Local News

State budget offers increases for school district and SFSC

The record $77.1 billion budget passed by the Legislature boosts the School Board of Highlands County’s state funding by nearly $2.2 million, but offers a very modest increase for South Florida State College.

Gov. Rick Scott has to sign the budget for it to become official.

Two weeks ago it looked like the college would receive between $500,000 and $1 million in more funding, said SFSC Administrative Services Vice President Glenn Little.

But, the approved budget is a “little bit disappointing,” he said.

“We didn’t turn out quite as well as we hoped we would,” Little said. “We ended up actually with a 0.9 percent increase in state revenue for our operating budgets ... which is a total of $142,511 new dollars coming in from state revenues.”

The college was hoping for more money because the state has not approved a tuition increase, he said.

“The only new dollars we will get will be either from this $142,511 or miscellaneous revenue or, in some cases, additional tuition due to enrollment growth,” he said. “We are starting two new baccalaureate degrees that will help us in terms of revenue, but, of course, we incur all of those expenses that go along with starting the new programs.”

The college is working on the budget now, Little said, and will make it work.

The School Board of Highlands County will likely receive an additional $2.19 million from the state, according to Business Operations Director Mike Averyt.

The district is still analyzing the figures, but it will receive more money than it did last year, he said.

Some of the extra revenue will go toward teacher salaries.

“We put the [teacher] planning period back in last year, but we didn’t fund it,” he said. “We are funding it over two years, so some of that money has to be used to buy back the planning period from last year.”

The district received $78,790,894 in state funding last year from the Florida Education Finance Program.

This year the district will receive an estimated $80,978,651.

It’s better than taking a cut, Averyt noted.

The exact funding level won’t be known until the middle of July when the district receives the second calculation of 2014-15 assessed valuation from the property appraiser, he said.

Also related to school funding, the Students in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Program will not have a chance to qualify for additional funding with Senate Bill 908 failing Friday to advance through appropriations. The bill aimed to provide bonus funding for students enrolled in AVID elective classes who earn a qualifying score on accelerated course assessments, or for students in grades six through eight, a passing score on an algebra or higher-level mathematics end-of-course examination.

A school safety related bill, HB 753, died Friday in the Criminal Justice committee. The bill would have permitted school superintendents, with the approval of the school board, to authorize a school safety designee to carry a concealed weapon or firearm on school property.

The Legislature expanded eligibility for the state’s de facto school-voucher system in a last-minute deal.

Under the bill approved by the Legislature, a family of four earning up to $62,010 a year would be eligible for at least a partial scholarship, a nearly $20,000 boost from the current $43,568 annual income limit. The value of each individual scholarship would also rise.

The Legislature has allowed some undocumented immigrant students will be allowed to pay in-state tuition rates at colleges and universities. Under the legislation, an immigrant would have to attend secondary school in Florida for three years before graduating.

mvalero@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5826

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report