By Jeff Wright, Director, Public Policy Advocacy Department, Florida Education Association (FEA)
The 2013 Session Summary is now available. This document reviews the General Appropriations Act (the budget) and the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) components and selected bills that passed and failed. The summary also contains budget and policy provisions for higher education. We hope this material will help you understand the implications of budget and policy decisions considered during the 2013 Legislative Session.
- Clout in the legislature are now Pre-Eminent, and get to run Institutes for Online Learning. For these and other bills – including the bill undoing last year’s Gen Ed bill – see below.
- Some bills that failed. FEA led the fight against the bill that would have eviscerated our retirement program, and won. For these and other victories, see below.
Florida’s state budget comes in three parts: General Revenue, which is money the Legislature can play with at will; Trust Funds, which is money the legislature can touch only with difficulty, and Federal Funds, which have strings attached. This year, the Legislature allocated $ 26.8 billion in General Revenue (up 8.5 %), Trust Funds provided $ 21.2 billion (up 4.0 %), and the Federal Government funded $ 26.4 billion (up 6.4 %). That’s $ 74.5 billion altogether.
Of that, Education got $ 20.3 billion, up 7.7 %. For K-12 students, the Florida Education Finance Program funding was $ 6,779 per student, up 6.34 %. On the other hand, utility tax revenue is falling: people are watching less cable and using less electricity. Utility taxes go to the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) fund, which thus went down to $ 177 million: a quarter of the pot went to the universities, a quarter went to the colleges, and the other half went to … charter schools.
Last year, the universities received $ 1.7 billion from student tuition and fees, $ 1.5 billion from the state, $ 200 million from gambling, and pocket change from various trust funds, receiving just over $ 3.4 billion altogether. This year, the legislature decided to give us our $ 300 million back, and then came up with pages of line items adding up to $ 300 million more, bringing the total allocation to just over four billion dollars. Meanwhile, last year the colleges received $ 1.07 billion from the state, and adding tuition that gave the college system $ 1.92 billion. This year the legislature allocated $ 1.12 billion, so with tuition the college system expects just about two billion dollars flat.
The growing economy helped a lot, that and the realization (which FEA reminded legislators incessantly) that the key to Florida’s future is education. There was also a lot of political interest in (STEM) research. There were a number of smaller items. For example, Bright Futures was cut 9 %, and increases in other financial assistance programs do not make up the difference.
Some Bills That Passed
Only 1,844 bills were proposed, the least since 2004; of these, 286 were passed by both houses and sent to the governor.
The Legislature had a seizure of fiscal responsibility, and for the first time in years, they ponied up their full obligation to the Florida Retirement System; they had been underpaying for years, which is one of the reasons for the talk about the FRS’s long term stability. Senate Bill 1810 is a step in the right direction.
The “sales tax holiday” runs from August 2 to August 4 this year, and covers clothing and accessories of at most $ 75 each, and school items of at most $ 15 each. It also covers many computer-like items (book readers, laptops, handheld’s, tablets, even towers, but not cell phones, video game consoles or media receivers) of up to $ 750 each. Incidentally, the title of this bill is Economic Development.
Virtue is increasingly fashionable, and House Bill 569 eliminates one of the more notorious kinds of bribe-er-contribution laundromats, the Committees of Continuous Existence. It also imposes a number of disclosure and reporting requirements. The price for these reforms was to raise the caps on campaign contributions to candidates and to political committees – and also to give candidates more freedom to play with surplus funds.
In addition, the Legislature passed bills giving schools more authority to deal with cyberbullying (or to make a spectacle of themselves doing so), creating two high school diploma tracks, one for college and one for “industrial certifications” (this bill also creates the Preeminent Research University Program), and provides for “qualified contractors” to propose rules for, and provide and administer, online courses and assessments.
Some Bills That Failed
The Florida Education Association led the sometimes lonely battle against Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford’s campaign to eviscerate the Florida Retirement System. Early in the session, the pundits and the politicians agreed that Weatherford’s bill to convert our retirement system into an IRA was unstoppable, and that the only hope was something like Wilton Simpson’s compromise. But the FEA held firm, and we won this one. The FRS still stands, and hopefully this is a sign that the tide has turned on the war on our retirement system.
Also failed were the “Parent Trigger Bill”, which could have enabled private companies to more readily replace public schools with their own enterprises, and a bill that could have provided said companies with confidential information about students, which would have allowed companies to market their services more directly.
The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the positions of UFF-UF.