Proposal aims to help crumbling Fla. schools, universities

Florida agricultural commissioner's proposal looks to bring schools into 21st century

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - As lawmakers dig in to put the finishing touches on a budget that's expected to be more than $74 billion, charter schools and traditional classrooms are at war over who will get money for maintenance.

A proposal from one of the state's cabinet members could go a long way in helping public schools and universities.

Freshman Courtney Hollis hasn't been on Florida State's campus long, but she sees some room for improvement.

"I think we have a lot of nice buildings but maybe one that I've been in that could use some work is the chemistry lab," said Hollis.

Students around the state have the same feeling. When student body presidents came together last week at the Capitol, they asked lawmakers to remember how old some of their campus classrooms are.

"It's difficult for people to expect us to cure cancer or get us to Mars if we're learning in classrooms that were built before the eradication of small pox," said UNF student body president Carlo Fassi.

It's not about diminishing the history of some of the campus buildings, but the state's agricultural commissioner would at least like to bring them to the 21st century.

Much of public school infrastructure money comes from Public Education Capital Outlay or PECO funds, which is funded by a tax on cable TV and landline phones.

"Think of the irony, think of the absurdity that we are building dorms for the smartphone generation using taxes on landlines to pay for that building," said Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Many of today's students may never own a landline.

"There won't be a copper line phone hanging in the whole building," said Putnam.

No PECO funds were given to public schools between 2011 and 2013. Charter schools got more than $100 million.

Putnam's plan would shift more than $200 million toward the fund through portions of business electricity taxes. Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget is asking for just $80 million in capital funds.

Scott's office provided a statement on Putnam's plan, reading, "The governor's budget prioritizes K-12 education, without creating more debt or permanently earmarking general funds, limiting future flexibility. For these reasons we have concerns about the proposal."

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