After a week of negotiation, Florida’s lawmakers reached a budget deal which addresses major spending priorities for Florida’s 2021-22 budget.
One of the largest provisions of the near $100 billion budget has been allocated to education. Twenty-two billion dollars of the budget is dedicated to school spending, which includes one-time $1,000 bonuses for all K-12 teachers and principals. The proposal is backed by Governor Ron DeSantis.
A major point of debate during the budget discussion is how to spend $10 billion in federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act passed by President Joe Biden in March.
State House and Senate legislators initially proposed a plan to make major cuts to Medicaid and other healthcare funding, but lawmakers have since backed off those proposals.
“Obviously, we are pleased with where it appears to be landing,” said Justin Senior, CEO of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida. “We are really thankful. It’s been a really difficult year for hospitals and hospital workers, but we are really appreciative that even in a strange environment fiscally that the Legislature has maintained their investment in health care.”
However, lawmakers did make cuts. One of those cuts was eliminating a $600 stipend covering textbook costs for the top Bright Futures scholarship winners. The cut will save over $37 million. The legislature is also eliminating an entire tuition assistance program, the Access to Better Learning and Education grant, a program serving primarily students at private colleges and universities. The program was previously funded at $4.6 million per year.
Another large topic of discussion was how to handle Florida’s state prison system, and Senate Republicans pushed a plan to close down four prisons due to low inmate populations as a result of the COVID pandemic.
“Our plan was to say, hey, Department of Corrections, if you would like to make a plan on how to close a prison, you can use those resources to go out and give your hard-working correctional officers a raise,” said State Rep. Jay Trumbull (R-6) (pictured above).
In an effort to curb low staffing among corrections officers, the budget deal also included $1,000 bonuses for new corrections officers, for a total of $5 million.
State Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-10) has also been pushing for pay raises for low-paid state employees, increasing their pay rate to $13 per hour.
The budget plan has to be finalized Tuesday in order to meet the required 72-hour “cooling off” period ahead of Friday, the last day of the regular session.
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