According to the Miami Herald, the Florida lawmakers have yet to reach an agreement on how to spend $12 billion in federal COVID stimulus funds earmarked for public education. School districts, strapped with additional expenses and needs due to the pandemic, desperately need these funds. Budget talks broke down between the House and Senate earlier this week as education chairs were unable to agree on spending plans. According to the Herald:
House leaders have appropriated some of the funds in their initial education budget offers and House Speaker Chris Sprowls said in an interview Tuesday that the Legislature’s role should be to give the Florida Department of Education spending authority over $7 billion in federal funds to give directly to K-12 school districts.
Senate leaders, meanwhile, have said little about how they want to use any of the money as they say they are still figuring out how they can and cannot use the federal funds on education.
The spending disconnect between the House and Senate has stalled education budget negotiations and left many key education spending issues in flux, including final decisions on teacher pay increases, one-time $1,000 bonuses for educators and principals, and the Legislature’s efforts to expand the state’s school choice programs (although a deal on vouchers is nearing the finish line).
In order to finish the 60 day legislative session on time, the legislature must complete the budget early next week.
When the world shut down last spring, Florida’s public schools and educators turned on a dime to continue to serve their students. Educators learned new digital platforms and created virtual lesson plans. School districts served millions of meals, provided missing technology, and kept workforces employed. Florida’s children have experienced uncertainty and stress due to the pandemic. Distance learning, economic instability, and family health crises have impacted a generation of children. The learning losses are only beginning to be measured. Yet, lawmakers continue to tie up desperately needed resources that should be providing supports for students.
“These American Rescue Plan funds are essentially to provide more in-person learning options for students quickly, sustaining schools’ safe operations, supporting our students’ social emotional, mental health, and academic needs, and boldly addressing inequities that were exacerbated by the pandemic,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. Cardona said that it is “critical that states and districts bring to the table the voices of those who can best speak to how we can meet these goals, including students, parents, educators and stakeholders.”
Instead, the Florida Legislature’s budget talks have stalled. Stakeholders must advocate for the needs of children, educators and public schools.
TAKE ACTION TODAY: Tell Florida lawmakers to #releasethefunds to school districts so local decision makers can support the specific needs of their students, educators and public schools.