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Scott Admin. "Bombshell" Recommendation to revote FY 2021 School Budgets

Here's an update from the House Ways and Means Committee regarding a meeting with members of the Scott administration last Thursday. House Education Committee is also involved in this ongoing conversation. 

Senate Education Chair called it a "dumb idea" and House Education Chair Kate Webb said it would cause “chaos.”  So what plan caused such extreme reaction? On Thursday, House Ways & Means heard from the Administration, including Commissioner of Finance Adam Greshin and Secretary of the Agency of Education Dan French regarding the Administration’s proposal to cover the potential $166.7 million shortfall in the Education Fund budget for FY2021. In response to this crisis, Commission Greshin floated the idea that all school districts revote their budgets, presumably at a lower level than what has been approved by voters, and to consider renegotiating collective bargaining agreements by getting all stakeholders at the table to come up with a solution. Further, they proposed that the Ed Fund use the “skinny budget” approach by funding one quarter of the year (July – September) while budgets and contracts are negotiated.

Needless to say, the proposal was received with some surprise on the part of the committee. The feasibility of re-voting school budgets and opening & renegotiating contracts for 115+ school districts by early September is highly unlikely. While we don’t have a solution yet to the funding gap, there is no appetite among Democrats on the committee for this plan and, in fact, we didn’t hear anyone speak up for it, whatever the party. Moreover, when students come back to school, they are likely to need more assistance, not less, and we must ensure that we have the resources to allow schools to do what we are asking of them.

Also, to be clear, the House Ways and Means Committee believes the solution to this problem is NOT in higher property taxes. There is a consensus in the committee that the property tax rates for fiscal 21 should be based on budgets passed or about to be passed prior to COVID-19. We see these as the tax rates that would have been in effect if the pandemic hadn’t happened.  Tax rates will be set independently of the COVID-19 situation.  That leaves us with a  $166.7 million hole to fill in the Education Fund, after using all the reserves, the surplus on the bottom line and accounting for lower sales tax collections. JFO is working hard to come up with potential scenarios and solutions, including finding legitimate ways to use some of the $1.25 billion in Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF). If this isn’t viable, there is still the possibility of Washington relaxing the restrictions on current CRF funds and/or a new relief package. And there may be other options. Stay tuned.