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Foundation for Florida’s Future celebrates educational highlights of newly passed budget

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Florida lawmakers capped an overtime marathon session this afternoon by passing a $78.8 billion state budget, 11 days before the end of the state fiscal year ends.

For the state’s students, the budget – passed unanimously by the Senate and by a 96-17 vote in the House  – offers a $780 million increase for public schools.

Among the educational proposals are boosts to per-student education funding, added benefits for Florida’s full-time teachers and expanding educational opportunities for students with special needs.

“I am thankful lawmakers maintained Florida’s commitment to our students and teachers,” said Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future (@aFloridaPromise). “Florida is expanding a program that focuses education on the individual student and is providing the state’s hardworking full-time teachers with a state-covered benefit. Policies that support and give teachers the freedom to teach, and those that offer students unprecedented choices have helped Florida surge to the front of the pack.”

In a statement, Levesque noted the educational highlights contained in the 2015-2016 budget. Once approved by Gov. Rick Scott – after some anticipated line-item vetoes — the spending plan will go into effect July 1:

Expanded Eligibility & More than Double Funding for Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts:

Increased funding for this program and expanded eligibility will give more students with special needs opportunities for better outcomes on their educational paths. Funding for PLSAs more than doubles the first-year investment from $18.4 million to $55 million, and eligibility is expanded to include Autism Spectrum Disorder, muscular dystrophy, and otherwise-eligible three and four-year-olds. Among other improvements, lawmakers agreed to provide a three percent administrative fee (not deducted from student scholarships) to support the program’s operational costs and help ensure families have access to the information and administrative assistance they need to participate fully in this innovative program.

Teachers State-covered Liability Insurance Protection:

Florida’s full-time teachers will no longer have to pay to obtain liability insurance as they work to shape children’s lives. Lawmakers voted for the state to purchase this protection for a relatively small cost per teacher, creating and funding the program as a benefit that allows educators to focus on teaching without having to worry about frivolous claims.

Invest in Education:

The $19.7 billion K-12 education budget includes an additional $207 per student for 2015-2016. It invests in Florida’s “Digital Classrooms” initiative at $60 million, a $20 million increase over the current year. These funds will help ensure our classrooms have the technology they need to provide our students with an education that prepares them for 21st Century opportunities.

Levesque notes that among the items cut in the budget is the allocation for Charter School Capital Outlay, which lawmakers reduced to nearly half the funding levels of two years ago.

“Charter schools are already at a disadvantage when it comes to funding compared to traditional public schools,” she said. “This year’s allocation results in a significant funding cut to charter schools in the state.

“We hope next year lawmakers will restore these cuts to our state’s charter schools – these are public schools serving Florida students.”

During the 60-day regular session, Levesque continued, the Florida Legislature also passed a bill establishing fewer, better tests and improvements to Florida teacher evaluations.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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