April 24, 2017

'The House is prepared to walk away,' K-12 education budget chairman says

Bileca Diaz JMI 012617

@ByKristenMClark

If House Republicans follow through this week on plans to vote on a budget for 2017-18 that simply mirrors this year's, they will have to scrap a slew of top education priorities they had sought this year and worked for months to craft -- including their $200 million "schools of hope" plan to provide incentives for specialized, high-performing charter schools to set up in predominantly low-income areas.

"Our responsibility, constitutionally, is to pass a budget, so if it means that's what we have to do and walk away, then that's what we have to do," House pre-K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, told the Herald/Times mid-afternoon on Monday. "We come back next session -- which, September starts committee [weeks] -- and we go back at it again."

The House's backroom offer over the weekend of what its calling a "continuation budget" was rebuffed by Senate leaders, leaving the two chambers deadlocked. The House isn't backing down, though.

MORE: "Stalemate in the Florida Capitol as budget talks collapse"

Diaz said the plan is: "We're going to take last year's budget and put it on the floor and pass it, which means it's a take-it-or-leave-it offer -- which means there's no conference [negotiations]. That means they [the Senate] would have to turn down that bill for us to not have a budget and send us in to special session. That's where we are right now."

The status of budget negotiations could change by the hour, but for now, "the House is prepared to walk away with a continuation budget. We're fine with it," Diaz said. "It's a budget that will obviously not include all of these new twists and wrinkles and doesn't address those things that we think are a very high need and emergency needs, as we've said, but at the end of the day, we have to pass a budget."

"If that's where we have to go, that's where we have to go. We can't go climbing to the $85 billion that the Senate wants," Diaz added.

Diaz said he and his counterpart in the Senate -- Senate pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs -- are still talking privately to find middle ground on key budget issues affecting public schools. But he said their conversations are limited because they don't have budget allocations, a figure of how much money they would have to work with.

"It doesn't matter what we talk about because we don't have allocations," Diaz said. "We're talking about concepts and things that are important and how to help these kids in these low-income schools, et cetera, et cetera -- but it's all conceptual."

Photo credit: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, addresses a luncheon audience at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2017 with Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, left. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

April 03, 2017

House Republicans want $200M to bring 'schools of hope' to Florida's poorest areas

SP_409499_KEEL_2_FLGOV@ByKristenMClark

Fed up with traditional K-12 public schools that perpetually fail, often in Florida’s poorest communities, Republican lawmakers in the state House have proposed a bold — and costly — idea to help those students.

They want to spend $200 million in 2017-18 to entice “the best of the best charter schools in the entire country” to set up shop near Florida’s failing traditional schools and establish “schools of hope” that would offer a better education — and better chance to succeed — to those students currently in struggling neighborhood schools.

Republican House leaders say traditional public schools and county school districts have had ample opportunity, flexibility and resources to turn around perpetually failing schools, but the results haven’t yielded enough success.

VIDEO: House Speaker: 'Schools of Hope will hopefully be a beautiful thing'

“There are kids within an hour’s drive of where we’re sitting that are in an environment that gives them no hope,” Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala said during a House Education Committee meeting in Tallahassee this week. “It’s already been proven that giving them more money in that classroom doesn’t fix the problem. We have to completely change the way we do things and have a new approach.”

But some Democrats, school board members, public school teachers and parents caution that the solution isn’t as simple as bringing in out-of-state operators to run brand-new schools that could essentially replace languishing neighborhood schools.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 29, 2017

UPDATED: Prepare for another budget showdown over 'Best & Brightest' bonuses

SP_409499_KEEL_2_FLGOV@ByKristenMClark

While both the House and Senate are interested in more than quadrupling funding to expand the “Best & Brightest” teacher bonus program next year, only the House actually proposes a dollar figure in its initial budget plan.

Both chambers’ education budget plans were unveiled Tuesday in advance of the full budget roll-out this week.

The House plan calls for $214 million in the 2017-18 budget for the teacher bonuses, up from the $49 million the Legislature allocated this year. But the Senate proposal zeros out the program funding — setting up another year of negotiations over the controversial program.

“That’s part of the process; this is not the first go-around with that in dealing with the Senate,” said Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman. “That’s par for the course.”

MORE: “$250 million for teacher incentives? Florida lawmakers crafting plan to do it”

Senate Pre-K-12 Education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, revealed in February that lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol were interested in expanding the “Best & Brightest” program so that teachers could be eligible in more ways than just their SAT/ACT score from high school and so that principals could also qualify for bonus dollars.

