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House schools budget gets a (little) boost

The doom-and-gloom education budget a Florida House panel unveiled last week saw a slight improvement Tuesday after chamber leaders set aside a little more money than expected for schools funding next year.

It's not a huge boost: The House went from a 7.7 percent to a 6.96 percent cut to per-student funding. That brings the House closer to the Senate, which on Monday downgraded its original budget proposal to show a 6.5 percent cut.

"It has been a tough week -- I think we can all agree on that," said Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, chairwoman of the House Pre-K-12 appropriations subcommittee. "But our allocation was a little better than we all anticipated -- just marginally."

The uptick would mean a 5 percent cut to voluntary pre-kindergarten, instead of the 8.93 percent first proposed. Half of funding would be restored to Miami's New World School of the Arts, whose entire piece of the budget pie was eliminated in the original plan.

The move is intended to slowly phase out the money for New World, the only public school in the state to have its own line-item on the state education budget. (The school also receives money through the regular per-student funding formula and from other sources.)

Dollars are still slashed for mentoring programs like Take Stock in Children and Teen Trendsetters, which committee members justified Tuesday by discussing a legislative report questioning the effectiveness of some of the groups.

Leaders of those programs told the committee that some of the report's findings were incomplete and highlighted their work for under-served children.