When Florida’s legislative session began in March, there were high expectations, especially for education and healthcare.
But by session’s end, that optimism was long gone, says Florida Education Association President Andy Ford.
Now that budget talks are set to resume, and lawmakers prepare for a special session June 1, there is still one last chance for redemption. More spending for education is the obvious choice, at least in the eyes of the state’s largest teachers’ union.
And when the money flow turns back on, Ford wants to make sure the FEA is first in line.
In a new letter, Ford urges lawmakers “to set politics aside and put the critical needs of Florida first.”
Ford’s dispatch was given to all the major players in the state’s current budget impasse: Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner and both Appropriations Chairs — state Sen. Tom Lee and state Rep. Richard Corcoran.
The 60-day session commenced with a “billion-dollar revenue surplus,” Ford notes, as well as the governor’s plan to return education funding to pre-recession levels, covering increased costs for an extra 15,000 students.
This ambitious program would go a long way toward repairing Florida’s tarnished education reputation, he says, which took a real hit when Education Week criticized the state for its weak education spending, giving state leaders a D+ in “school finance.”
Now that the budget stalemate has moved closer to a possible resolution, with “clearer picture of the resources available,” the time has come for lawmakers to make some tough decisions.
Speaking for the FEA, Ford encourages Scott, et al “to recognize that education and health care are both critically important to our state.”
But more education funding is not the only priority for Ford and the FEA; he also hopes “progress will be made” for affordable health insurance for more Floridians.
“Families should not have to decide whether to keep food on the table, pay their utility bill or go to the doctor,” he writes. “Florida is better than that.”
You see, kids need to come to school with what they need for success and every teacher has the resources they need to do their jobs.
Ford then offers a laundry wish list for the budget: up-to-date technology and materials, safety in classrooms; improved school buses and maintenance for school buildings; stabilized funding for students with “unique abilities.” Preschoolers need early childhood and pre-k learning programs.
Not only grades pre-K through 12 need attention, but Ford also mentions colleges and universities require funding, to attract and keep the best faculty and advanced degree candidates.
“Investment in higher education creates jobs, new industries and improves quality of life,” he writes.
No one’s debating that; everyone knows when the budget money starts flowing again – and it will — the FEA will be there, waiting.