Let’s start off by confirming that nothing weird happened this week -- at least no public weirdness that we heard about. That’s always disappointing since it gives us something that helps inspire our reporting. The most notable news this week was the release by legislative leadership of the budget allocations to the House and Senate appropriations committees. You may have caught House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Erik Fresen explain the House proposal in a 13 minute long sentence where he appeared to onlookers not take a breath; he told committee members that he had a “blow hole in his neck” allowing him to breath and talk without stopping. OK, that was a little weird.
We must emphasize that these budget numbers will change somewhat through negotiations; and it is early in the process - session runs all through February with the last day scheduled for March 11.
Otherwise this week was a mixed bag of bills flowing through committees as both chambers try to move bills along the process before time runs out for committee hearings and the budget process swings into full gear.
Best and Brightest lives to see another day
In the legislature, truth is what you make it. If you say something loud enough and repeat it often it becomes fact. Never mind that the public and teachers have been calling this program an insult, ill-conceived, discriminatory or just plain silly, the Best and Brightest Teacher bonus keeps moving forward. But according to the bill sponsor this bonus will attract and retain the best teachers. Oh – and it is the bargaining process that keeps salaries low and supplies scarce. It has nothing to do with the budget legislators send to the districts. If you believe that he also has some swamp land to sell you.
As you may recall, this was one of the programs quietly slipped into the 2015-2016 state budget at a $44 million price tag - with little to no public debate. The House has proposed $45 million for the 2016-2017 budget year, so it seems they are serious about moving this program forward.
HB 7043 has been amended so that Best and Brightest eligible teachers who teach in a title 1 school will receive an additional $1,000 on top of the regular bonus amount.
The bill contains other sections that are un-related to Best and Brightest, including codifying the educator liability insurance program and performance-based funding for higher education. It passed the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee by a vote of 9 to 4, right down the party line with all Democrats voting no and all Republicans voting yes.
HB 7043 has passed its committees of reference and is now ready to be heard on the floor of the House. The Senate version SB 978 was last heard in the Senate Education Committee and barely passed on a 5-6 vote… with even the ‘yes votes’ saying they cast their yes votes reluctantly. It has two more committee stops, yet has not been placed on the next committee’s agenda.
You can listen to the discussion around this bill by clicking here – right after the budget explanation about 15 minutes into the meeting.
The Senate initial recommendation has a 3.30% overall increase in FEFP funding for about $650.6 million. The House recommendation has a 3.05% overall increase in FEFP funding or about $601 million.
Both spending plans recognize new student growth of 35,494.
Total FEFP funding per student amounts to $7,249.23 (2% increase) in the Senate proposal -- compared to $7,231.57 (1.75% increase) in the House proposal.
The growth in revenue from property tax fuels the majority of the increase in both proposals with the Senate contributing slightly more from state sources ($50 million).
The Senate may spend slightly more in SAI (300 low performing schools) and create a categorical for the program. The House has a slightly higher Base Student Allocation (BSA) at $4,258 compared to Senate at $4,236.
The House overtly funds Best and Brightest at $45 million. The Senate recommendation does not contain that program but leadership deal-making could result and it could be included in that chamber as well.
The useless Liability insurance is included in both spending proposals at $1.2 million.
One unresolved issue that we will be watching is how the chambers distribute state PECO dollars. While the special district funding seems clear, the allocation to school district and charter schools does not. Recent reports out of the House suggest that school districts have overspent their capital project levies. We’re guessing but we suspect they will use this to justify more money going to charter schools.
The higher education budget highlights are as follows:
Note: Tuition for Florida colleges is not included in the state appropriations below but estimates are at approximately $1.2 billion or an increase of $37 million.
$ in millions 2015-16 Senate 16-17 Increase House 16-17 Increase
Colleges $1,182 $1,227 $45 $1,206 $24
Universities $4,547 $4,681 $134 $4,730 $183
Performance funding to state universities in 2015-16 was a total of $400 million with $150 coming from new state funds and $250 million from the base budgets of the institutions. For 2016-17, the House would give $500 million with half that number coming from new state money and the rest from the universities’ base budgets. Under the Senate plan, universities would receive $475 million; $225 million of that coming from the state. The level of performance funding in the state universities is now almost 25% of all the Education and General (E&G) funding which is the principal source of operating expenses.
Performance funding for the Florida College System under the House plan would be $60 million; $40 million from the state and $20 million from colleges’ base funding. The Senate would also give Florida Colleges $60 million in performance funding, but with half coming from the state and the rest from the colleges.
