Major Fla. education legislation looms over special session (Updated)

The fate of the biggest education issues facing Florida this year could be decided late next week, as lawmakers return to Tallahassee for a special session.

Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the main, $11.5 billion state operating budget for public schools, as well as $409.2 million in other spending items. He issued a proclamation summoning lawmakers back to the state capital to make changes to their spending plan — including a $100-plus per-student increase for K-12 education.

The presiding officers of the House and Senate joined the governor at a Miami press conference earlier in the day. Scott said he’s still “reviewing” HB 7069, a separate, massive education bill that contains funding issues crucial to charter schools, as well as $30 million in funding for special needs scholarships. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the Gardiner Scholarship program.)

The governor’s office has been inundated with calls to sign and veto the bill, which would overhaul vast swaths of K-12 education policy. The latest media reports show supporters hold the lead in the official tally of calls and messages.

Scott refused to indicate what he would do with the bill, but pledged the final outcome would be “good for all students.”

The governor’s vetoes slashed individual education projects big and small. He vetoed $1.2 million in funding for KIPP Jacksonville, intended to pay for its extended school days.

In previous years, similar spending items for the school have passed muster with Scott. But this year, he wrote in his veto message that “the charter school receives operating funding through the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) like all other public schools, and it is not a statewide initiative.”

If HB 7069 becomes law, “high-impact” charter schools by proven national operators like KIPP could apply for “Schools of Hope” grants that would help cover things like longer school days and wraparound services for students.

Other spending items involving private and charter schools won the governor’s approval. Among them: $654,491 for security upgrades at Jewish day schools across the state, and $6,173,678 for the SEED School of Miami, Florida’s only public charter boarding school, which is part of a pilot program in state law.

The House issued a statement announcing Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, would spearhead legislation to steer hundreds of millions in new funding to public schools when lawmakers return to Tallahassee Wednesday for a three-day special session. Diaz was also a key architect of HB 7069.

During today’s press conference, Speaker Richard Corcoran said: “I think we have the outlines for a tremendous session.”

The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau reports key lawmakers knew the governor planned to free up funding by slashing hundreds of millions of dollars in individual spending items before signing the state budget.

“The vetoes that were coming I believe were a fait accompli. The governor was going to be vigorous with his vetoes,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. “With the increase funds to K-12, that really takes a lot of the concern away from the opponents” of HB 7069, a charter-school-friendly $419 million schools bill that was a Corcoran priority.

Scott plans to sign that, too.

“The governor’s history on choice is pretty clear,” Corcoran said. “We’re optimistic, and I’ve never known the governor not to be a man of his word.”

In Miami, Senate President Joe Negron said lawmakers wanted to support students wherever they go to school.

“We believe in parental choice,” he said. “We believe in supporting education, and so I’m pleased that we’ve made progress in that area.”