During the Wednesday hearing, state Rep. Randy Fine, the House’s K-12 budget writer, took aim at the “avalanche” of money school districts — and DOE — are sitting on. Given the potential influx of more money from a Democratic-controlled Congress, the Melbourne Beach Republican said he’s concerned about pouring more cash into districts that haven’t demonstrated they know how to make use of it and pledged to conduct a dive deeper of the spending.
“Our schools have been drowning in federal funding,” Fine said. “Covid, it turns out, is the greatest booster for K-12 education in the history of public education.”
Background: DeSantis is pushing for increasing education spending by $285.5 million, funneling the new cash into priorities such as raising teacher salaries and improving student mental health programs in a $22.8 billion K-12 budget proposal released last month. The Republican governor credited federal Covid-19 aid as a key factor behind his education budget appearing significantly rosier than anticipated, but his spending plan also accounts for Florida enrolling nearly 50,000 fewer students next school year, highlighting how tracking student counts will be a critical issue for the Legislature in 2021.
Spending gap: Lawmakers on the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee were quick to note the disparity between how much funding districts have disbursed locally. For example, Sarasota County has spent 89 percent of its share of CARES Act cash while counties such as Lee and Wakulla have only spent 10 percent, the state data shows.
DOE defended how districts are spending the stimulus aid, with officials testifying that many schools are budgeting the money month-to-month. Schools are putting the cash toward hiring more nurses, or buying monthly orders of cleaning supplies, Alex Kelly, the chief of staff to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, told the panel.
“Those funds are meant to last them potentially up through September 2022,” Kelly said. “Most school districts … are using those funds on a scheduled basis throughout the school year.”