Gov. Scott's budget asks for more K-12 funding, some lawmakers say there's not enough money

Teacher recruitment/retention highlighted
Posted at 8:22 PM, Feb 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-01 20:22:46-05

With less money and more spending, it seems the first thing on the chopping block across the United States is education.

But Florida governor Rick Scott wants to do the exact opposite. He's making bold moves in his 2017 budget, with plans to give millions to the education system. It's a proposal that could signal a showdown between lawmakers this March.

There's a lot to cover in Gov. Scott's 2017 budget -- which was unveiled Tuesday -- but it's the money for education that has a lot of people talking.

He wants to spend more than a billion on education, with a good chunk helping to better recruit and retain teachers.

On Wednesday, state legislators discussed some of the initiatives in a joint workshop with Palm Beach County schools.

Gov. Scott wants a 4 percent increase for education, which boils down to $21 billion, the highest in Florida history. Last year was only a one percent increase.

"I think he heard loud and clear -- we're struggling in Florida to keep great teachers in the classroom. I applaud his effort," said Dr. Robert Avossa, Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent.

That would increase per pupil funding from $7,204.58 to $7,420.99, if it passes.

Part of the increase includes $58 million to hire more teachers and keep them happy. Initiatives include:

?  $15 million to eliminate initial and renewal certification fees for teachers

?  $10 million for “a one-time hiring bonus for teachers testing in the top 10 percent of the Subject Area Examination in the subject they are teaching in the 2017-2018 school year”

?  $5 million to “increase the diversity of teachers in critical shortage and high-need areas”

?  $5.9 million to “recruit Bright Futures scholars that major in education and commit to 4 years of teaching following graduation in the rural districts from which they graduate high school”

?  $16 million for school districts to “implement targeted recruitment and retention initiatives that meet the district’s need”

?  $6 million to “reward great teachers in low-performing schools”

"In many parts of the country, we've seen larger investments in public education. The economy in Florida has not grown as rapidly in some sectors and we have to be careful that we're prepared for another recession," said Dr. Avossa. "I think the state legislators take that very seriously."

Some state leaders are questioning whether this increase is feasible.

"If we can preserve those dollars for education, I am all about it, but it's a little bit of a slight of hand because he put $2 billion more dollars in his budget than actually exists," said Jeff Clemens, a democratic state senator representing District 31 in Palm Beach County.

Cleamens said in the past, the budget has included pay raises for teachers who had good SAT scores, so more incentives for teacher recruitment and retention are welcome. But the budget plans won't come without battles at the capital. Most of the budget increases in education would be coming from local property tax dollars.

"The truth is, that budget never gets passed, it's a suggestion," said Clemens. "So it's very easy to put forward a budget that spends hundreds of millions of dollars more on education, but you're spending more than we actually have."

Scott told reporters during a news conference in Tallahassee on Tuesday that the additional money required from local property taxes don’t amount to a tax increase. He said although homeowners will pay more on their tax bill because of higher property values, the tax rate would not be changing.

“If we’re going to make Florida the best state for future generations, we have to invest in our students,” said Gov. Scott during the news conference.

Either way, Palm Beach County school district leaders will be keeping a close watch on the outcome.

"We're cautiously optimistic about it here in Palm Beach County but it's still very, very early -- you've got the house and senate who both still have to weigh in on this process," said Dr. Avossa.

At $83.5 billion dollars, the governor's proposal would be the largest budget in florida history if it passes. Lawmakers will vote on next year's budget in the upcoming legislative session in March.