall number it's still a decrease. And you have it like its an addition, but it's not an addition, it's really still a decrease."

The governor's budget eliminated earmarks for programs like the Science Fair, Holocaust Curriculum and Girl Scouts, the College Reach Out Program and Black Male Explorers- the latter programs send at-risk students on college visits. Kittel says these programs would now have to bid for competitive grants.

"The effort that we applied was to identify programs that went to the core mission of the state's education budget, which is educating students. That's why the competitive nature is focused on which of these programs can produce the best results in particularly low performing students."

Democratic Representative Martin Kair of Broward County said the governor's budget was pretty much dead.

"Both Democrats and Republicans seemed to have concerns over what the governor's proposal was. And if so many members of both parties uniformly had concerns with the budget, I have a feeling, and I'm hoping that the budget that is ultimately passed is very different from the one that was proposed today."

When it comes to higher education, state universities and colleges have come to depend on a 15-percent tuition increase. But that's not in Scott's budget either. Funding for private colleges and universities is also cut although one such institution, Edward Waters, one of three private Historically Black Colleges, managed to get a 1.8 million dollar allocation. Democratic Senator Arthenia Joyner pointed it out to Kittel at another meeting.

"In the case of the one institution you mentioned, Edward Waters College, the governor's view is that the negative effect to that institution would be such that it would cause severe harm to the way that institution operated, and so he included it back into the budget." Joyner: "Follow up Mr. Chair. Let it be known that the negative impact on the other two would be just as substantial and we would respectfully request that he take another look at that."

The Board of Governors, which oversees the state's 11 public universities, had been pushing the New Florida Initiative, aimed at getting more students into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs. But that got no funding. In addition, the board's office would lose positions funded with 1.5-million in stimulus money, which runs out this year. Board of Governor's budget Committee chair Tico Perez says he's pleased the governor maintained their base funding, but

"I know there's some issues about the tuition increase inclusion or not inclusion in the budget. This is going to be a process and a conversation and I know some of us are disappointed about the New Florida initiative, but let me be clear about what I think is going on. And I think the governor has put a stake in the ground and that says, if you seek funding in these difficult times, you are going to have to justify it and earn it."

University system Chancellor Frank Brogan wasn't available for comment, but in a statement he says, "We are pleased with the Governor's overall recommendations and look forward to our dialogue with Legislature on this miles-long journey of a thousand steps."