Fla. Lawmakers Slash Schools Budget

By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida
By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida


Florida lawmakers approved an education budget in the final hours of the legislative session that slashed money that pays for schools by nearly 8 percent, cutting funding by $542 per student.

Budget writers say they were left with few choices but to slash spending when faced with a $3.75 billion budget hole, and said they tried to shield education from the more severe cuts that hit other areas, such as prisons.

Public schools are now left to figure out how to close multi-million budget gaps, with many crafting plans to lay off hundreds of employees, and cutting school services like extracurricular programs.

This year’s budget was particularly harsh for public schools because it comes on top of years of falling property tax revenue, drops in enrollment and cuts or at least stagnation in the what the Legislature sends to schools.

“If you look at the budget we’re coming out with, it could be a lot worse,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Lawmakers in charge of the education budget initially braced for more severe 15 percent cuts. But Montford explained that schools will have a hard time coping with even a very slight cut.

“If this were the first year, (schools) could absorb it,” said Montford, a former school superintendent. “We’ve been absorbing these cuts now for five years.”

Already, school districts have drafted spending plans that include layoffs and salary cuts, furloughs, cuts to after-school programs and school bus transportation. The Miami Herald reported that the Miami-Dade school district, for instance, is considering teacher layoffs for the first time and salary cuts to guidance counselors and maintenance workers to help close its budget hole that is estimated at over $100 million.

“It’s not cutting fat, it’s cutting into bone now,” said Ron Meyer, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association. He also found it troubling that school funding is cut while voucher programs that divert state funds to private schools are being expanded.

Advocates for public schools say at the same time their funding is cut, schools are being asked to do more, such as institute new testing requirements as part of the new teacher merit pay law.

“We have cut co many people out of the central office, at the same time you are adding more and more requirements,” Montford said. “Who is going to do it? Literally, who will do it?”

Republican lawmakers who helped craft the education budget, which cuts money for schools by $1.35 billion, say the money schools are losing will be partially offset by savings from requiring teachers and other school employees to contribute 3 percent toward their retirements and from federal stimulus dollars saved by districts from last year.

But school districts have used those federal stimulus dollars unevenly. Some districts spent it at the federal government’s urging, others spent some of it, and still other districts socked away most of it for next fiscal year.

Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton doesn’t look favorably upon the changes to the Florida Retirement System that some lawmakers say is a “savings” for schools in the budget.

The way Blanton looks at it, the state is requiring school employees to use their own salaries to plug gaps in the budget, though he said he realizes without the changes to the retirement system “we would have been even more in the hole.”

Blanton said he would have preferred the Legislature look for other sources to plug the budget shortfall, such as a new Internet sales tax rather than look to the school employees themselves.

Meyer, the lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, said beyond the cuts to education, schools and teachers have been hit hard by changes to how they will be paid and awarded contracts as well as policies that funnel more kids it private schools.

“The super-majority of Republicans have been like kids in a candy store,” Meyer said. “They’ve just seen an opportunity here to do whatever they have been wanting to try in the past but hasn’t gotten through.”

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  • by Foxgloves on May 9, 2011 at 01:09 PM
    The state and the county taxpayers need to stop funding this waste. the county school superintendent and the rest that determine how much they can squander each year will find some pet project, pay raises, more useless administration and a thousand more things to spend what is left in a budget, because that way they can while and belly ache to the public that they dont' have enough money to operate on. They should have a superintendent in each county that is hired with a business education and some work experience instead of electing somebody that has done nothing all their lives except suck up a salary off the taxpayers and does not know squat about being a fiscally responsible person to run a county school system. Teachers should only be hired if they are qualified and schools ought to run 12 months of the year. Get rid of the unions and the education associations. Get the parents involved and responsible for all the little ones they keep producing and take no interest in discipline and teaching their children at home instead of dumping them on the school system and the taxpayers to raise and pay for all their bad behavior. The ones forced to pay for this ever balloning cost are more than fed up with the increases every year.
  • by tom Location: madison on May 9, 2011 at 11:56 AM
    Public schools get too much money and their results are terrible. Cut some more
  • by Bob Location: Jasper on May 9, 2011 at 10:19 AM
    We spend more money on schools then ever and get the worst results in history. Who's to blame? Start with parents, then the courts that prevent discipline, then the liberals who believe "I have two mommies" is more important then reading. The list goes on and on. No (every) child left behind is a big part. Not every child can be educated to the same level unless that level is where it is now, VERY LOW! Speak up and let your legislators know you are tired of special interests, including the National Education Association union, running our schools into the ground and you want changes made. Speak now, before it's too late!
  • by if Location: nf on May 9, 2011 at 09:00 AM
    if our revenues or going back to 2005 &o6 levels then our spending needs to be the same.when times get better spending will get bigger again like always.but state workers like outhers always want more some times you have to say no like we do to kids,and this to shall past.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 9, 2011 at 12:52 PM in reply to if
      It is not as easy as setting the spending beck. Some things (medicare\medicaid, unemployment, welfare programs) have skyrocketed in cost over the last few years. These things have to be paid for, and we can't set them back to 2006 numbers. This means that there is actually less money to be used by other programs as these costs continue to skyrocket. We also can't just shrink government anymore because there isn't enough government to shrink. We have to decide whether we can continue to fund these things, and then figure out where the money is going to come from. I think it is time to end many of the entitlement programs that are eating up much of our tax dollars.
      • reply
        by Fred on May 9, 2011 at 03:55 PM in reply to
        You made some good points. The old people on medicare and social security are not the main problem, but both will have to be adjusted or they will go under. Welfare and medicaid are the real killers. They're folks who need and deserve it, but a very large percentage of them just don't want to work. Many think the world owes them a living and are making a career of living off us tax payers. REFORM WELFARE!
  • by M Location: TLH on May 9, 2011 at 08:33 AM
    If they cut the FCAT and ITBS testing then they would have enough money not to cut the teachers' salaries! Crazy that they would cut from the future workers of this state.
  • by Anonymous on May 9, 2011 at 05:57 AM
    I saw last year where teachers were forced to take a pay cut. A week later the parking lot was repaved. New school buses, and so on. Just like the state and federal government, paving roads that are less than 5 years old. We need to rethink how we spend money and what we spend it on. You can cut budgets, but you should also have the ability to cut needless projects and use the money where it's needed. Cut out admin jobs and useless positions. You can keep a quality product just use the money wisely. But that will never happen
    • reply
      by Fred on May 9, 2011 at 03:58 PM in reply to
      You sound like a whinning teacher!
      • reply
        by Anonymous on May 10, 2011 at 06:00 AM in reply to Fred
        your parents must be proud of you
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