Scott barnstorms schools touting $1 billion boost that will go fastby John Kennedy | April 9th, 2012
As a prelude to signing the state budget, possibly later this week, Gov. Rick Scott spent Monday barnstorming the state — visiting three schools to tout a proposed $1 billion boost in classroom spending.
“I look forward to signing the final budget that will invest $1 billion in new state funding for our K-12 students and classrooms,” Scott said, during his first stop at a Jacksonville magnet school.
“I listened to teachers, parents and students to find out what issues were most important to Floridians,” he added. “By far, education and jobs are the two issues Floridians care about most.”
Scott also scheduled visits to an Orlando high school and Palm Harbor middle school. The $1 billion increase was a central part of the governor’s pitch to fellow Republican leaders in the Legislature, with Scott earlier vowing to not sign a budget that failed to include a significant boost in school dollars.
While welcomed, the increase was looked at cautiously by Palm Beach County School District Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke.
“People think we might be getting some type of windfall,” Burke said. “But that’s not really the case.”
The $1 billion bump in this year’s proposed spending plan follows a current-year budget signed by Scott that cut $1.3 billion from Florida classrooms. That sent per-student funding tumbling to its lowest level in six years.
The $1 billion will revive per-student money an average $150 statewide, a 2.4 percent increase.
But the average $6,375-per-student spending in the budget slated to take effect July 1 will be the second lowest level since 2005-06. It’s well off the average $7,143-per-student Florida was spending in 2008 — when the recession tightened its grip on the state.
The new $1 billion also could disappear fast, educators said.
Florida schools expect a 31,000-student enrollment increase next fall, which carries a $200 million price tag. School districts also will lose $554 million because of expiring, short-term federal aid — a hole dollars from the proposed increase will help fill.
Burke said Palm Beach County schools are among those forecasting a sizable enrollment increase, with 2,300 more students expected in the fall. The district also is still adjusting to the elimination of 700 jobs last year –mostly vacant slots — but a cost-cutting move that shrunk the district’s workforce to 20,040 people.
“A $1 billion statewide sounds good,” Burke said. “And sure, it could’ve been worse. But even with an increase, we’re still in the reduction mode.”
Florida Democrats have been blistering the Legislature’s $70 billion budget proposal as harmful to working Floridians.
“These shortsighted priorities make education increasingly unaffordable for working families and leaves schools crumbling around our children,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith in a letter last month to Scott. “That is no way to lead.”