House and Senate negotiators struck a deal on the state’s education budget Thursday, little more than 24 hours after the first offers were exchanged on the $12.8 billion spending plan, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.
“We may have made history,” quipped Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, who chairs the House’s education funding committee.
She and Sen. David Simmons, the Maitland Republican who chairs the Senate education budget panel, embraced after the deal was reached.
Any suspense about the agreement largely revolved around provisions to extend the school day for low-performing schools and whether to boost spending on the school-recognition program that was a major initiative of former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Lawmakers had already agreed to plow more than $1 billion new state dollars into elementary and secondary schools — a priority of Gov. Rick Scott, who threatened to veto the measure if the Legislature didn’t approve a significant increase in public education funding for the coming fiscal year. School districts say the money will do little to offset years of cuts and the loss of federal and other funds.
Under the terms of the deal reached Thursday, the budget will include $30 million for extended learning at the 100 lowest-performing elementary schools in the state, a priority for the Senate. Half of that money would be specifically earmarked for reading programs at those schools.
Students who scored well on state tests could opt out of the extra hour in elementary schools required to provide it.
Meeting a House priority for the funds, the Senate agreed to require the extra hour to be taught by a “highly effective teacher” — once the state law defining that term goes into effect — or the equivalent.
The conference committee also approved giving schools that earn the recognition awards an $85 per student bonus, up from $70 last year. The House had proposed boosting spending on the bonus to $100 per student, while the Senate wanted to keep the funding flat. Scott had also pushed for the size of the award to grow to $100 per student.
And slightly less than $4 million was allocated for public television, despite Scott’s decision last year to veto a smaller amount for radio and television stations last year. Another $6.6 million would also be spent on public broadcasting.
The agreement Thursday only covers how to divvy up the spending for schools. The committee still has to work out the details of some budget language and conforming bills.