Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School Officials: Bump Not Enough; Roughly $1 Billion Increase in Education Spending Can't Cover Shortfalls, They Say

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School Officials: Bump Not Enough; Roughly $1 Billion Increase in Education Spending Can't Cover Shortfalls, They Say

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Dixon

TALLAHASSEE | From the earliest days of this year's Legislature, the conversation surrounding public education funding has been driven by Gov. Rick Scott.

A day before Scott presented his budget proposal, word leaked that he would include $1 billion more for public schools. The next day, he both set the tone - and sent a veiled threat to House and Senate budget-writers.

"And I ask you to please consider that recommendation very carefully," Scott said. "On this point, I just cannot budge."

Legislative leaders got the message. Both House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos gave Scott the roughly $1 billion bump in their chambers' proposed budgets, each of which passed and could be reconciled as early as today.

"Our analysis and prioritization with respect to K-12 education funding mirror those of Governor Scott. We funded K-12 with an allocation exceeding $1 billion," Cannon wrote in a memo to House members.

With a huge boost in spending, education officials from across the state are thrilled, right?

"While we are grateful for the proposal," St. Johns County Superintendent Joseph Joyner said, "an increase is not always an increase."

He said the boost from last year does not overcome past budget cuts - $1.3 billion statewide last year alone. Also hurting many school districts is the temporary loss of federal money aimed at helping teachers stay employed and declining property values.

Even the Senate's rosier numbers would leave the district with a $7 million budget gap.

"It means we would have to either drain our fund balance, or make $7 million in additional cuts," he said.

Joyner's mixed emotions are shared by other top educators across the First Coast.

"We appreciate it [the boost] as opposed to flat funding," Duval County Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals said. "We still have a $52 million budget shortfall we have to cover."

To fill the budget gap, the district has cut back on magnet school transportation, cut back on clerical staff and recommended pay-to-participate in athletics, among other thing, Pratt-Dannals said. …

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