Florida sees record education budget, increase in per-student funding

Children wait to enter classrooms, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, at the Carrie P. Meek/Westview K-8 Center in Miami. Miami-Dade County Public Schools opened Monday for those that chose in-person learning for students in Pre-K, kindergarten and first grade, along with students with special needs. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Wilfredo Lee, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – While not yet signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the new state budget is getting high marks from educators.

A mix of federal funds and a rebounding economy offset what was going to be a dismal year for funding.

On the legislature’s opening day, the governor issued a warning.

“I reject reductions in funding for K-12 education,” DeSantis said.

At the time, across the board cuts seemed likely.

Instead, per-student funding is up $39.

There are also $1,000 teacher bonuses and $550 million to increase starting teacher pay.

“Thankfully, we have a state whose economy is thriving,” said Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Andrea Messina.

But the Florida Education Association, which is applauding lawmakers, argues the increase does nothing to keep veteran teachers.

“Look, someone coming into the profession who is told you are going to make $47,500 to start, but you’re not going to go anywhere for the next ten to fifteen years, who’s staying in the profession, right?” Said FEA President Andrew Spar.

Lawmakers also left local school taxes as is.

That’s known as the required local effort and it means if a home’s value is increasing, property owners are going to pay more.

It is a $201 million increase statewide.

“The required local effort is really what has paid for growth in public schools,” said Messina.

And the union is calling on lawmakers, who are back next week to okay a $500 million-a-year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, to use that money to keep teachers in the classroom.

“This is an opportunity to increase support for our public schools, which every parent wants,” said Spar.

But how lawmakers use any gambling money will likely wait a year, in anticipation of lawsuits challenging the deal.

The budget also sets aside nearly $500 million to fund thousands of students who dropped out or didn’t show up for class last fall because of the pandemic but are expected to return this fall.

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