In a year of record budget cuts, the Florida Board of Education insisted that schools across the state receive nearly $1 billion more next budget year on K-12 spending.
BOE board member Bob Martinez (a Republican's appointee like all the other members, Gov. Charlie Crist and legislative leaders) said the cuts to schools this year were just too big and that the state just needs to spend more next year. The funding request: $9.9b, up from $9b this year.
"I'm not criticizing them (legislators and Crist), but I want to motivate them," Martinez said. "If I say, 'ok, this year is fine,' then I'm not doing my job on the board of properly advising the Legislature and the governor."
Still, it's not that huge an increase. "It's a very, very modest budget," said Commissioner Eric Smith, noting the budget doesn't restore last year's cuts. After factoring in increases in enrollment, the proposed K-12 spending reflects an inflation rate of 2.3 percent, which Smith acknowledged was a somewhat optimistic number. (Consider the national seasonally adjusted CPI rate of 5.5 percent in July).
The biggest k-12 increase: Class-size reduction money. Proposal $852m, a 30 percent increase.
Crist, asked earlier about the pending increase request, said he was unaware of it or its size and noted "there's a deficit in this year's budget I'm dealing with." The size: $1.5 billion this year.
Martinez, a former U.S. attorney, said the condition of his child's K-8 school (he didn't want to disclose its location) shows the effect of this year's budget cuts and the need for an increase next year:
“They don’t have after school activities. They don’t have clubs. The lady in charge of psychological services, that position has been eliminated. Now, as of a month ago, we weren’t sure if we had hot lunches. I’ll find out tomorrow. And that’s an A school. I'm sure this is happening all over the state and it might be worse in some places.”
House Democratic leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach issued this statement zinging his GOP pals who run the state Capitol: "I applaud our State Board of Education today for recognizing that even in harsh economic times Florida cannot continue to shortchange our children's future with further cuts to education. The recommended $1 billion increase in spending for the 2009-2010 school year will help restore some of the painful education cuts of the Republican legislature."