April 29, 2017

Once on chopping block, Miami arts school could still get some state aid next year

Oscars Diversity@ByKristenMClark @KyraGurney

Lawmakers in Tallahassee are largely reversing course on plans to cut $650,000 in state grant funding to the Miami arts school whose alumni helped create the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” and the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”

During ongoing budget talks Saturday morning, the Florida House asked for $500,000 for New World School of the Arts in 2017-18. That would still represent a cut of $150,000 in funding from last year, but it’s a drastic change from the House’s first proposal to entirely de-fund the school.

The funding level is still under negotiation — talks that now elevate to the full Appropriations chairmen and will continue through the weekend. The Senate had also originally proposed cutting all funding to New World, but later proposed $20,000.

MORE: “Lawmakers set to defund Miami school that educated makers of ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Hamilton’ ”

Threats to the school’s state grant funding sparked public outcry when news of the Legislature’s plans spread on Friday. 

But House and Senate chairmen in charge of K-12 public school spending said Saturday morning those complaints had little to do with their change of heart.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

House, Senate agree to small increase in K-12 public school spending

Diaz simmons 042717_2

From Brandon Larrabee at the News Service of Florida:

The House and Senate agreed to a relatively modest increase in per-student funding for public schools Friday, as negotiations continued over state spending for the budget year that begins July 1.

Under an agreement reached by leaders, per-student spending through the state's main formula for schools would increase 0.34 percent, or $24.49 a head. Discussions on other education projects were expected to continue.

Lawmakers' ability to significantly increase per-student funding was hampered by two decisions that carried out other House priorities: to not allow local education property taxes to rise with real estate values, and to plow more than $400 million into teacher bonuses and the House's "schools of hope" proposal.

Neither of those two items is included in the main formula, known as the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP. But lawmakers involved in the education budget talks said not accounting for the additional spending doesn't give a full picture of what the Legislature is doing for education.

"It's been our theme from the very beginning that we're going to laser-target those students in the high-need areas," said Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican who chairs the House's education budget subcommittee.

Continue reading "House, Senate agree to small increase in K-12 public school spending" »

April 28, 2017

Jack Latvala: Budget 'driven strictly by the guy that wants transparency'



Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, the Senate Appropriations chairman, told reporters Friday that in his 15 years in the Florida Senate he's "never seen" a budget negotiated like the one lawmakers are crafting for 2017-18. 

And he cast blame on one person: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes -- although not mentioning him directly by name.

Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, insisted first on hashing out -- in private -- trades on significant policy priorities they want accomplished this year before they would agree to let public budget conference committee meetings begin yesterday. (Session is scheduled to end May 5.)

RELATED: "Lawmakers — privately — cut $200M deal to help kids in failing schools"

"I haven't seen it to the extent that we've seen it this year of deciding so many issues as a part of the budget process," Latvala said. "I've never seen that before."

"But that's driven strictly by the guy that wants transparency from the other end down there," Latvala added, in a clear reference to Corcoran. "He's the one that said, 'to get this, we need need to do this. To do that, we need to do that.' And all the President did was try to respond, to try to get an agreement so we can have our committees do their work and try to get out of here on time."

Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo declined to comment. Corcoran promised "unprecedented openness" and transparency during his time as speaker; however, the budget process appears to be unfolding much the same as it has in previous years.

MORE: "Did House Speaker retaliate against members who supported Visit Florida funding? Jack Latvala says yes"

Latvala also warned Friday that given Gov. Rick Scott's opposition to the budget, there "absolutely" is a chance lawmakers will be back in special session either attempting to override or dealing with a vetoed budget. 

"I'm saying that the governor is very concerned about a number of the decisions that the presiding officers agreed to on spending. That's his prerogative and he gets the last look at the budget,'' he said.

-- Staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed

Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, with Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. AP

'Schools of hope' compromise hatched -- in secret

Diaz simmons 042717


Lawmakers secretly struck a tentative compromise Thursday on one of the most consequential education reforms of the 2017 session — a $200 million program to help students who attend perpetually failing K-12 public schools in Florida.

Specifics of the proposed deal were not released, as some of it was still being finalized, House and Senate pre-K-12 education budget chairmen said late Thursday. But the general description of the agreement was enough to earn initial support from some House Democrats, who had — until very recently — staunchly opposed the concept.

“We’re happy they listened to us and a lot of the ideas we had in committee,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, the top Democrat on the House Education Committee, who helped negotiate the compromise on the Democrats’ behalf. “We’re happy with the direction they’re going in.”

That direction, Jones said, involves the House seeking middle ground with what school superintendents have asked for and with the Senate’s more blended proposal: Provide more financial aid and other resources to failing traditional public schools first, before implementing more drastic options, such as inviting competition from new charter schools.

More here.

Photo credit: Altamonte Springs Republican Sen. David Simmons and Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. -- the Senate and House pre-K-12 education budget chairmen -- talk with reporters after a budget conference committee meeting on April 27, 2017. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau.

April 24, 2017

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

Bileca Diaz JMI 012617


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


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


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



























United States


























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


Debt % of Personal Income 2013




Unfunded Pension % of Personal Income 2013




Retiree Health Care % of Personal Income 2013




Total Debt % of Personal Income 2013





*lowest to highest


Source: Pew Charitable Trust


February 11, 2016

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


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


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" »