Florida Politics | By Renzo Downey | March 8, 2022
Gov. DeSantis had reversed course and endorsed the plan, but there’s a change anyway.
House budget negotiators have scrapped their original plan for holding school districts accountable for flouting state law regarding mask mandates.
In an offer submitted Tuesday afternoon, House negotiators under Panama City Rep. Jay Trumbull outlined $200 million for the Florida School Recognition Program, which this year will only be available only to the 55 districts that followed orders from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration and state law banning mask mandates.
That’s a change from the original “Putting Parents First Adjustment” presented by Brevard Republican Rep. Randy Fine, the House’s top pre-K-12 budget negotiator. The Putting Parents First Adjustment would have redirected the funds for high-paid administrators from the 12 offending districts to benefit the remaining 55 districts. Administrators making more than $100,000 annually would have been subject to the reductions.
With the changes outlined, the 12 districts would no longer see a budget offset, but they would lose out on funding that benefits sustained or improving student performance. In essence, the districts aren’t losing out on an estimated $200 million total, but instead lose their cut of a $200 million pot.
“Those school districts will not participate in a program they traditionally have,” Fine wrote in a text.
Trumbull said the exclusion from this year’s Florida School Recognition Program is not a deduction because the state didn’t offer the recognition fund last year.
“We’re telling school districts that they didn’t listen to their kids or to the parents,” Trumbull told reporters. “We have a bill that was passed by both chambers on the Parents’ Bill of Rights that gave parents guidelines and should have given the school districts guidelines to be able to not force a child to wear a mask, especially after the Governor came out and imposed his emergency order.”
As outlined in the new House language, the Florida School Recognition Program recognizes “the efforts of outstanding faculty and staff from these school districts who have overcome pandemic-related learning disruptions to maintain highly productive schools.”
Ahead of the 2021-22 school year, DeSantis, the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Health began pushing rules to prevent public schools from mandating that students wear masks. The Legislature convened in the fall, at the Governor’s behest, to pass a measure codifying those rules and others into law.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, did not fully endorse the House plan last month but supported some sort of accountability measure.
The Senate has not yet accepted the House’s latest offer, but top Senate budget negotiator and Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel appeared to support the Florida School Recognition Program angle in comments to reporters.
“This was, I think, a better approach. It was a cleaner approach,” Stargel said. “School recognition is what we did to reward schools for what they’ve done and the way that they’ve handled. These districts were not following the law, so they’re not going to be eligible for those dollars.”
While Fine had attempted to frame the Putting Parents First Adjustment as an accountability measure, Democrats criticized it as a punishment for school districts and students.
“The folks that had punitive actions taken against them over the last 12 months were the students that were in the school districts,” Fine responded to Democrats last month.
Lawmakers have until the end of Tuesday to finalize the budget in order to pass it by the scheduled end of Session. Stargel and Trumbull say their teams are doing what they can to finish on time.