Completely virtual 7th period classes. Teacher furloughs. Layoffs of hundreds of school employees. Four-day school weeks. Fewer school buses.
Those are just a few of the options school districts across the state are mulling to close budget gaps that range from $6 million to $144 million. The budget holes are blamed in part on falling property tax revenue, the disappearance of federal stimulus dollars and proposed reductions in state funding for schools of nearly 7 percent per student.
Out-of-state investors, business owners and first-time homebuyers could pay far less in property taxes under bills gaining momentum in the Florida Legislature.
Supporters say the proposals will help attract home buyers and new businesses, boosting the states crippled economy. But critics say they will siphon hundreds of millions of dollars away from local governments and could force higher taxes on owner-occupied homes, while still not addressing flaws in the states current property tax system.
A major expansion of Floridas virtual school programs is poised for a House floor vote after swift approval from a House committee on Friday.
But a similar measure in the Senate has stalled after questions were raised about its costs to the state.
The House measure (HB 7197) was approved with a substantial amendment after little debate or questions in the House Appropriations Committee on Friday. Only Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston, voted no after saying the committee was not given enough time to digest the 38-page amendment to the bill.
Lawmakers are poised to expand the states school voucher programs instituted more than 10 years ago that enable more students to attend private schools.
Under three bills advancing in the Legislature, all of Floridas existing voucher programs would be affected in some way. But unlike when these major school reforms were proposed over 10 years ago, protests have been muted. Some Democrats, who were once ardently opposed to voucher programs, have even begun to support vouchers.
School board members would not be allowed to receive a regular salary, instead getting per diem pay that would be capped at $100 per meeting under a proposal in the Senate.
Lawmakers will consider a measure (SB 7234) on Tuesday pushed by Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, that eliminates a formula in state law used to pay school board members based on the size of the school districts.
With teacher merit pay reforms out of the way, the Florida Legislature has turned toward charter school expansion, considering two bills this week that would make it easier for highly-rated charter schools to expand enrollment, add grade levels and grant preferential admittance.
And just like the swiftly-approved teacher merit pay reforms, the push to expand charter schools has the strong backing of Gov. Rick Scott.