Gov. Rick Scott is signaling that he may veto all or part of the recently passed state budget and an accompanying bill that spell big trouble for Florida’s public schools.
On Monday, he said words that ought to cheer the thousands of educators and parents who have flooded his office with emails, petitions and phone calls, begging him to torpedo a budget and accompanying bill that add a skimpy $24 to average per-pupil spending while transferring nearly $140 million to boost charter schools.
“We have budget surpluses … We ought to be funding education,” Scott said Monday in Miami. “We’ve got to make sure we properly fund education, whether we have a great college system, a great K-12 system.”
Scott has never been known as a firebrand for education. But he’s fuming that the Legislature gave the big raspberry to his pet priorities, Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, the agencies that market tourism and business development.
Yet Scott can’t simply veto this part of the budget to get back at his nemesis, House Speaker Richard Corcoran; it would stay unfunded. Corcoran, a zealous crusader against “corporate welfare,” would happily see these agencies disappear.
But vetoing education items dear to Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes; that’s leverage.
Scott should use his power. Because there’s plenty concerning education in the $82.4 billion budget to dislike.
The last time a budget offered so small an increase in overall funding for public schools (just 1.2 percent), it was 2011-2012 and the state was pulling out of the recession. Palm Beach County schools, like others in the state, is to get just one-third of 1 percent more in per-student funding. For another year, look for Florida near the bottom in state rankings.
The budget also clips $25 million from the state colleges, like Palm Beach State College. That’s hardly wise at a time when more adults are heading to school for long-delayed degrees or job retraining.
There’s more bad news in the accompanying “Schools of Hope” bill (HB 7069), mashed together behind closed doors on Friday, with no input from educators or the public. The measure, a Corcoran favorite that barely passed the Senate, allocates $140 million to entice out-of-state, for-profit charter school companies to set up shop near struggling traditional public schools, theoretically to give kids a better chance to succeed — theoretically, that is, because the record on charter school performance is mixed.
The mash-up of a bill contains some good things: a requirement for recess (except for charter schools!), the elimination of a required high school math exam, more money for teacher bonuses. But those pluses are vastly outweighed by the siphoning of millions from public schools to private operators who will largely escape oversight and regulation, yet will get more money than traditional schools — possibly twice as much as per-pupil amounts for traditional schools in Palm Beach County.
Moreover, school districts are to share local property taxes designated for maintenance and construction with charter schools. That could exceed $230 million over 10 years in Palm Beach County, school officials say. We’re talking taxpayer dollars going to privately owned buildings, which the private operators could someday sell at a profit, while taxpayers never recoup the money.
Ironically, the Legislature was generous with higher education. Public universities are in for a healthy increase. But that was Senate President Joe Negron’s baby. And to make an overall budget deal, he traded his higher-ed priorities for Corcoran’s K-12 hijinks.
Now this complete mess of a bill, along with the 2017-18 budget, are on Scott’s desk. Wield the pen, governor.
Skimpy increases for public schools, but a bounty for for-profit charter-school operators.