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Education Commissioner Stewart makes $16.97 billion budget request

The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee took Tuesday morning to dig into the state Department of Education’s $16.97 billion budget request.

The request is $35 million more than the current year's budget. State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the additional money is needed to cover the cost of growing student enrollment, and help make up for $250 million in federal grants that sunset this year.

If the budget request is approved, per-student funding would jump to $6,913.45, an increase of $126.77, or 1.87 percent, from last year.

Stewart characterized the proposed spending plan as “a continuation budget,” but pointed to several new initiatives.

Among them: $40 million to support technology in school districts, $8.9 million for math camps, $6.3 million to cover the cost of dual-enrollment courses in high schools and $582,000 to help school systems.

The budget also provides $8.4 million for principal training, and $5.0 million for school district professional training related to the new education standards.

In addition to the K-12 system, the Department of Education oversees the Florida College System. State education officials are requesting $1.16 billion for colleges, an increase of 4.09 percent over last year.

House Education Appropriations Subcomittee Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, called the budget request "a decent starting point."

Fresen had concerns about some "vague elements" in the proposal, including how the technology dollars would be distributed, he said.

"I want to make sure we are tackling the problems so there is not continued disparity," he said.