On June 1st the Florida Legislature begins debate in a special session to adopt a budget. The funding level for education — including higher education — hangs in the balance.
Please read the letter below from FEA President Andy Ford to the Senate President and House Speaker on the need for addressing problems in education funding.
The letter closes with a strong statement from Andy Ford on the need for additional funds for higher education. This letter helps to explain what we face now and how the Legislature can begin to fix problems. Please be ready to contact legislators who represent you to let them know what universities and colleges need in the Special Session. UFF will send you updates and contact information.
President, United Faculty of Florida
The text of Andy’s letter is as follows (an identical letter was sent to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli):
May 22, 2015
Senate President Andy Gardiner
409 The Capitol
409 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-1100
Dear President Gardiner:
The 2015 legislative session started with such promise for our state: a billion dollar revenue surplus and a proposed budget from the governor which could return education funding to pre-recession levels and cover the increased costs of an additional 15,000 students.
This was welcomed news given that a recent report by Education Week criticized Florida for spending too little on public schools – earning Florida a D+ in the “school finance” category.
Unfortunately, the opportunity to improve Florida’s national standing regarding education funding came to an abrupt end on May 1.
Now that you have a clearer picture of the resources available to meet the needs of Floridians, you have important decisions to make. We encourage you to recognize that education and health care are both critically important to our state.
FEA and its members are hopeful that progress will be made toward providing affordable health insurance for more Floridians. Families should not have to decide whether to keep food on the table, pay their utility bill or go to the doctor. Florida is better than that.
But we must also make sure our kids come to school with what they need to succeed and we must make sure every teacher has what they need to do an outstanding job.
Our public schools need class sizes that allow for one-on-one interaction, up-to-date technology and materials, safety in classrooms and on our school buses. Our aging school buildings need maintenance and repair so our students are learning in a safe and healthy environment.
Our students with unique abilities need increased and stabilized funding.
Academically struggling students need more reading instruction, after-school instruction, tutoring, mentoring, extended school year, summer school and other methods for improving student learning. Our preschoolers need quality early childhood and pre-k learning programs.
Finally, our colleges and universities need adequate funding to attract and retain the very best faculty and advanced degree candidates. Investment in higher education creates jobs, new industries, and improves quality of life.
Henry Ford once said “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
As you begin again in special session, we urge you to set politics aside and put the critical needs of Florida first.
Florida Education Association
THE BUDGET AND HEALTH CARE
According to reports, the Senate has offered a few changes to its health care expansion proposal in an effort to gain House support. The Senate health care plan is scheduled to be discussed in a House workshop on the first day of the Special Session, June 1st.
The U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has notified state health officials that Florida may justify about $1 billion for uncompensated care next year but will leave about $1.16 billion on the
table by not expanding Medicaid coverage. While not a guarantee of federal funds, the letter from CMS said the $1 billion of federal funds should allow for “stability while the system transitions.”
This issue is a roadblock for meaningful resolution of the education budget and other budget issues.
STATE GROUP HEALTH INSURANCE
One other unresolved issue is the state group health insurance plan. CS/HB 7097 is included in the proclamation of issues to be discussed during Special Session A. UFF will be working with other unions whose members will be affected by this legislation. The bill before the House during the regular session was a long-range plan but parts of that plan could have negative implications for many of our university faculty. Stay tuned for further updates.