Floridas public schools and universities will take a more than $3 billion hit under the budget proposed Monday by Gov. Rick Scott, with public elementary through high school spending dropping by nearly $300 per student.
Scott said, essentially, thats not really his fault. He isnt cutting state money to public schools, he simply is choosing not to replace federal stimulus money that is no longer available.
Former Gov. Charlie Crist and lawmakers used stimulus dollars to prop up the states budgets the past two years, and now that money is gone. Trying to find a new one-time source of cash to replace it doesnt make sense, the governor said, likening that to a lottery winner spending all his winnings on the assumption that hed win again next year.
Were not going to take federal money and believe its going to be there forever, Scott said.
Budget officials in the governors office said the loss of federal stimulus money accounted for some of the cuts to education, but didnt provide details on how the governor planned to achieve all of them.
Scott said repeatedly on the campaign trail that he wanted Florida students to receive a first-class education, advocating for the state to better invest in its education system, provide school choice and create a merit pay system for teachers. Lawmakers are already working on a merit pay system, but have been slower to take up a voucher expansion.
Under Scotts proposed spending plan, per pupil spending in K-12 would drop by $298
to $6,600 per student.
The House PreK-12 Budget Subcommittee chair, Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, has said she hopes to protect the per pupil spending level at the current year amount.
Scotts overall budget just shy of $66 billion gained kudos from business groups around the state, who praised him for a budget that didnt raise taxes and focused on job creation.
Cuts to education and health care will inevitably raise concerns among some, but in the midst of a recession, government must cut expenses because raising taxes is a death knell for job creation, said Associated Industries of Florida President Barney Bishop.
Getting school spending to the $6,600 per student level would still rely in part on Washington, having local school boards reserve dollars from a federal education jobs fund from this year.
Education advocates argued that a $300 per student cut still will result in layoffs and make things worse for the public school system, not better.
FundEducationNow.org, an Orlando grass-roots education advocacy organization that says it was created by parents of public school children, called the proposed cuts catastrophic.
Floridas children are the key to our long-term economic stability. High-quality public education is a job creator not a funding burden, said group co-founder Linda Kobert. Governor Scott must embrace his paramount duty to invest in the real future of this state the students.
The governors office released details of the budget on a website that got so many hits Monday afternoon that it crashed. That made it hard for some advocates to evaluate the proposal. Officials at the Board of Governors said they couldnt comment on proposed cuts to higher education, because they hadnt been able to read the budget recommendation.
The Board of Governors could face a substantial reduction if stimulus dollars from last year are not replaced. Twenty out of 53 positions were paid for by stimulus money.