Gov. Rick Scott visited a Miami elementary school Monday to ask lawmakers to meet his request for school funding.
Lawmakers return to Tallahassee today to finish the budget. The big disagreement is how to pay for health care. And that could affect how much money is left for education.
Scott opposes expanding the state-run Medicaid program. He says there’s more than enough money to set per-student funding at $7,176, an all-time high unadjusted for inflation.
“We have a $1.8 billion dollar surplus," Scott says. "A $1.8 billion dollar surplus. Ok. We can invest. We can have record funding for K-12 education. We can do the tax cuts. We will continue to get, keep continuing our economy. And we can make sure we have all the safety nets we need.”
But Senate Education chairman John Legg says that isn’t true.
Unless Florida expands Medicaid and brings in more federal money, that money might have to be spent on hospitals instead of schools.
“That’s going to be a large lift," Legg says. "That’s going to take a significant amount of new money. It would require, in my view, the House to agree to some sort of Medicaid, if you will, expansion.”
That's because the federal government is expected to cut funding for hospitals that treat low-income residents. The Senate wants to spend some of the surplus to lessen the blow to hospital budgets, if the House refuses to expand Medicaid or find another way to tap additional federal dollars.
Florida has also added 15,000 students more than expected, Legg says, another reason why it will be difficult to match Scott's goal.
Instead, Legg expects to increase funding by, at most, three percent per student -- which would fall short of Scott’s goal.
The session is scheduled to last three weeks. Lawmakers could reach a budget sooner.