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Scott Unlikely To Get Full School Funding Request

The Office of Governor Rick Scott

House budget writers unveiled an education spending plan Monday that would provide public schools with almost $47 less per student than Gov. Rick Scott proposed, and a key senator said his chamber was also unlikely to meet the governor's number when a Senate blueprint is released Tuesday.

The two developments cast increasing doubt on one of Scott's chief priorities only two weeks into the 60-day legislative session.

The $7,129 per public-school student provided by the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee proposal would still be a record amount under the main formula used to bankroll elementary and secondary education. But it would barely pass the high-water mark, set in 2007-2008, of $7,126 a pupil and would fall far short of the $7,176 that Scott has sought.

The difference would amount to almost $78.3 million less statewide than Scott's proposal. But the House funding would still be an increase of almost $215 a student, or $764.2 million overall, from the budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who chairs the subcommittee, stressed that the House plan would still hit Scott's goal of the highest per-student funding in state history.

"It wasn't a slight to the governor," Fresen said. "We wanted to make sure we hit his historic number."

The subcommittee did not vote on Fresen's plan, which will instead be incorporated into the House's full budget proposal and voted on by the Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Don Gaetz, Fresen's counterpart in the Senate, said the Senate budget proposal will also probably come up short of the governor's request, largely because of a potential drop in health-care funding from the federal government.

"I think it's less likely that the Senate or the House can get to the governor's number, because the governor's budget relied upon revenues that no longer exist," said Gaetz, R-Niceville. "That's not the governor's fault. He operated under the information that he had then."

The Senate is set to unveil its budget proposal Tuesday.

Scott made record funding for public education one of his top promises when he campaigned for re-election in 2014, and it is among his highest priorities for the current session.

"These record investments will continue to equip our students for the jobs of tomorrow and help us on our path to be the number one destination for jobs," Scott said in January, when he formally unveiled the education budget proposal.

But lawmakers face hurdles in trying to meet Scott's call for higher school spending and $673 million in tax cuts. For one thing, the nearly $77 billion budget Scott has recommended includes $2 billion in federal and local health-care funding that might not be available in the spending year that begins July 1, though state and federal officials are negotiating about the fate of the program.

While that source of funding has always been set to expire June 30, federal officials have made it increasingly clear that the Low Income Pool, or "LIP," program will not be extended in its current form.