Gov. Rick Scott plans to boost education spending in Florida, honing in on college scholarships and slashing controversial teacher scholarships as part of his $83.5 billion budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
Scott proposed $24 billion for the Florida Department of Education. Around $14 billion of that money would be set aside for Florida’s public school system.
Under Scott’s new budget, per-pupil spending would increase slightly to $7,421, an uptick of about $216 from last year’s $7,205.
The State Board of Education requested $7,360 per pupil for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
Scott has not recommended setting aside any state funding for the controversial Best and Brightest teacher scholarship program, which gives highly rated teachers bonuses up to $10,000 based on how they performed on the SAT or ACT. Recipients of the scholarship typically scored in the 80th percentile on the tests, which are now mostly optional for admissions to colleges and universities nationwide.
Critics of the program say they don’t understand how their performance on a test taken when they were 16 or 17 has any impact on their teaching skills.
Instead of pushing for the Best and Brightest scholarship, the governor is instead asking the state legislature to approve $58 million for a teacher recruitment and retainment program.
“Teachers are key to preparing our future generations for great careers and we have to make investments to recruit and retain the best educators in our classrooms,” Scott said.
Florida has faced a teacher shortage in recent years, with many districts having high numbers of vacancies going into each school year.
Teachers flock to the Sunshine State with high hopes about their careers, but many are quick to high-tail it out of the state education system. Florida’s teacher attrition rate tends to be around 15 to 20 percent higher than other states’, and state records show 40 percent of Florida teachers leave the profession within five years.
To incentivize teachers to stay the course and continue working in Florida classrooms, Scott will push for teacher bonuses, funneling $10 million in state funds for one-time hiring bonuses for Florida’s teachers testing in the top 10 percent of the subject area they teach in. This proposal differs from the Best and Brightest scholarship program since it is only a one-time bonus, whereas the Best and Brightest scholarship can be claimed at any point in a teacher's career.
Another $6 million in state funds would be given to “great teachers” in Florida’s low-performing schools.
The governor has proposed spending another $16 million for district recruitment initiatives to spread the word about working in Florida education.
Nearly $5 billion has been recommended for state colleges and universities, but Scott has also proposed slashing $10 million for emerging preeminent state research universities. STEM programs would see funding cut at universities like Florida Atlantic University, University of Florida and Florida State University.
Scott is likely to find an ally in Senate President Joe Negron over increasing funding for Florida colleges and universities. Negron has already suggested pumping $1 billion over two years to the state university system.
Both Scott and Negron support the expansion of the state's Bright Futures scholarship program, which provides scholarships for students attending Florida colleges and universities based on academic achievement.
Florida taxpayers are likely to pay for most of the programs, since the budget is asking $257 million more from the state.
Sunshine State News contacted the Florida Department of Education for further comment on Scott’s budget proposal, which said they were “reviewing” Scott’s proposal before releasing a statement.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
READ MORE FROM SUNSHINE STATE NEWS