Leon County 1 of 12 school districts ineligible for extra funding

Logo courtesy Leon County Schools

Lawmakers approved $200 million to restock the Florida School Recognition Program as part of the $112.1 billion budget approved Monday.

HB 5003 would implement specified appropriations of the General Appropriations Act for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

The bill passed 33-0 in the Senate and by a 105-3 measure in the House.

The agreement on the new School Recognition Program came as conversations continued over issues involving public schools, higher education and agriculture and natural resources, including gaps in spending over resiliency projects and land preservation.

However, lawmakers are restricting the performance recognition fund to only the 55 districts that followed state law and orders from Gov. Ron DeSantis administration banning mask mandates in public schools.

North Miami Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph was one of two Democrats who voted against the budget. The $200 million fund was among the reasons she told Florida Politics she could not vote for the budget at the end of this session, which took place Monday.

“They continue to try to bully local governments, and in this case, school boards, and are punishing them for protecting the children, which is their job,” Joseph said. “I can’t support that.”

House and Senate budget negotiators recreated a plan that called for shifting $200 million away from school districts that required students to wear masks at the start of the school year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initial version of the plan, known as the “Putting Parents First Adjustment,” was switched Monday for what is being called the “School Recognition Program,” which would offer rewards to districts that followed state mask directives.

The change of the name came as House Appropriations Chairman Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, and Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, continued to negotiate budget details in the final days of the 2022 legislative session.

The bill will take effect July 1, the start of the state’s 2022-23 fiscal year.

The initial plan to shift money away from school districts would have been included in the main funding formula for public schools, known as the Florida Education Finance

Program, or FEFP. The $200 million would have been redistributed to the 55 districts that did not impose mask mandates.

Trumbull called the new plan “much cleaner” and said the 12 districts that imposed student mask mandates will be ineligible to receive the financial boost.

Those 12 districts include Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Volusia counties.