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Scott signs off on education budget increase, opponents say its not enough

Gov. Rick Scott signs the states budget at a public school in St. John's County

Included in the state’s new budget is extra money for education. That marks a shift for Governor Rick Scott after last year’s $1.3 billion dollar budget cut. Scott made education funding his legislative priority, but as Lynn Hatter reports, public school advocates and officials say the boost doesn’t go far enough.

Governor Scott says he learned a lot in his first two years in office, and the extra funding is an example of that. Organizations like the education reform group, the Foundation for Florida’s Future, applauded the move. Spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof says it’s not enough that lawmakers put in the extra money: but that they took a targeted approach in where to put it.

 “The fact that some of those funds are going to the school recognition program, which rewards schools and teachers and leaders whose students  are making progress and gains, and it’s important to reward student learning. It also provides more funding to reading and that’s such an important skill that students learn early because that will impact much of their educational career.”  

State lawmakers funded an extra hour of reading in the state’s lowest performing schools and they also put money into teacher bonuses, which were cut last year. People like Colleen Wood, who heads a group backing traditional public schools, says there’s lots more the state has to do when it comes to supporting public education.

“I believe the budget is a step in the right direction, but it’s just that, it is a step. It’s a partial restoration of the $1.3 billion that was cut last year, and the five years of steady cuts we’ve seen previous to that. So it certainly is a step in the right direction, but it certainly isn’t where we need to be.”

Other groups, like the state’s teachers unions, just aren’t that impressed. Florida Education Association President Andy Ford says this year’s billion dollar increase, still falls short of the $1.35 billion cut from education last year.

“The state has many, many options they could have done. The budget right now is still a $345 per student cut from last year.  It was a missed opportunity. Once again there were tax cuts for corporations and that once again outweighed the needs of Florida’s children.”  

The Governor says last year’s cut was largely incurred as the last of the federal stimulus money dried up. And this year’s education increase will mostly fill budget holes created by an increase in the number of students, falling property tax collections. In all the increase amounts to an extra $150 a student, which brings per-student funding up to about $6,350 dollars per child. That dollar amount is about $800 less than the state’s peak education funding year, which was 2008.

Governor Scott also vetoed $142 million dollars’ worth projects, some within the education budget. A Panhandle Consortium of rural school districts is reeling from a million dollar hit—something that Wakulla School Superintendent David Miller called the veto short-sighted.

“It was done without a lot of thought about what happens with these dollars and how they support these small, rural districts and it just means these small districts won’t pay for these services, they’ll just go without them, and it just creates a big divide. In my mind, it’s class warfare.” 

The Panhandle Area Education Consortium provides services to smaller school districts that they can’t afford to do on their own. Things like coming up with new teacher evaluation systems, or holding training workshops to prepare teachers for the state’s new standardized tests which are coming in the next few years. Miller says such cuts to a program like the consortium places smaller school districts at a competitive disadvantage to larger, more affluent districts.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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