House Speaker Larry Cretul warned this morning that K-12 schools face significant budget cuts for the coming budget year, but Gov. Charlie Crist said those "dire projections" might not play out given news that Florida is among 16 finalists to receive a share of the $4.35 billion federal Race to the Top grant for public schools. Florida, one of 41 applicants, is seeking more than $1 billion of the pot.
Florida education officials will next head to D.C. to meet with a federal panel that will further review the state's grant application. Those interviews will be in two weeks, and Florida should know by April whether it can count on the money to help plug its education funding needs.
The news from D.C. Thursday morning prompted Gov. Crist to call an afternoon press conference with
Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith and his staff.
"It is March. We're approaching March Madness, and Florida is now in the Sweet 16," Crist quipped. "It is only the first step of a few steps, but it is an important one."
Smith called the finalist status "a major milestone," and he expressed confidence in Florida's chances moving forward.
"I don't think anyone should predict the outcome until this is through," Smith said. "But I do think we have positioned ourselves well moving forward."
The news came on the same day Cretul released initial budget allocations warning of significant cuts to education programs.
"Well, this is timely," Crist smiled. "If we continue to have success with Race to the Top, some of those dire projections may be proven wrong."