TALLAHASSEE (CBS4) – In the final hours of the legislative session Florida lawmakers approved an education budget which slashes the amount schools receive from the state by nearly 8 percent, or $542 per student.
It will now be up to the public school districts themselves to figure out how to close multi-million budget gaps. Many districts have already discussed laying off employees and cutting school services like extracurricular programs. This year’s budget was particularly harsh for public schools because it comes on top of years of falling property tax revenue, drops in enrollment and cuts or at least stagnation in the what the Legislature sends to schools.
Budget writers said they were left with few choices but to slash spending when faced with a $3.75 billion budget hole. Lawmakers in charge of the education budget initially braced for more severe 15 percent cuts. But
Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) explained that schools will have a hard time coping with even a very slight cut.
“If this were the first year, (schools) could absorb it,” said Montford, a former school superintendent. “We’ve been absorbing these cuts now for five years.”
Already, school districts have drafted spending plans that include layoffs and salary cuts, furloughs, cuts to after-school programs and school bus transportation. The Miami Herald reported that the Miami-Dade school district, for instance, is considering teacher layoffs for the first time and salary cuts to guidance counselors and maintenance workers to help close its budget hole that is estimated at over $100 million.
Advocates for public schools say at the same time their funding is cut, schools are being asked to do more, such as institute new testing requirements as part of the new teacher merit pay law.
“We have cut co many people out of the central office, at the same time you are adding more and more requirements,” Montford said. “Who is going to do it? Literally, who will do it?”
Republican lawmakers who helped craft the education budget, which cuts money for schools by $1.35 billion, say the money schools are losing will be partially offset by savings from requiring teachers and other school employees to contribute 3 percent toward their retirements and from federal stimulus dollars saved by districts from last year.
But school districts have used those federal stimulus dollars unevenly. Some districts spent it at the federal government’s urging, others spent some of it, and still other districts socked away most of it for next fiscal year.
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