TALLAHASSEE – The full House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved cutting $200 million from the budgets of 12 Florida school districts that defied the state’s ban on mask mandates.
Despite the cuts, lawmakers say each district will still have more money than the current year. Notably, the legislature still has to vote on the state’s budget.
The school districts include the counties of Alachua, Duval, Brevard, Broward, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Volusia.
The sponsor of the move, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, faced tough questioning Wednesday.
Rep. Matt Wilhite, D-Palm Beach, asked: “How is this not punitive to those twelve counties, or the parents in those twelve counties. You want to talk about parents, putting parents first?”
He was followed by Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, asked: “Putting parents first was intended to be punitive to the school districts that received those deductions?”
But Fine held his ground.
“I don’t think it’s punitive” responded Fine. “I think it’s holding people accountable, and I think it is saying that we expect that the laws we pass be followed by all of our school districts.”
Two parents, both from Leon County, spoke — one against.
Marie-Claire Leman, of Fund Education Now, called the legislation politically-motivated.
“This is being done to further divide our electorate. So one legislator is proposing this because he thinks he can. And the rest of you are going to go along with it, stoking those divisions” said Leman.
Parent Elizabeth Walker was in favor.
“She has been denied entry into her classroom without a mask. And she not given credit for any hour that she missed,” Walker said.
The budget was approved with the cuts.
If these cuts remain in the budget, all twelve districts are still going to have more money in the next year than they do right now, but not as much as they would have had.
“There’re going to have more funding per student, they’re going to have more funding over all. This is a way to send a message, an important message,” Fine said.
So far, there has been no effort to push the cuts in the Senate. But they are likely to be an issue when negotiations begin.
This coming school year, Florida will spend $28 billion on public education, up from $26.7 billion in the current year.