Budget conference: House revises school funding plan

'We have this monumental FEFP before us and there have been some changes within it before but none to the extent that you’ll see this year.'

The House has narrowed its plan to rework Florida’s main funding formula for K-12 schools as part of formal budget talks with the Senate, but the chambers remain divided on other areas of the education budget, including a Gov. Ron DeSantis-backed plan to boost retention pay for university professors.

The House budget approved earlier this month (HB 5001) included a plan to fold some categories of dedicated spending within the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), the state’s main public school funding formula, into the base budget. But in an offer to the Senate on Monday, the House removed funding for school safety and mental health programs from the plan.

Under the latest offer, the House would budget $250 million to boost school safety, up from $210 million in the current year, and $160 million for mental health, up from $140 million in the current year. But other specified funding areas, such as for instructional materials, reading and efforts to increase teacher pay are thrown into the base budget given to all school districts.

“We have this monumental FEFP before us and there have been some changes within it before but none to the extent that you’ll see this year,” said Rep. Josie Tomkow, a Polk City Republican and House K-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair.

The move gives greater flexibility to school districts to craft their own budgets but is a reversal of the trend in the Legislature in the last decade to require school districts to spend additional money on specific items or issues. The latest came in 2019 when DeSantis pushed for more funding for teacher salaries.

Overall, the K-12 schools budget would be $26.8 billion in the latest House offer, up $2.2 billion from the current year, or about 9%. That comes out to $8,648 per student, an increase of $405 from the current year.

In higher education, the Senate stayed with $100 million for a recruitment and retention effort for professors at universities in its latest offer, while the House is sticking with $50 million for the program. DeSantis requested $100 million in his higher education plan released in January.

The Senate also has $75 million for preeminent research universities, for which typically only the University of Florida and Florida State University qualify.

Budget conference subcommittees will meet throughout the week to resolve differences in each area. When remaining issues reach an impasse, they will be “bumped” to the full budget conference committee.

Lawmakers must reach an agreement on a final spending plan by May 2 to meet the 72-hour “cooling off” period required by the state constitution before they can vote on the budget to avoid pushing the Regular Session past its scheduled May 5 end date.

Gray Rohrer


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