I heard some things in Tallahassee. One legislator said “If HB7055 becomes law, it is the end of public education as we know it.” Another legislator said: ” I was taken for a ride last year on HB7069; it won’t happen again.” Nevertheless, HB7065 passed in the House today by 66 yeas to 43 nays on the third reading. There is no conforming bill in the Senate; the fate of our schools now depends upon the strategy the Senate uses to consider its bill, SB2508. To become law, the two chambers have to negotiate a common bill. Last night the Senate stripped the House bill of its HB 7055 language. It offered to consider individual proposals one at a time. The League has positions on this list of individual bills.
It’s clear that the House HB 7055 policies are all about privatizing our public schools. The Senate bill SB 2508 is much more supportive of public schools and responsible management. What will happen is tied not to policy, but to the budget process.
The budgets are now renumbered. The House budget is HB5001 and the Senate is SB2500. The House tied its policies to the budget. If their bill does not pass, it can prevent passage of any budget at all. The Senate budget is complex and its impact is not obvious. What happens depends upon understanding the money.
Here’s what I think might be at stake.
- The Florida Retirement System. One of the biggest groups supporting the retirement system is teachers. If you are an antigovernment politician, then that big pension system is a target. The fund is self supporting in Florida, but without teachers, it likely will not be.
HB7055 has a measure to decertify unions. Without retirement and health care benefits, there will be more and cheaper charter school teachers available! Almost no charters provide benefits, and it is difficult for them to recruit and retain teachers.
- Sales Tax Revenue for Private Schools.. Using sales taxes to fund private school vouchers is unconstitutional. If the House bill becomes law, it will set precedent for giving scholarship funding from sales taxes. It gives $400 to parents to families of kids who failed the FSA English Language Skills test. It is a ploy to set up a scholarship for public school parents to buy services on the private market. It is not about the kids. Those same children would fare much better in the Senate bill which allocates $2000 per child to public schools to provide those services.
The Senate has a much better policy bill, but it has different budget implications. The Senate provides more per student funding ($7,201 vs. $7,142) and slightly more money for student growth. Additional funding comes primarily from the required local effort in local property taxes. There is no millage rate increase, but revenue can once again fluctuate. If property values go up, the revenue to schools increases (and vice versa). The House budget only allows districts to gain income from new home sales, not from increases in property values for all homes and funds fewer new students.
The House version looks like it is lower cost, but it organizes the money differently. For example,
1. Money for the Hope low achieving children and mental health, shows in the Senate budget, but the House reading scholarships based on new car sales do not show in its.
2. The Senate includes money for the Best and Brightest teacher bonuses and the House funds it separately. The Senate includes the extra hour reading requirement but the House does not.
3. The Senate includes a funding compression allocation for districts whose revenue is below the state average but the House does not.
Moreover, facilities funding from PECO dollars derived from taxes on telephone lines etc. will generate $120 million for the 652 charter schools the House favors but only $50 million for the over 4,000 public schools. The allocates $25 million to charters and $75 million to district schools.
After all is said and done, in the Senate FEFP budget, the base allocation from the State general revenue is less than last year by $45.20 per student, and new money for programs comes from local property taxes. Perhaps the Senate can find a little more money from the State so that its share of funding for schools is equal to last year.
The House state base allocation increased this year, but of course it funds its new programs separately. Smoke and mirrors hiding real consequences not only to children, but to the future of our educational system.
We all know that most policy decisions are about who gets the money. This is your money. Who gets it? If ever there is a time to let your voices be heard, this is it. Do you want to set up a system to promote private schools? If not, say so.