Florida Legislature Negotiates Education Budget

Author: Natalie King, Vice President and COO, RSA Consulting

April 26, 2017

Through Helios’ Florida Regional Student Success Initiative, the Foundation is working to ensure low-income, minority and first-generation students succeed across the education continuum and achieve a postsecondary education.   In order to improve and sustain educational opportunities for all students, Helios has developed a policy agenda that works to highlight the link between Florida’s economic success and educational opportunity.  As a result, the Foundation is working with RSA Consulting Group to help develop Helios’ government and legislative affairs activities.  The following analysis of the Florida Legislature’s budget activity was shared by Natalie King, Vice President and COO of RSA Consulting Group.

As the Florida Legislature passed the half way mark of the 2017 Legislative Session, the House and Senate respectively passed their chamber’s proposed budgets.  The House General Appropriation Budget is at $81.2 billion with the Senate budget coming in at $83.2 billion.  However, the Senate doesn't include the $2 billion in higher-education tuition in their proposal, while the House does. This could mean that the two chambers' differences are about twice as large as the $2 billion originally calculated.

With just one week left in the legislative session, Appropriations Chairman Senator Jack Latvala and Representative Carlos Trujillo are working hard to reconcile differences between each chamber's budget.  There is significant activity at the legislature right now on budget negotiations.  The legislative session will end on May 5th, but Florida law requires that the General Appropriations Act have a 72 hour cool-down period after it comes out of conferencing before it can be voted on by the chambers.

The next step in moving forward on the budget conference is for Allocations to be negotiated and agreed to so that the Joint Conference Committees can be established and begin the process of resolving the specific differences in each segment of the budget.
One of the greatest differences is in education,  as many of the priority education policy issues have significant fiscal impacts.  Among these issues that must be considered and reconciled are:

  • House Proposal of $200 Million (HB 5105) to attract specialized, high-performing charter schools to Florida to serve students who currently attend failing traditional schools;
  • House Proposal of $214 Million (HB7069) for “Best & Brightest” which changes the criteria to qualify and extends the bonuses to principals. (This will be the third year that the controversial program has been approved through budget language, rather than a policy bill. It was added to the 2015-16 budget and renewed in similar fashion last year.);
  • Competing ideas from both chambers (SB 376) to change the formula for how local and state capital dollars for K-12 school construction and maintenance will be disbursed among traditional and charter schools, particularly by giving charter schools a cut of local dollars they don’t currently get;
  • Senate Proposal (SB 374) to improve the State University System, increase student financial aid and to reform oversight and governance of Florida’s 28 state colleges, including potentially setting limits on what four-year degrees the institutions can offer.

Beyond education funding, serious differences in healthcare and environmental appropriation priorities as well as policy issues such as gaming are presenting challenges and creating concern about the Legislature being able to come to an agreement before the end of the scheduled session.  If unable to resolve budget differences during the regular session it is expected that the Speaker of the House and Senate President will call a special session in mid-June in order to meet the June 30th current fiscal year.

Helios and RSA Consulting Group will continue to monitor the legislative activity and share a final analysis of the 2017 session in an upcoming newsletter.

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