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Senate holds off on school funding until House acts on higher education

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The Senate has teed up a compromise school-funding bill designed to help send the Legislature home from its special session.

But the senators held off a final vote until the House makes good on its promise to OK an economic development bill that contains $60 million in higher education projects.

The Senate passed the latter bill, HB 1-A, earlier in the afternoon, on a vote of 34-2 (with Jeff Brandes and Perry Thurston dissenting).

Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala conceded that the Senate’s efforts to tighten oversight of the bill’s Florida Jobs Growth Grant Fund had failed.

“In the negotiations to work this bill out … those got dropped by the wayside,” he said.

But the governor and Department of Economic Opportunity will soon “find that they are going to need to set up some (oversight) process. The demand from the public and media will be there for transparency,” he said.

The Senate had voted on Day 1 of the three-day session to override Gov. Rick Scott’s line-item vetoes of higher education projects worth $75 million. The approved version drops two of those projects, and apportions prorated shares among what’s left.

The public education bill, HB 3-A, would meet Scott’s demand to add $215 million to the Florida Education Finance Program — $100 per student.

Critics said the overall funding level, in light of diversions to charter schools under the House’s Schools of Hope program, would prove inadequate, should Scott sign it into law.

“These dollars are greatly needed. Seriously needed,” Sen. Bill Montford said. Without them, “three weeks from now school districts would be laying off people and cutting programs.”

Still, HB 7069 needs fixing, Montford continued.

“We’ve got work to do when we get back in the fall” for the next regular session,” he said.

Update at 4:30 p.m.: The Senate approved the economic incentives bill on a vote of 34-1 after the House sent it back with language providing $50 million in state money to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, around Lake Okeechobee. The addition was key to the compromise designed to let the Legislature conclude its special session.

Updated at 4:38 p.m.: The Senate voted, 31-4, to send the schools funding bill to the governor after the House accepted its higher education package. Scott made an appearance on the Senate dais for the occasion.

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Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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