The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2003 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Modest K-12 Increase
Goes to Smaller Classes
Florida lawmakers approved a budget increase this year for K-12 schools, mostly to pay for smaller classes across the state.
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The fiscal 2005 budget for schools is about $8.83 billion, which represents an increase of about $578 million, or 9.3 percent, from last year’s $8.2 billion.
About $979 million of the budget will go to the state’s class-size-reduction program, about twice what the program cost the previous year. In 2002, voters approved strict class-size limits for all grade levels in Florida’s public schools
Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed several preschool pilot programs, saying that voters expected more when they approved a 2002 constitutional amendment requiring preschools statewide by fall 2005.
In another front, the legislature resisted a plan to give the state education agency more oversight powers for schools using state-sponsored vouchers and scholarships after two scandals raised questions about state oversight of the school choice programs.
Under the new budget, some districts in South Florida lost a portion of their state aid. Lawmakers from elsewhere in the state won a share of extra funding for their school districts that had been earmarked in previous years to the Miami-Dade and Broward County school districts, for example. The funding shift is under a court challenge.
A new state law, meanwhile, requires school districts to begin “career ladder” programs that lift teachers to different pay levels based on student test scores and teacher-leadership roles in schools. The program will build on pilot programs already under way in four districts and six schools.
Another new law provides special preference for the children of active-duty military parents to gain admission to magnet and charter schools, as well as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs.
State to Examine Changes
In School Finance System
Rhode Island schools won’t get much of an increase in state aid this fiscal year, but they could soon see a new formula for distributing state money to local districts.
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The legislature approved a $3 billion state spending plan for fiscal 2005 that includes $647 million in aid to local districts—0.6 percent above fiscal 2004. More than one-third of that increase goes to expanding the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, which runs an urban high school program that stresses individualized, project-based instruction.
Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, who had proposed a $6 million decrease in district aid for fiscal 2005, initially vetoed the legislature’s spending plan, which he said failed to control costs. The state’s Democratic-controlled House and Senate overrode the governor’s veto—the second year in a row that the budget process involved an override.
Overall spending on K-12 education, which includes funding for the state education department, is set at $799 million for fiscal 2005—a 2.8 percent boost over fiscal 2004. That hike includes $2.1 million, up from $1.1 million, for the department to provide technical help to struggling schools.
Lawmakers also approved a new joint legislative panel to recommend changes in the state’s school aid formula by fall 2005. The aim is to determine what it costs to provide an adequate education and to reduce the state’s reliance on local property taxes to pay for schools—a revenue source that analysts say adds to inequities.
To the surprise of charter school backers, the session also saw passage of a one-year moratorium on the opening of such schools. Under the plan, no new charters can be approved for the 2005- 06 school year. Meanwhile, state aid for existing and already-approved charter schools grew from $13.1 million in fiscal 2004 to $17.7 in the new budget, or by 35 percent.
A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 2004 edition of Education Week as Capitol Recap