Governor DeSantis signed the record $101.5 billion budget for the coming fiscal year into law today at a popular restaurant in New Smyrna Beach. He also vetoed $1.5 billion in spending including Hillsborough County Public Schools’ Summer Bridge program among other programs designed to help children. This budget marks the first to exceed $100 billion but the increase is largely due to the pandemic and associated spending and likely will not continue next year.
The education budget relies heavily on federal stimulus funds as part of pandemic relief. Congress provided $7 billion in federal relief intended to help schools safely reopen and support students who have experienced academic losses during the pandemic. From the Tampa Bay Times:
- $216 million of those federal dollars were put toward one-time $1,000 bonuses for classroom teachers, certified pre-kindergarten teachers and principals in district and charter schools and the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.
- The rest of the federal aid — $6.8 billion — will be placed in state reserves, and will be released to the Florida Department of Education when it submits detailed plans that describe how the funds will be used in accordance with the American Rescue Plan’s education relief fund. The budget language, however, does not say who the plan needs to be submitted to or whether the plans would need approval from the Legislature or the governor.
The new budget also includes a number of highlights:
- $550 million to continue raising teachers’ annual salaries to at least $47,500- a $50 million increase from the current year’s budget.
- $38 per-student increase in state funding that’s distributed based on enrollment, also known as the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP).
- $120 million for school mental health programs, a $20 million increase from the current year’s budget.
- $22.4 billion spending plan for the state’s entire PreK-12 system
The new budget allocates $464 million in a “student reserve allocation.” This pot of money includes the $200 million for school vouchers. The remainder will be set aside for districts to draw from if their student enrollment increases due to returning children who left the public school system during the pandemic.
In May, Gov. DeSantis signed a sweeping bill that expands the existing state program which funnels taxpayer dollars to privately owned, unregulated schools via school vouchers. The bill uses $200 million to allow about 61,000 more students to receive vouchers and expands eligibility so that families of four earning nearly $100,000 could qualify for the income-based scholarships once touted as a way to help children living in poverty. Those scholarships are now worth about 95% of public school per-student costs but under the new law will be worth the full amount, set at 7,795 per pupil in the budget passed by the Legislature. (Orlando Sentinel)