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More money proposed for public schools, colleges

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The Florida Board of Education approved a 2018-2019 budget request Wednesday that includes a $200 per-student boost in the K-12 system, increased funding for the 28 state colleges and construction money for public schools, colleges and universities.

The board met in a conference call, with Chairwoman Marva Johnson and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart saying their focus remains on helping Floridians recover from Hurricane Irma.

“It certainly was an unprecedented storm, and those hit hardest will need our ongoing support,” Stewart said, noting many schools served as storm shelters and many districts are in the process of reopening schools.

With the hurricane noted, the board, without debate, approved the budget request, which will be considered when the 2018 legislative session begins in January.

The largest request involves operating funds for the public-school system’s 67 districts.

The $21.4 billion request reflects a $770 million increase in total funding, with the bulk of the increase, $534 million, coming from local property taxes.

The increase would bring funding to $7,497 for each K-12 student, or a $200 increase over the current funding level.

It takes into account a 27,184 increase in the K-12 student population, which would go up less than 1 percent to 2.86 million students next academic year.

The K-12 request also includes $140 million for the new “schools of hope” program, which distributes funding to help students in low-performing public schools and provides financial incentives for the creation of nearby charter schools.

The budget request also includes $1.24 billion in operating funds, a 2.64 percent increase, for the 28 state colleges. The proposal would increase state performance funding for the schools to $60 million, up from the current $30 million.

The board’s budget request also supports the continued expansion of merit- and need-based financial aid for students attending state colleges, universities and other post-secondary programs.

It includes $421 million for the merit-based Bright Futures scholarships, with the program continuing to cover full tuition and fees for about 47,000 students who qualify as “academic scholars,” the top award level. It also would provide them with $300 each for books during the fall and spring semesters and allow the scholarships to be used for summer classes.

The request has $269 million for the state’s largest need-based aid program, known as “student assistance grants,” which would help about 235,000 students from lower-income families. The awards would average $1,147, with a maximum award up to $2,610.

The board is asking for $185 million in facility maintenance and renovation funding. Public schools and charter schools would each receive $50 million, while state colleges would get $38 million and universities $48.6 million under the proposal.

The request includes $49 million for state-college construction projects under the Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO, program. Universities would receive $74 million for PECO projects.

The request, which is based on average allocations over the last five years, is substantially less than what the colleges and universities received this year in the PECO program. Colleges had $74 million for PECO projects, while universities had $146 million.

The board’s budget request also includes $31.4 million for “special” K-12 construction projects in Taylor, Liberty and Jackson counties.

Republished with permission the News Service of Florida.

Lloyd Dunkelberger is a Tallahassee-based political reporter and columnist; he most recently served as Tallahassee bureau chief for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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