Simmons said then the House was exploring potentially $250 million for next year, which he said the Senate was supportive of.

He told reporters Wednesday morning that not including “Best & Brightest” in the Senate’s initial budget proposal is part of a strategic move to ensure the Senate gets some of its priorities, too, in budget negotiations.

“That’s a matter that we’re going to discuss and I believe when we put our budget together, it’s with the expectation that we will be dealing with that issue,” Simmons said, “and we want very much to accommodate the House on that issue — and that’s part of the give and take. We know that this is important [to them].”

More here.

Photo credit: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

[originally posted 5:30 a.m.; updated 10:15 a.m.]

May 17, 2016

Report: Florida ranks 9th best in debt load as a percent of personal income, so what does that mean?

Florida debtFlorida taxpayers today are on the hook for less unpaid state debt than taxpayers in a majority of other states, according to a new report by the Pew Charitable Trust.

The report on state debt and unfunded retirement costs, released Tuesday, measures the state’s total outstanding debt between 2003 and 2013, including its health care and pension obligations to retirees. According to data provided the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau, Florida ranks ninth best in the nation in total outstanding bills and debt as a share of personal income is 7.2 percent, compared to the national average of 14.8 percent.

But that is only one piece of the equation on Florida’s fiscal health. Data collected by theU.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis show that during that same decade, as the state’s total debt as a share of personal income dropped, so did the value of all the goods and services produced in Florida. The state’s gross domestic product per person, the monetary value of its economy, was declining more than $10,000 below the national average. Story here. 

More data here:

Florida Per Capita Gross Domestic Product

Area

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

Florida

40368

41623

43333

44038

43729

41579

38771

38396

37627

37790

38197

38664

United States

45858

47037

48090

48909

49126

48401

46680

47287

47586

48160

48397

49110

Difference

-5490

-5414

-4757

4871

-5397

-6822

-7909

-8891

-9959

-10370

-10200

-10446

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis

 

 

Florida's Outstanding Retirement and State Debt as a Percent of Personal income

 

National Rank*

National Average

Florida

Debt % of Personal Income 2013

24

3.7

2.4

Unfunded Pension % of Personal Income 2013

11

6.9

3.9

Retiree Health Care % of Personal Income 2013

17

4.2

0.9

Total Debt % of Personal Income 2013

7

14.8

7.2

 

*lowest to highest

   

Source: Pew Charitable Trust

 

February 11, 2016

Florida Senate's reforms on school districts' capital spending differs on charter school aid

@ByKristenMClark

Responding to a controversial plan fast-tracked by Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen, a Florida Senate subcommittee is proposing its own reforms to how much school districts can spend on capital costs and what access the state's 650 charter schools should have to state and local dollars.

But the Senate's ideas don't go so far in charter schools' favor as those included in Fresen's proposal, which was advanced by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

Rather, the counter-proposal unveiled Thursday by the Senate's education budget chairman, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, could actually limit charter schools' potential funding, while still reining in how much districts spend on projects.

It would crackdown on what Gaetz called charter school "real-estate schemes" by prohibiting schools from using taxpayer dollars on "private enrichment" projects.

It also does away with what Senate staff called a "fairly tricky, involved" funding formula that decides how much capital money individual charter schools get and, instead, would prioritize money to schools that help primarily impoverished students or those with disabilities.

"We felt that we would try to add our values to the discussion," Gaetz said Thursday, adding that his plan "re-syncs the values" originally intended for charter schools of offering quality, alternative schools in low-income neighborhoods or innovative programs not offered in traditional public schools.

"I think to some extent we may have gotten away from that a little bit," said Gaetz, a former superintendent of the Okaloosa County School District. "We want to weight it in favor of those charter schools who have a social conscience."

It's unclear how the proposal might fare in the House, where a few key members -- including Fresen -- have close ties to charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed. (A member of Gaetz’s committee, Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, also has connections; he and his wife run a charter school.) 

Continue reading "Florida Senate's reforms on school districts' capital spending differs on charter school aid" »

February 10, 2016

Senators skeptical proposed changes to after-school funding could be in place by July

@ByKristenMClark

State senators peppered education budget Chairman Sen. Don Gaetz with questions on and off for an hour Wednesday afternoon about the Niceville Republican's plan to change how after-school and mentoring programs are funded, as the chamber started deliberating its budget plan for 2016-17.

