Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Recapping Florida's 2017 Legislative Session - Part 3

In Part 1 of this series of recap posts, I took a high-level look at the roughly $82 billion FY 2018 state budget passed by the Legislature on May 8th. It included K–12 funding of $20 billion, up just 1.2% over the current year, which equated to per-student funding of $7,220.72, up just 0.3%.

I also described the sweeping $419 million education policy overhaul bill (HB 7069) that was cobbled together over a long weekend behind closed doors in the session's final days. That bill was championed by House Speaker Corcoran, a strong proponent of “school choice.”

While that bill passed easily in the House, it was a tough sell in the Senate. In addition to strong objections to portions of the bill, the way the bill was cobbled together in secret attracted national attention.

As quoted by the Washington Post in “It’s hard to overstate how much critics hate Florida’s ‘scam’ education bill” from a piece in the Orlando Sentinel:

Instead of carefully considering education proposals one at a time, Republican leaders went behind closed doors to cram 35 different proposals — rules on everything from sunscreen use to charter-schools incentives — into a single, 278-page, take-it-or-leave-it bill unveiled at the last minute. For me to simply reprint the bill, it would take 75 columns this size … and you still wouldn’t get to the part where legislators want to siphon money away from traditional schools until column No. 46.

House Speaker
Richard Corcoran
To get his bill passed, Corcoran agreed to deliver the House’s votes on Negron’s number two priority, SB 374, a higher education bill meant to “help certain state universities attain ‘elite’ status, while putting community colleges back in their place.” (Negron had already gotten his top priority, a controversial new reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, in another closed-door deal. More here.) It was a classic quid pro quo arrangement.

Ultimately HB 7069 passed the Senate by just one vote., with three Republicans, including the chair of the Senate Education Budget Committee, voting against it.

When the Legislature adjourned on May 8, Corcoran and Negron were happy, but the Governor was not. His priorities had been soundly ignored. He wanted $7,421 per student for K-12 public school funding; he got just under $7,221. He wanted $76 million for his VISIT Florida tourism marketing agency; he got $25 million. And he wanted $85 million for his Enterprise Florida economic development organization; he got $16 million.

When Part 1 of this Session recap was published last month, it was clear that another deal was needed, and that with his veto pen, Scott had the upper hand. In Part 2 on May 22, I summarized the major education policies that, along with the budget, awaited the Governor’s signature and urged readers to weigh in.

Senate President
Joe Negron
On June 2, after “several days of backstage negotiations mostly involving Corcoran, Scott and their top staff members,” at a hastily convened press conference with Corcoran and Negron at his side, Scott announced that agreement had been reached. After signing the 2017-18 budget and vetoing the entire public education budget and $410 million in local projects, he called a special session of the Legislature for June 7 to 9 “to fight for students and jobs.”

Going in to that session, Scott wanted another $100 per student for K-12 education, a total of $76 million for VISIT Florida, and $85 million for a new Florida Job Growth Grant Fund. Corcoran wanted Scott to sign his charter-friendly HB 7069. And Negron wanted him to sign his sweeping higher education SB 374.

When it was over, Scott got what he wanted, Corcoran got what he wanted, and Negron was left out in the cold.

Scott vetoed Negron’s higher education bill, saying it would “impede” progress at state colleges by boosting Florida’s universities at the expense of community-based schools. More here.

This stunning outcome was beautifully described in a Sun Sentinel editorial, “Joe Negron got played — Florida public schools pay price:”

Florida Senate President Joe Negron so badly wanted his top priority this year that he failed to do what citizens expect of the Legislature's upper chamber: stop bad things from happening.

Until now, the Senate has been the more-measured chamber, the adult in the room that kept an important check on the upstart House, whose members too often walk in lockstep on extreme proposals.

And sometimes, doing the right thing means being willing to sacrifice your pet project.

But after securing his first priority of the session — a new reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee — Negron fiercely sought his second: a sweeping higher education bill meant to help certain state universities attain "elite" status, while putting community colleges back in their place.

To secure Senate Bill 374, Negron made a bad gamble on the session's last day. He agreed to push his chamber to pass House Speaker Richard Corcoran's pet project: House Bill 7069, a bill to further privatize public education, tied with a bow of elementary school recess and teacher bonuses.

In the end, “Negron got outplayed,” wrote the Sun Sentinel. “His leadership mantle is shaken.

"And all this matters because our public schools are about to pay the price.”

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