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Schools budget talks wrap up

The recap from the final day in schools budget negotiations:

  • The House and Senate remain close on per-pupil funding, but still disagree on how much money should be given to rural counties as part of a special calculation in the funding formula, and how much should be spent on virtual education. The House wants to put $21 million toward virtual education; the Senate $9 million.
  • The Senate is still pushing for an extended school day (by one hour) for failing schools, a pet project's of Sen. David Simmons, the Altamonte Springs Republican who chairs the education budget. The House put forth a much diminished extended-day plan; the Senate said no.
  • The two sides agreed to slash extra money schools get for high school grades -- a big part of former Gov. Jeb Bush's education reforms. They are also cutting funding for Miami's New World School of the Arts by half. New World, which also gets funding for each student, is the only school in the state with a line-item on the education budget.
  • The Senate's push to allow school districts the ability to continue levying a higher property-tax rate went nowhere with the House. Two years ago, districts were allowed to increase the rate for a period of two years. To keep the hike, it would have had to be approved by voters in a referendum -- a move less than half of districts ended up doing. Senators wanted to give districts the option to keep the rate with, for example, a supermajority vote by the school board.
  • The Senate rejected a House proposal to cap the money school districts can spend on outside lobbyists. Instead, the two sides agreed to studying how much districts spend on lobbyists.

The issues of disagreement now go to the budget chiefs for the two chambers. They begin meeting at 10:15 p.m. Friday.