Gaetz's proposal involves pooling together existing program funding from the departments of Education and Juvenile Justice (which currently go to about a half-dozen or so designated organizations, like Big Brothers Big Sisters or Boys & Girls Clubs), adding more dollars to that pot and creating a $30 million competitive grant program.

Gaetz says it would make a more fair process, free of lobbying and politics, and open up the dollars to more non-profit organizations that provide aftercare services to Florida children. (More here.)

Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and several Democratic senators scrutinized the details of Gaetz's proposal during discussion on the Senate floor -- voicing skepticism through their questions that the plan could be implemented for the next budget year, which starts July 1, without affecting a funding stream that programs rely on.

They suggested a couple months wasn't enough time to set up the new state-appointed board that would vet program providers and decide which got how much money.

"I think President Gaetz is on to something that’s a good thing, because it becomes more of a fairness issue and a ranking issue, but it’s in the implementation that we have to look at this a little more closely," Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said.

Gaetz countered every criticizing question with a defense.

Continue reading "Senators skeptical proposed changes to after-school funding could be in place by July" »

January 29, 2016

Florida House wants $601M increase to K-12 education funding

@ByKristenMClark

The Florida House is also seeking a big boost in K-12 education funding next year, proposing an extra $601 million more for schools.

Both the House and Senate are seeking to increase K-12 education funding even more so than what Republican Gov. Rick Scott has proposed.

Scott called for $500 million in extra funding. The House would increase that by another $100 million, while the Senate has pitched an extra $650 million, or $150 million more than Scott's plan.

But the the point of contention continues to be how much of those new dollars will come from the state versus growing revenues from local property taxes.

Some Republicans in both chambers argue increasing the required local effort constitutes a "tax increase," and they're not on board with that -- especially in the Senate.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who chairs the Senate budget subcommittee for education, said his panel would consider several alternatives early next week, including replacing local property taxes with state tax revenue. More here.

Some lawmakers would prefer scaling back the local dollars and counting that toward the $1 billion in tax cuts that Scott wants, or even just simply acknowledging that the increase in education spending would cut into the overall tax cuts.

"If we cut taxes here a billion dollars and raise them $500 million at home, we need to call it a $500 million tax decrease, not $1 billion," said Rep. Fred Costello, R-Ormond Beach, a member of the House education budget committee.

That chamber's plan uses Scott's method of predominantly relying on local property tax revenue -- which House Education Budget Committee Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, describes as an "adjustment with no actual increase in the millage."

But even if the tax rate doesn't change, property owners' tax bills will likely still be higher because of improved property values statewide.

Fresen said the proportion of local taxes toward education declined from 2009 to 2013, "so during a time of declining tax rolls, it was essentially a tax cut," so he said this adjusts for that now that property values are rebounding.

Fresen rolled out the House proposal during a swift discussion on Thursday. The chamber unveiled its full budget plan this morning.

For K-12 education, the House recommends a total budget of $20.3 billion, with $7,232 in per-pupil funding. The current level is about $7,107 per student this year.

To fund the House's plan of an extra $601 million in K-12 education, about 78 percent of that -- or $505 million -- would come from required and discretionary local dollars. About $95 million would come from the state.

By comparison, Scott's budget proposal called for a $20.2 billion education budget with funding of $7,221 per student. He wants to increase K-12 dollars by $507.3 million in 2016-17. But only about $80 million of that would be extra state aide, while $427.3 million — 85 percent — would come from property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay

Meanwhile, the Senate's budget plan is about $50 million more than the House's and $150 million more than the governor's. It's roughly $20.3 billion, with $7,249 in per-pupil funding.

To fund its $650 million increase -- for now -- the Senate has penciled in similar proportions of local and state funding as the House and governor, but Gaetz expects that to change given his and his colleagues' discontent with that calculation.

January 21, 2016

With budget 'allocations' done, Senate is ready to spend $250M on economic development

The Florida House and Senate are reviving their traditional budget schedule and this week gave "allocations" to their budget subcommittee chairs that set the parameters for their chamber's proposed budget.

As happens most years -- except last year when budget negotiations broke down over health care spending -- this means that the chambers will have budget details available from subcommittees in the third week of session, in full committee in the fourth week and on the floor in the fifth week. 

"We're in a very, very conventional budget calendar,'' said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee. 

