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Florida Senate pitches modest increase in education funding

via @jeffsolochek

The Florida Senate education appropriations subcommittee has released its budget plan, just one day after the House unveiled its version.

The Senate proposal includes a 3 percent increase in per student funding, to $7,122.85. That's just slightly below the House recommendation of $7,130, a number aimed at setting a historic level (not accounting for inflation).

But like the House, the Senate comes in short of the $7,176 that Gov. Rick Scott wanted.

Senate education appropriations chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, explained that when Scott wrote his budget, the state expected to get full funding for its Medicaid Low Income Pool (LIP) program. But that's not happening, Gaetz noted, so the legislative plans must look different.

The state also has seen enrollment rise by about 25,000 students, Gaetz said, and that further impacts the amount of money available.

As an overview, he said, the Senate proposes increasing K-12 public education by $745 million, K-12 private education programs by $4.3 million, Florida colleges by $57 million, and the State University System by $72 million. It would decrease funding to Voluntary Prekindergarten and private higher education programs.

The plan also would more than double the amount for personal learning scholarships, or vouchers, for students with disabilities. And it would double performance-based funding for universities.

These recommendations led Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, to celebrate that the budget represents opportunity and accountability.

Gaetz noted that the proposal comes with cuts. Those include elimination of some non-recurring programs that could not account well for the money they received in the past.

He said he and Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, sought information to justify the expenses before making the proposal.

"In light of having less money than we thought," Gaetz said he asked others, "what are the most important things we can do?"

The committee plans to review conforming language and a proviso when it meets on Thursday.

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