Fla. Board of Education seeking budget increases

BILL KACZOR, Associated Press

The State Board of Education voted Tuesday to seek a $643 million, or 4.4 percent, spending increase next year for Florida's public schools and colleges.

The board during their meeting Orlando also approved other legislative requests and a new five-year strategic plan that envisions minority students narrowing _ but not fully closing _ their achievement gap with white students.

The total $15.6 billion spending request for the budget year beginning July 1, 2013, includes $9.88 billion in basic funding for kindergarten through 12th grade. That would be $322 million, or 3.37 percent, more than is currently being spent. The increase for community and state colleges would be $100.5 million, or 9.43 percent, for a total of $1.17 billion.

The overall 4.4 percent increase equals the state's estimated growth in general revenue next year.

Lawmakers last year approved a $1 billion increase for public schools, but that wasn't enough to offset prior cuts.

Fifteen percent of the new money the board is seeking would be needed just to keep up with enrollment growth. Other proposed new spending includes $442 million for K-12 technology improvements, $63.6 million for charter school capital outlay and $64.8 million in matching funds for private donations to the colleges.

Board member John Padget questioned why the achievement goals for all children, regardless of racial or ethnic background, shouldn't be the same.

Board member Roberto "Bobby" Martinez said that would be "a heck of a statement" but noted that black and Hispanic children "are starting at a different place."

"We have to be realistic," added board member Kathleen Shanahan.

The panel, though, agreed to add a footnote explaining the goal is based on cutting by half the percentage of non-proficient students each year. That satisfied Padget.

The strategic plan sets a goal for black students to increase their at-grade or above reading scores from 38 to 74 percent in the 2017-18 school year. Black students' goal for math would be to increase from 40 to 74 percent.

The goal for Hispanics is to go from 53 to 81 percent in reading and from 55 to 80 percent in math.

White students, though, also are expected to go up from 69 to 88 percent in reading and from 68 to 86 percent in math.

The board's other legislative recommendations include adding a financial literacy requirement for high school graduation and an entrepreneurship skills to a required middle school course on career and education planning.

The panel also wants to give charter schools more flexibility in personnel decisions and increase the transfer of unused school district facilities to charters.

Board members also expressed support for a legislative proposal suggested by Martinez to end state approval of textbooks and other teaching materials. He said that would let principals and teachers be more innovative and keep up with rapid changes in digital learning materials.

The panel delayed a decision on whether to appeal a judge's ruling that would require in-state tuition rates for U.S.-born Florida residents who are dependent children of illegal immigrants.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore last month in Miami ruled public colleges and universities cannot charge such students higher out-of-state tuition. The board deferred action because Moore hasn't yet issued a final written order.