Neither Lee nor Senate President Andy Gardiner would disclose what their allocation numbers are for the decisions that are made behind closed doors. 

"We don't have an allocation document,'' Lee acknowledged "because if we had an allocation document, somebody is going to ask for it."

Both Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Lee said the decision on tax cuts will come later but Gardiner acknowledged that they are prepared to give the governor his full request for economic development funds -- $250 million -- for Enterprise Florida. 

Continue reading "With budget 'allocations' done, Senate is ready to spend $250M on economic development" »

June 19, 2015

Legislators use $79 billion budget to choose winners -- and losers

When the sun shone on the legislative budget agreement completed an hour before midnight Monday, the examples of who-you-know politics came to light — millions of dollars in pet projects for legislative leaders and well-connected lobbyists.

But often faring worse were those projects that didn’t have a high-profile voice — those with waiting lists of services for the adult disabled, the elderly and even public safety.

Lauren’s Kids, the program to aid victims of sexual abuse founded by the daughter of super-lobbyist Ron Book of Miami, was funded for another year for $3.8 million. But the budget for high-risk probation officers who supervise sex offenders when they return to the community saw little change. Hundreds of officers will continue to have caseloads of violent offenders that exceed the 40-person maximum allowed by state law.

An online education program for prison inmates pushed by a well-connected lobbyist and former Republican Party staff member was funded for $1.5 million. But a public television program that allowed hundreds of teachers to access free instructional videos for their students to prepare for state tests was zeroed out.

Lawmakers included $12 million for a priority of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, to help families of children with disabilities pay for educational services, but they also cut millions in funding for services for 20,000 disabled adults.

On Friday, Florida legislators are poised to pass the $79 billion state budget by the June 30 deadline and end the bitter impasse that threw them into special session — at a cost to taxpayers of an extra $1.5 million this year. It’s a must-pass document and no changes will be allowed.

More here.

May 26, 2015

Is it really a $1 billion budget hole? Scott/AHCA and Senate disagree

Tensions continued to mount Tuesday between Gov. Rick Scott and the Senate as the governor blasted a Senate compromise and the governor’s Agency for Health Care administration issued a letter to the federal government suggesting that the state would not lose the $1 billion in federal money to reimburse hospitals for serving the uninsured under the low income pool as legislators previously suggested.

Agency for Health Care Administration deputy director Justin Senior sent a letter to the federal Department of Health and Human Services suggesting that “there is no need to infuse additional state general revenue to maintain current Medicaid hospital funding levels” in the 2015-16 budget year because local governments could draw down matching funds to offset the $1 billion not coming to the state.

He quotes the May 21 letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services which suggests that the state will get $1 billion and notes that "this level of funding for the LIP coupled with the options the state may elect at its discretion described in this letter would enable Florida to retain Medicaid investment in the state at or above the current $2.16 billion level of LIP funding.”

Senior concludes: "Based on this communication and our subsequent clarifying conversations, we understand that the renewed LIP will provide us with enough money to maintain current Medicaid program funding levels."  Download Wachino 526

He then attached a funding proposal that assumes local governments will draw down another $906 million and therefore eliminating the need for legislators to fill the funding gap for hospitals with general revenue funds.  Download Proposal

Senate President Andy Gardiner's response: not so fast.

He called the approach “shortsighted and only kicks the can down the road” because it fails to address the reforms the federal government wants the state to adopt in order to provide insurance to the uninsured.

“The plan proposed by AHCA relies on a particular premise—it assumes that CMS will approve a LIP plan or distribution model that devotes all or most of the LIP spending authority to incentivizing IGT [Inter-governmental transfers] donations and does not advance any of the reforms required for compliance with CMS principles,'' Gardiner said in a statement. "This assumption must be verified by CMS before the Legislature acts on this proposal.

“Using LIP exclusively as a financing mechanism in FY 2015-16 appears to minimize the amount of general revenue needed in rates or other provider payments for the coming year, but that approach is shortsighted and only kicks the can down the road, pushing the general revenue need to subsequent budget years.

“Any proposed spending plan should be a multi-year plan that establishes a foundation for comprehensive solutions. Specifically, the LIP cap declines by another $400 million in the next year and distribution of LIP payments must align with uncompensated care costs in the second year. Additionally, stricter guidelines on distribution of LIP payments take effect in the next year.

"“We believe any proposal must also be accompanied by a full LIP model in order to evaluate the specific impacts.”