The Legislature held the second round of Interim Committee Meetings last week. Please click on the file below to access our report on the bills and presentations that were considered. In addition, please click on the files below for information and updates on this week’s Constitution Revision Commission Committee meetings, recent action in Washington on the federal budget and tax reform package, and on NSBA’s upcoming Advocacy Institute.
Committees received several presentations and updates on a variety of issues including state PECO funding, school district financial accountability, hurricane related fiscal issues, mental health and substance abuse, and school discipline. In addition, several education-related bills of interest were considered. Please note that you may view the video for each of the meetings discussed below by clicking on the linked committee/subcommittee name and locating the video links on that page.
The House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee had presentations and a panel discussion on school district financial accountability. Presenters/panelists included FSBA Executive Director Andrea Messina, FDOE Deputy Commissioner of Finance and Operations Linda Champion, and Florida Deputy Auditor General Gregory Centers. Ms. Messina’s presentation focused on FSBA’s current leadership development offerings for school board members, including, but no limited to, School Finance Forums. She also highlighted the roles and responsibilities of school boards and superintendents in developing and implementing policies and procedures relating to school budget and finance. Glades County School Board member Mike Pressley and Superintendent Scott Bass were also present to offer testimony and respond to questions from the Subcommittee. The Subcommittee discussion primarily focused on Florida law and requirements for the financial operations and the desire to prevent financial emergencies. Several Subcommittee members expressed their respect and appreciation for FSBA’s presentation and commentary and for the training offered by FSBA in this area. The Meeting Packet – which includes the presentations offered by the panelists – is available HERE.
The Senate PreK-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee received an update on hurricane-related fiscal issues for public schools and held a workshop on K-12 mental health and substance abuse. With regard to hurricane-related issues, Commissioner Pam Stewart offered a quick presentation on the migration to Florida of students from Puerto Rico and other areas impacted by Hurricane Maria. Commissioner Steward stated that the DOE has not yet asked for additional funding for the additional enrollment and provided an outline on capturing enrollment changes in FTE headcounts. This was followed by commentary by superintendents and administrators from the Collier, Hendry, St. Johns, Santa Rosa, and Broward school districts on their successes and challenges in preparation and response to Hurricane Irma, particularly in the area of operating shelters. Among the concerns and challenges mentioned, superintendents and administrators highlighted operation of special needs shelters, pet-friendly shelters, hurricane hardening, insurance limitations, need for generators, problems with clean-up, and personnel issues. Committee Chair Passidomo expressed appreciation for the care and commitment of school districts in responding in these emergencies.
With regard to mental health and substance abuse, representatives of the Florida Association of School Psychologists and the Hendry, Collier, Broward, Polk, St. Johns, and Seminole school districts. Speakers discussed the need for enhanced services in the wake of trauma of recent hurricanes as well as more long-term needs of students with mental health conditions. All presenters stated that they are seeing an escalation in the number and severity of mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Districts also spoke of building coalitions with local mental health and substance abuse service providers, hospitals, parents, faith-based groups, and/or law enforcement to collaborate on treatment and information/awareness campaigns. There was a great deal of discussion of electronic and social media and the lack of adult supervision outside of school and the role these may have in the increase of mental health and substance abuse issues. Panelists made several suggestions of actions the state could take to address this problem including more school counselors, enhanced teacher training, curriculum social/emotional learning, more community intervention professionals and social workers, additional time in the school day to address these needs, and additional funding and resources to pursue these, and other suggestions. The Meeting Packet is available HERE.
The House Appropriations Committee had presentations on state bond ratings and on state funded Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO). With regard to bond ratings, the main drivers of Florida’s bond/credit rating status are state reserves and the stability of the Florida Retirement System (FRS). These will be important factors as the legislature develops the state budget and considers the potential use of state reserves in response to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. This presentation emphasized that Florida has maintained strong credit ratings. State General Fund Reserves – comprised of funds held in the Budget Stabilization Fund (BSF) and in Unspent General Revenue (GR) – total about $2.7 billion and Total Reserves – which, in addition to General Fund Reserves, includes reserves held in various trust funds – total about $5.6 billion. These Reserve balances are considered strong. In addition, the FRS funded status is strong – particularly when compared to systems in other states.
With regard to PECO, the presentation outlined that state PECO funding is derived from the state Gross Receipts Tax on utilities and communications services – a revenue source that has declined significantly in recent years. Although these funds may be bonded to maximize available funds each year, the amount that may be bonded is limited. Due to large bond issuances in prior years, about 3/4 of total PECO revenue must be devoted to bond/debt service, leaving limited funds for new capital projects and minimal, if any, amounts that may be bonded. As a result, in recent years, the Legislature has chosen to use General Revenue to augment PECO revenue in order to fund certain projects. In recent years, there has been no PECO funding for K-12 new construction — PECO funding has been provided only for maintenance, repair, and renovation of K-12 public schools), thus, the main focus of PECO funding has been on post-secondary institutions – colleges and universities – because these institutions lack the ability to levy local revenue. In order to receive state funding, post-secondary institutions must submit prioritized project lists that are subject to extensive needs tests. It is important to note that the Legislature is not required to adhere to any of the statutorily required priority lists and often chooses to provide funding for projects that are not on these prioritized lists. In discussion of this use of funds for non-priority items, Committee Chair Trujillo suggested that, for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the Legislature should fund ONLY those projects that are currently underway. The Meeting Packet – which includes both of these presentations – is available HERE.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee considered, among other things, two education -related bills:
SB 192 – Public Meetings by Baxley – PASSED
Provides definitions for several terms; provides guidelines for boards to conduct permissible fact-finding exercises or excursions; and provides that notice is not required when two or more members of a board are gathered if no official acts are taken and no public business is discussed. [NOTE: This was the second of three committees of reference for this bill. The House companion bill, HB 79, has not yet been heard in any of three committees of reference.]
