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House and Senate move closer on budget

NegronmckeelFlorida lawmakers continued to meet on Sunday to haggle over next year’s $75 billion budget, and showed signs they were close to some significant deals.

A big one is a 5 percent across-the-board increase the Florida House has proposed for the state’s law enforcement employees, including sworn officers of Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Highway Patrol, and special agents. It would cost about $11 million.The Senate makes no such increase for those employees.

On Sunday, the House held to its proposal, but added other employee categories that the Senate wanted for higher compensation and benefits, including those in the court system ($8 million increase), assistant state attorneys and assistant public defenders ($10.9 million) and assistant conflict counsels ($457,000).  

“Today, we picked up some Senate priorities," said House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland. "Which we’re very comfortable with.”

No word on if the Senate will accept that offer, but at this stage, after an offer is made public, it’s assumed it will be accepted, especially if it accommodates the opposing chamber’s position.

“That’s usually a good sign,” said Matt Puckett, executive director of Florida Police Benevolent Association. “We’re really happy it’s in there and they are adding other categories to it. It’s a generous offer.”

One sticking point had been environmental projects. Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart, had made funding for two projects in his district, Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee a top priority. But the House hadn’t offered a dime for either project.

That changed Sunday when the House matched the Senate’s proposal of $82 million.

“I appreciate the movement of the House toward our position,” said Negron on Sunday afternoon. “I still think there are some remaining issues we still need to work out, but we’ve come a long way.”

The House had proposed to spend $45 million on springs restoration. Florida has about 1,000 freshwater springs, but many are suffering from nitrate pollution. The Senate is offering $22.8 million. On Sunday, the House lowered its offer to $30 million. Meanwhile, the House nudged its offer on beach projects from $31.9 million to $35.5 million, inching it closer to the Senate’s $47 million offer.

On some prominent pet projects, both chambers seemed to come into agreement.

SkyRise Miami, a 1,000-foot-tall observation tower/amusement ride in downtown Miami, was originally offered $10 million in the House's budget. The lower chamber reduced that to $5 million last week. But the Senate offered only $2 million and only if developers could show that developers had locked down $400 million in private money. On Sunday, the House matched the Senate's offer.

The Senate, meanwhile, agreed to match the House’s request for $7 million for Jacksonville University, the alma mater of House Speaker Will Weatherford. The Senate reduced its offer of $10 million for the University of West Florida’s office of economic development and engagement, which is near Senate President Don Gaetz’s district, to $5 million. The House, as of early Sunday evening, hadn’t offered anything for the project.

Much of the K-12 education budget was settled last week.

Some details, however, were still being negotiated.

The two chambers continued to disagree over how to calculate the penalties for school districts that don't meet the Constitutionally mandated limits on class size. The House wants to reduce the penalty. The Senate does not.

The Senate made an offer to provide $18.4 million for "personal learning scholarship accounts," which could be used to reimburse parents of special-needs children for educational expenses. The House had yet to respond.

Also unresolved: which education projects would be receive dollars from the Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO, trust fund.

The two chambers have different methods of calculating the available PECO dollars. They also have different funding priorities. The House wants to direct $100 million to charter schools. The Senate says $50 million is enough.

"We're working through PECO, both the mechanics of PECO and the details of how we are going to do it," Negron said. "I think you'll see those offers forthcoming as we move through the schedule."


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The flaw in the charter-school movement is its receipt of public funding. Public funding properly should go to public schools, which take on the education of all young persons, not merely those free of educational disabilities or lucky enough to have motivated, involved parents. When public funding goes to charters, which operate without the same public accountability as public schools, a great disservice is done to taxpayers and society in general.

The public funding of charter schools is like public funding for private security officers.

Way to go Florida .....House and Senate.....use common sense....for the people YOU represent! Don't accept the big corporation bribes!!!!

Darla March

Per Pupil Spending includes federal dollars, capital money, etc. The full-time equivalent (or FTE) is a different amount depending on your location. BOTTOM LINE: Of the billions they say is in the education budget, most is earmarked or crazily calculated. The only true amount for ALL Floridians for educating a K-12 kid/teen is the base student allocation or BSA. In my humble opinion, it is the telltale sign of our state government’s investment in Florida’s future. http://www.fldoe.org/fefp/pdf/fefpdist.pdf

2013-2014’s BSA was $3,752.30. I want at least $4500, I'll settle for $4100. I am sick of fighting over scraps. I have lived with all the excuses. All said and done, students average out at less than $7800 per pupil… for a year of education... Give me a fricking break. It is why teachers take second jobs, quit ...or only do this because God called them to serve... for peanuts in pay.

If you try to research the history numbers for BSA they fluctuate all over the place… but here is the general trend for base student allocation:
2006-07 $3,742.42
2007-08 $4,134.95
2008-09 $3,971.74
2009-10 $3,630.62
2010-11 $3,623.76
2011-12 $3,479.22
2012-13 $3,582.98

Our elected officials were making progress. The governor and senate's respective budgets called for a $404.04 increase ...with senate numbers around $4050. They have lowered to $4030 ... reducing over $10.8M from THEIR plan. I certainly hope the surplus at least returns us to 2007. Hope is not a course of action. Invest in the children sitting in classrooms across the state. Education is a state right, and a state responsibility.

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