As crazy as it may sound to the rest of the world, due to all the mandates forced upon classrooms by the legislature, recess has in some schools become a quaint relic of the past. This week parents descended upon the House K-12 Education Committee in support of recess. HB 833 by Rep. Plasencia (R-Orlando) would require each district school board to provide 100 minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free-play recess each week for students in kindergarten through grade 5 and for students in grade 6 who are enrolled in a school that contains one or more elementary grades. The recess must be provided for at least 20 consecutive minutes each day and may not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.
The bill passed without opposition. It is on the House Education Appropriations agenda for February 2. The Senate version SB 1002 by Sen. Hays has not yet been heard in committee.
Youth Suicide Prevention
Last October, members of the FEA Delegate Assembly voted in support of suicide prevention training which would help teachers and education staff professionals identify students who may be at risk. This week the House K-12 Education and the Senate Education Appropriations committees unanimously passed requiring teachers have 2 hours of suicide awareness training each year. SB 884 by Sen. Benacquisto and HB 907 by Rep. Eagle have a couple more committee hearings before going to the floor. We are concerned that neither bill recognizes the need for additional funding to increase the number of school counselors or school psychologists who are integral in helping kids get the services and support they need.
Thanks to Marshall Ogletree for the following higher education report!
Guns on campus
HB 4001 by Rep. Greg Steube/SB 68 by Senator Greg Evers. UFF opposes this legislation to allow carrying of concealed weapons on college and university campuses. UFF concurs with the vast majority of faculty, students and law enforcement that prohibiting firearms on college and university campuses, except by trained law enforcement and security officers, is an essential element of an overall campus safety plan.
HB 4001 has passed all House committees of reference and will go to the House floor on Tuesday, February 2nd. Contact your local state representative and ask him/her to vote NO on HB 4001. Find your representative here.
Senate Bill 68 is referenced to the Senate Judiciary Committee for its next stop but is not being heard this week. The Judiciary Committee was the dead end of this legislation last year. We are working on that possibility again as well as trying to secure a minimum of twenty votes to defeat the bill should it go to the Senate Floor.
Fee waivers for graduate assistants
HB 1311 by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasalinda/SB 1230 by Senator Maria Sachs. Graduate assistants provide meaningful teaching and research functions at most of our state universities. UFF supports these bills which provide graduate assistants with fee waivers. The bills are not identical. HB 1311 waives financial aid fees, technology fees, fees for security, access or identification cards and fees relating to the use of facilities. SB 1230 would waive all fees. The fee waivers will assist thousands of graduate assistants with added financial support to supplement their stipends for teaching and/or research.
HB 1311 is on the House Higher Education Subcommittee agenda for Monday, February 1st at 12:30 p.m.
HB 7019 by Rep. Elizabeth Porter/SB 984 by Senator John Legg .UFF has worked on these bills as they have passed through their higher education committee references. Both bills have the compromise 45-days before the first day of class provision for posting textbooks or instructional materials on the college or university website. Both bills passed their respective committee this week.
University employees’ health insurance
HB 7089 by the Rep. Jason Brodeur/SB 1434 by Senator Jeff Brandes. These bills impact the State Group Health Insurance Program, which serve our faculties at the state universities. The House had proposed this legislation last session, but now a Senate sponsor has been found. The bill modifies parts of the current plan and establishes different level health insurance plans in the future. UFF is working with a coalition of state employee unions to address the bill so it is favorable to our members should it pass.
Member lobbyists in Tallahassee
We welcomed members and staff from Miami-Dade and Volusia this week to the halls of the Capitol. A good time was had by all (except one member who missed out due to a nasty virus – we hope she is better!) and we loved having them join us. They got to spend some time with their friendly and not so friendly legislators and advocated for the issues we all care about. Thanks again for visiting us!
Don’t forget: March 15 is Florida’s Presidential Preference Primary
It’s a good time to take a look at:
1. Your registration? When was the last time you updated your information with your Supervisor of Elections? How about your colleagues, friends and family? It’s easy to check on line by going to http://dos.myflorida.com/elections/ and look on the RESOURCES tab. You can check your status, update your registration or even get the form to register to vote.
2. Now that you are all updated and registered – if you haven’t signed up to Vote by Mail you can get that done now, too! Visit http://dos.myflorida.com/elections/for-voters/voting/absentee-voting/ and click on the link under How to Request an Absentee Ballot to find your county Supervisor of Elections’ website. You should find an easy click to the Vote by Mail request form. You can sign up for a mail ballot for the Presidential Preference Primary Election (March 15, 2016), the August 30 Primary Elections (when the non-partisan school board members are on the ballot – and some superintendents) AND the 2016 General Election (November 8, 2016).
Thanks to Marshall Ogletree and Kevin Watson for their contributions to this report.
Please forgive any typos this week as I was too slow in writing so this missed the keen eyes of my editor.
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