SB 272 – Local Tax Referenda by Brandes – AMENDED AND PASSED WITH A COMMITTEE SUBSTITUTE
Provides that a referendum to adopt or amend a local government discretionary sales surtax, including the school capital outlay surtax, which is held at any date other than a general election requires the approval of at least 60% of the electors voting on the ballot question; a referendum which is held at a general election requires the approval of a majority of the electors voting on the ballot question. [NOTE: The amendment to the bill removed a section of the bill relating to municipal ad valorem millage. The bill’s effective date is July 1, 2018, which indicates that it would impact any referenda held after that date. This was the first of four committees of reference for this bill. The House companion bill, HB 317, has not yet been heard in any of three committees of reference.]
The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee had a presentation by Chair Diaz on the Jefferson County School District Fiscal Year 2017-18 Budget and Finances and an update by Deputy Commissioner Linda Champion on the fiscal components of HB 7069 – including the Best & Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, Best & Brightest Principal Scholarship Program, Assessment funding, Schools of Hope funding, and Schools of Hope Implementation. In addition, the Subcommittee received an update by Step Up for Students on implementation of the Gardiner Scholarship Program. The Meeting Packet is available HERE.
The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee had a panel discussion on school discipline and school climate. This panel discussion was offered as background for the new voucher program that the House intends to introduce during the 2018 Legislative Session – The Hope Scholarship Program – that will make students claiming to be victims of bullying, abuse, or similar acts of violence eligible for a voucher to attend a private school or another public school. House leadership announced this new program in a press conference held earlier this month. FDOE’s Jacob Oliva, Executive Vice Chancellor for K-12 Public Schools provided a presentation on current requirements for school safety reporting requirements, required school board policies regarding school violence, school safety statistics, and Safe Schools Appropriation funds. The Florida Department of Health offered a presentation – Impact of School Violence and Abuse on Health and Academic Outcomes – that highlighted the correlation between health and academic performance and provided information from surveys and statistics on incidents of bullying, harassment, fighting, and other violent acts. The Meeting Packet is available HERE.
The next round of Interim Committee Meetings will be held the week of November 6-10, 2017.
Several of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) Committees will meet this week. Of particular interest, the CRC Education Committee will hold two meetings. The first of these will be on Tuesday, October 31, 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. The agenda for this first meeting includes presentations on K-12 education governance and on access to education options. The second meeting will be on Thursday, November 2, 8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. The agenda for this second meeting includes presentations on the education finance structure and on the use of public funds in aid of sectarian institutions.
As we reported earlier, the CRC has eliminated from further consideration all but a few of the proposals that had been submitted by the public, but Commissioners are free to submit new proposals that may include ideas suggested by the public. As of this writing, Commissioners have submitted 48 separate proposals, some of which were inspired by public proposals or testimony, and include several that could have a significant impact on K-12 education. You may access a list and more information about these proposals HERE. For more information about the CRC, please visit the Education Legal News page in our Resource Room and/or the CRC Website.
Last week, Congress finalized the Fiscal Year 2018 budget resolution, House Continuing Resolution 71, which paves the way for tax reform to officially begin. This budget resolution includes broad goals for education on ensuring State flexibility, enhancing outcomes with Federal workforce development programs, the consolidation and streamlining of overlapping early learning and child care programs, educational programs for individuals with disabilities, and child nutrition programs. The budget resolution also includes provisions to address investments in rural schools, to address school districts/communities affected by the recent natural disasters, and to address healthcare reform (this impacts school-based Medicaid services). Of particular note, the budget resolution also includes an amendment adopted in favor of discontinuing state and local tax deductions (SALT) and provides the groundwork by which a tax reform/tax cut package can pass the Senate with a simple majority vote (i.e. without the need for an extraordinary vote to avoid a filibuster). NSBA, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the National Association of Counties, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and other state and local government groups have formed a coalition called Americans Against Double Taxation in an effort to continue the SALT deduction. For more information and details about the impact of eliminating SALT, please see this report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
NSBA’s 2018 Advocacy Institute – entitled, “Elected. Engaged. Empowered: Representing the Voice in Public Education” – will be held on February 4-6, 2018 at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C. This conference will convene Members of Congress, national thought-leaders, state association executives, and well-known political pundits to provide local school board members with an update on key policy and legal issues impacting public education, and tactics and strategies to enhance their ability to influence the policy-making process and national education debate during their year-round advocacy efforts. This is an exciting and worthwhile event. For registration, hotel reservations, and other information, please click HERE. Please note that the hotel block will close on Monday, January 15.