Florida Supers To Governor: Big Budget Is Good, But We Need More Money

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is busy promoting his proposal to increase spending on education, but when district-level leaders recently spent time with the governor, they said they have a need for even more funding.

District leaders say that despite the proposed increase, they will still be unable to pay for security upgrades, maintenance, new school buses, and necessary technology to administer computer based tests. Some are asking for the authority to raise property taxes as a way to bring in extra revenue.

Another request from the district leaders is to slow down the transition to new education standards and standardized tests.

Scott, who is running for re-election, rarely spoke during the discussion. At the end, he told the superintendents he had heard their suggestions and would “try to work through them.”

Scott has spent a lot of time pitching an increase in public school spending by $542 million, which he said would boost education spending to record numbers. The superintendents say they are happy with the increase in per student funding by$169 to $6,949, but they were concerned about the money set aside for maintenance in traditional public school districts. The funds were $80 million for traditional public schools, and $72.1 million for seven small districts.

Criticism came from superintendents in Republican counties like Joe Joyner, St. Johns superintendent, who said the money did not go far enough because districts had gone years without construction and maintenance funds from the state saying, “Eighty million will help, but the issue is huge for us across the state”.

Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times reported that the superintendents also warned about about Florida’s education accountability system.

Mike Grego, the Pinellas superintendent, pointed out that state education officials still haven’t finalized the new standards or selected the tests that will replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests. The standards and tests will be tied to student retention and teacher pay later this calendar year.

The superintendents are urging Scott to support a one-year suspension on the grading system, and a three-year transition to new benchmark and tests.

 “Just slow down,” Lee County superintendent Nancy Graham said. “We want this to be sustainable.”

Scott told reporters after the meeting that he would discuss the issue with Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, who has said she is against suspending the school grades and that the time table should not be an issue.