Education Funding a Central Part of Special Legislative Session Starting Wednesday

As the Florida Legislature gets ready to start their three day special session on Wednesday, one of the three funding topics being discussed is a source of contention across the state – money for education.

The original budget sent to Governor Rick Scott included $20 billion for education, with $11 billion of that coming from the state. Leaders in both chambers have added a reported $215 million to that budget, a move that some education leaders say is a step in the right direction.

“We’ve gone from a starvation level budget to a significantly improved budget,” Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. “We went from an increase of $24 per student to about $100 per student.”

While some are happy, public school advocates are concerned about House Bill 7069, which would expand the use of charter schools throughout the state and provide bonuses to high performing teachers and principals.

The budget also lists $654,000 in funding for security at Jewish day schools throughout the state – a first in the state’s history – in the wake of recent threats. Scott was at a Jewish day school in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday to discuss the issue in depth.

"Children are our children regardless of whether they go to a public school or a non public school," said Rabbi Yossi Kastan, the head of school for Brauser Maimonides Academy.   I think our role is to protect our children regardless of which school they wish to go to.

Scott on Monday defended his latest round of budget vetoes, which set a modern-day record for a governor but came from a long list of spending projects, including money intended for public universities and compensation for homeowners whose trees were torn down by the state.

Scott late last week vetoed nearly $11.9 billion from the state budget as part of a private deal he worked out with legislative leaders.

Legislators will return to the state Capitol for a three-day special session where they are expected to pass a new budget for public schools that will be higher than the one they adopted in early May.

Scott's veto total - which was about 14 percent of the entire $82.4 billion budget - included the main state account that goes to public schools. But the governor also vetoed roughly 400 projects worth nearly $410 million that were placed in the budget by Republicans and Democrats.

For weeks, Scott had feuded with legislators because they refused to set aside money for his top priorities, and he had threatened to veto the entire budget. But under the deal, legislators will use money vetoed by Scott to pay for tourism marketing, a new fund aimed at attracting businesses to the state, and to increase school funding.

But Scott's vetoes hit hard, especially for the state's public universities, which lost more than $108 million. Scott also eliminated $37.4 million that was going to go to homeowners in Broward and Lee counties whose healthy citrus trees were torn down in a failed attempt to eradicate citrus canker.

Some counties that are home to top Republican legislators - including Miami-Dade, Pasco and Pinellas counties - had a long list of budget vetoes. Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, who had several projects vetoed, tweeted out that “we won't stop fighting for the worthy projects Floridians need, want and deserve.''

During a stop in Panama City, Scott maintained that his vetoes did not target any legislators who had upset him this year.

“We look at every line to see whether it's good for Florida families,'' Scott said.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican who had pushed for the canker payments, downplayed the vetoes and said that a lot of other things he pushed escaped Scott's veto pen.

“I'm an optimist,'' said Diaz, who lost nearly $54 million to budget vetoes. “There were a lot of important things for my community that did not get vetoed.''

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