As the 2016 Legislative session reaches its midpoint, gun bills appear to have been silenced, fracking is under scrutiny, and a massive water bill has been passed and signed into law by the Governor. The Senate and House approved separated budgets and will begin budget negotiations by next week, which contain some significant differences:
Gov. Scott has presented a $79.3 billion spending plan that includes a $770 million reduction in corporate income taxes for manufacturing and retail companies. The House passed a $79.9 billion proposal which includes a nearly $1 billion tax cut plan, but without Gov. Scott's corporate income tax cuts. The House plan prohibits state funding from directly or indirectly going to Planned Parenthood, while the Senate's $81 billion spending plan does not include the Planned Parenthood language. Please watch our testimony in opposition to the attack on women's health care access and funding of Planned Parenthood when it appeared before the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.
AMENDMENT 1 SECOND TIME AROUND
The House and Senate have failed to fund Amendment 1 as the Florida voters directed in 2014. The House wants to fund Everglades restoration with up to $200 million annually. A proposal put forward in the Senate would add $75 million per year for springs, and is awaiting review by the House. The Legislature is cutting state park funding and has allocated $22 million to land acquisition, which is $300 million when fully funded. Funds are also being diverted to overhead and other unintended uses.
LWVF Education Chair, Sue Legg, participates with 3,000 others calling on the Legislature to provide adequate funding for our schools and teachers, a resolution to excessive testing, greater accountability over charter schools, and an end to the school voucher system.
LET'S TALK ABOUT THE WAR ON FLORIDA'S PUBLIC EDUCATION
The 2016 Legislative Session is continuing the decade-long attack on Florida's public school system. Last year saw eligibility for the corporate tax diversion to voucher schools of choice increased to include families earning $63,000. No longer are these tax credit vouchers intended for low income families. Private schools are not held to the same teaching or assessment standards, are often religious in nature, and do not require certified teachers in the classrooms. Many public school families, frustrated with the impacts of excessive state-mandated student testing, choose to transfer them to voucher programs. In doing so, families lose all of the legal protections they are guaranteed in the public schools, such as certified teachers and programs for children with disabilities, classes that meet state standards, or even the right to enroll in the school. Additionally, when students from tax credit voucher programs transfer back into the public school system, they often test in at a lower grade level. Meanwhile, many public schools suffer from under-enrollment. The net impact is that no sector has sufficient funding to adequately serve its students.
FAST FORWARD TO 2016
This session is no different, if not more extreme, in the efforts by a majority of House Republicans in their attempt to underfund and undermine the traditional public school system. The following is a lens into the budget proposals and bills moving forward midway into the 2016 session:
EDUCATION BUDGET PLANS
The House wants $90 million for school construction for charter schools and $50 million for traditional public schools. There are six traditional public schools for every charter school, yet the House insists on nearly twice as much funding for charters. While the House plan increases the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) by $601 million, $505.6 million of the increase is shifted to local property taxes. The House is also moving forward a plan (HB 873) that would force school districts across the state to share local property taxes for school facilities with privately owned charter schools. Funding for public schools is the paramount duty of the State, not local communities.
The Senate would boost school funds by $650.6 million -- more than Gov. Rick Scott recommended or what the House has provided. The Senate is rejecting Gov. Scott's plan to fund 84 percent of the increase with property taxes. The Senate approach divides funding almost equally between the state and local property owners. Additional local dollars fueling the increase amount to $324.3 million; while state dollars are $326.3 million.
SB 808 (Brandes-R) allows cities to sponsor charter schools without the approval of the locally elected school board. The bill also deletes the prohibitions on allowing more than one high performing charter school located in one district to open in another without school board approval. This bill strips School Districts of their authority to ensure that charter schools not only meet the needs of the local population, but also do not duplicate existing public schools. It will leave rural and underserved or less affluent areas of Districts struggling to provide the same level of services for a smaller population of students, and create financial uncertainty for traditional public schools.
AND FINALLY, A PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO CREATE A SEPARATE STATEWIDE CHARTER SCHOOL SYSTEM
HJR 759 (Diaz, Manny Jr.-R)/SJR 976 (Stargel, Kelli- R): In what would be a major change to the Florida Constitution regarding school district authority, these Joint Resolutions direct the State Board of Education to establish a statewide charter school institute to authorize, operate, control, and supervise charter schools. Additionally, it clarifies that a school board has the authority to operate, control, and supervise all free public schools within its district, except those charter schools under the control and supervision of the statewide charter school institute.
The proposed new language, which would be placed on the November ballot as a Constitutional Amendment, would require 60% support for passage. Currently, the Florida Constitution requires a uniform system of free public schools. The LWVF believes this is another example of the continued rush to privatize schools and to establish a parallel educational system which diverts the public's education tax dollars to for-profit charter corporations. Such privatization of public dollars puts our citizenry at risk of losing the one constitutionally mandated paramount responsibility of the Florida Legislature -- to provide a high quality system of high quality public education in the state of Florida.
A lawsuit filed by the Citizens for Strong Schools challenges the legislative and State Board of Education policies that undermine the Florida constitutional requirement that it is the paramount duty of the State to provide for all children a uniform, safe, efficient, and high quality system of free public education. The case comes to trial in Tallahassee on March 16, 2016.
On Wednesday, February 17th at 11:30 AM on the steps of the Historic Capitol, the LWVF will be joined by US Senator Bill Nelson, our members from across the state, and coalition partners at a press conference speaking out in opposition to this constitutional amendment. This will coincide with an action alert to all our members not in Tallahassee. Please help raise our voices in opposition of this egregious attack on our public schools!
To review the current status of all of our priority bills, please click here and here.
Debbie Harrison Rumberger is the League's professional lobbyist for the 2016 Legislative Session. Ably supported by our very active volunteer Lobby Corps from the Tallahassee League. Updates on League legislative issues will be provided on a regular basis through Capitol Report, which is published every week during the session. Important information may also be accessed at www.leg.state.fl.us. Watch for your Capitol Report each Friday of the session for news on priority issues and what you can do to help. For updates on or copies of proposed legislation, call legislative information at 1-800-342-1827 or visit the Florida Online Sunshine homepage at www.leg.state.fl.us. For more information about the League's advocacy, check out www.thefloridavoter.org
Debbie Harrison Rumberger
LWVF Legislative Liaison