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Florida Legislative Leaders Unveil 2014 Education Agenda

Senate President Don Gaetz (left) and House Speaker Will Weatherford (right)
Senate President Don Gaetz (left) and House Speaker Will Weatherford (right)

Florida legislative leaders are pushing a big education agenda this year that features revamped higher education funding proposals and an overhaul to the state’s embattled school grading formula.

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz want to give out-of-state veterans in-state tuition; tie increases in public university funding to performance; and expand the state’s corporate tax scholarship program—which gives low-income students in failing public schools tuition assistance so they can go to private ones. The duo is also planning to curb increases in public university tuition by scaling back the amount of money schools can request for tuition increases. Weatherford says it’s necessary because the cost of tuition is outpacing the state’s college tuition savings plan:

“The problem is, the prepaid contracts have to assume that every university will increase their tuition by 15 percent.  It’s made the prepaid contract unaffordable. And universities aren’t increasing their tuition by 15 percent. So, by lowering the cap to 6 [percent], we make everyday middle class Floridians be able to afford a prepaid contract. That’s what this is about.” 

Florida lawmakers are also planning to address the state’s school grading system, which has come under increased scrutiny in the past year. State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has said the Department of Education is preparing a series of revisions to the grading scale. The Department plans to unveil proposed changes in February.

Meanwhile Gaetz and Whetherford aren't committing themselves to Governor Rick Scott's $542 million proposed increase to the K-12 education budget. The legislative leaders say it's too early to say what the final figure will be.

"$500 million is a lot of money, that's a big investment. But we also have to look and see at our overall budget and what we can afford and what it calls for, "Weatherford said.

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