In his final budget proposal as governor, with a likely U.S. Senate race ahead of him, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday unveiled his plan for "record funding" in early education, K-12 public schools, colleges and universities.
"We're going to make sure we fund our education system," Scott said, calling it the backbone of the state's future.
He proposed increasing the state's Voluntary Prekindergarten program budget by nearly $12 million. He called for a $200 increase in per-student funding for K-12 education, to $7,497 — higher than ever before. And he recommended $1.2 billion for college operations, with another $2.4 billion for universities, while keeping tuition rates stable.
Within those budgets, Scott asked for $15 million to support computer coding instruction, $23 million to fund an expanded Bright Futures scholarship program, and an extra $18 million to help teachers pay for classroom supplies.
Teachers need well stocked classrooms, he said, and "hopefully it will not come out of their pockets to pay for supplies for their students."
To make his plan a reality, Scott relies on a method that the Florida House rebuked in the spring. He would not increase local property tax rates, but neither would he decrease them, allowing property value increases to help fill school district coffers.
For 2017, the difference was about $538 million.
The governor's office explained in its budget FAQ: "The local millage tax rate will not increase and will remain at the Fiscal Year 2017-18 level of 4.308. This means there is no tax increase because the rate will not change. The amount of local funding provided in the FEFP calculation primarily increased due to a 6.15 percent, or $117.1 billion, rise in the school taxable value that was the result of an increase in the value of Florida property. When property values rise, it's a good thing for Florida families. While Florida is currently experiencing increased local revenues because property values are rising, the state has also experienced significant reductions in local revenues when property values decline, as it faced during the national recession."
This issue could become a point of contention as the Legislature takes up the budget, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran sticks to his position opposing tax increases of this design.
Of course, as in every year, it must be noted that any governor's budget is a wish list, as lawmakers set the spending plan.