Hurting Our Schools

Education funding was on the chopping block in 2001 after the legislature over-estimated their revenue, forcing Governor Bush to call a special session to plug the holes in the budget.

The political fight overshadowed the apparent agreement by the House and Senate to cut millions of dollars affecting Floridians, including money for health coverage for the poor and elderly to money for schools.
For example, the Senate's budget leaves school districts with significant cuts. Pinellas County is looking at a $ 5.3-million cut; Hillsborough a $ 8.3-million cut; Pasco, $ 2.5-million; Hernando, $ 892,900; and Citrus, $ 807,000.

Gov. Jeb Bush called the special session to cut as much as $ 1.3- billion from the $ 48-billion state budget, to make up for lost tax revenue because of the sagging economy. The lawmakers have been at it since Monday, and hope to finish next week.

St. Petersburg Times, 10/26/01

While other areas were also cut, the biggest cuts by far were made to education. Overall, more than $692 million was cut from the education budget thanks to Díaz de la Portilla’s vote.

SB 2B, Vote #3, 10/25/01, Passed 29-10, Díaz de la Portilla – ‘Yea’

Economists have said the state budget has about $1.3 billion more in spending than will come in through tax collections. The House voted 78-41 to cut its budget by about $1.1 billion Thursday. The Senate plans to vote on its plan Friday and then the two plans will be reconciled in negotiations.

Here are the major sections of the House budget-cutting bill.

EDUCATION:
- $692.6 million in cuts, mostly in public schools. Also includes $32.5 million in community college cuts and $113 million in cuts to the state university system.

HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES:
Includes the state's Medicaid program and the state Health Department.
- $224.4 million in cuts.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND COURTS:
- $166.7 million in cuts.

TRANSPORTATION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:
- $42.4 million in cuts.

GENERAL GOVERNMENT:
Includes the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Insurance and the Department of Agriculture
- $50.1 million in cuts.

LEGISLATURE:
- $11.2 million in cuts.

Associated Press, 11/29/01

Stripping Money from Miami-Dade Schools

In 2004, Senate President Jim King passed a school district funding formula that shifted as much as $120 million from Miami-Dade County and Broward County to North and Central Florida. 

Senate President Jim King capped his 18-year career in the Legislature with his most successful session ever. He succeeded in winning support for a blistering budget change that could shift as much as $120 million from Miami-Dade and Broward County schools to mid-size counties in North and Central Florida over the next three years.

Miami Herald, 5/9/04

Díaz de la Portilla was referred to as “King’s top lieutenant” during the session.

LEGISLATORS FALLING FROM POWER

SEN. ALEX DÍAZ DE LA PORTILLA: The Miami Republican, King's top lieutenant, will move to a less prominent role under Tom Lee.

Miami Herald, 5/9/04

The funding shift was a priority for King for 17 years before he finally passed it in 2004. The cuts came on top of more than $120 million in cuts to the Miami-Dade district over the prior two years.

• HB 1835, Vote #55, 4/30/04, Passed 32-6, Díaz de la Portilla – ‘Yea’

• HB 1837, Vote #56, 4/30/04, Passed 34-4, Díaz de la Portilla – ‘Yea’

The worst inequity is in a new school-funding formula championed by Mr. King. For 17 years Mr. King has chafed at a formula that provides extra funds to urban districts to offset their higher costs. He wanted more money for Duval and other North Florida counties. Now he stands to achieve that on the backs of Broward and Miami-Dade schoolchildren who will lose up to $120 million over the next three years under the new formula. Lawmakers already have cut more than $120 million from the Miami-Dade school budget in the past two years. But that didn't matter.

Miami Herald, 4/29/04

Díaz de la Portilla was singled out for his failure to protect his constituents, siding with King instead. Díaz de la Portilla’s power struggle with Senator Villalobos made it easier for President King to divide the Miami-Dade delegation.

The Miami-Dade and Broward school boards should challenge this funding formula in court on grounds that it is unconstitutional. And South Floridians should take note of the performance of their legislators and governor, who ultimately failed to protect our interests or those of the state. Sen. Alex Díaz de la Portilla, in particular, sided with Mr. King against his constituents. We need public servants who look out for Florida's future, not their personal, partisan agendas…

The divided loyalties in the House made King's quest easier, considering he could exploit factions in the Senate, where two Miami Republicans are jockeying to become president in 2006. Rubio and other House members said they didn't feel they had enough support from their fellow Miami Republicans in the Senate.

Those two senators, Alex Villalobos and Alex Díaz de la Portilla, said their political aspirations had nothing to do with King's success, which they attributed to his political acumen and the albatross that is the troubled Miami-Dade school district.

Miami Herald, 4/29/04

When asked about the cuts to Miami-Dade schools, Díaz de la Portilla suggested that the district should “learn to do more with less,” claiming that they “need to become more frugal.” He continued his criticism, claiming that the state was “giving them enough money.”

Díaz de la Portilla, one of King's closest lieutenants, echoed the criticism and suggested the school district should "learn to do more with less."

"The Miami-Dade schools need to become more frugal," Díaz de la Portilla said. "We're giving them enough money.”

Miami Herald, 4/29/04

This loyalty to party leadership over his constituents was later put to words by Díaz de la Portilla: “I can’t speak for other people. I follow the Republican Party line. ... I think it’s important that if you have an R next to your name that you act like an R.”

For Garcia, opposing the class-size amendment was all about paybacks. He fought successfully 17 years ago for a Miami-Dade schools cost-of-living adjustment in the state budget, but that was undone two years ago

''We keep losing more and more. It had to stop,'' he said

But Sen. Alex Díaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican whose district also has crowded schools and who voted for the proposal, said he was determined to side with his leaders

''I can't speak for other people. I follow the Republican Party line,'' he said. ``This was clearly one of Gov. Bush's top priorities, and I think it's important that if you have an R next to your name that you act like an R.''

Miami Herald, 4/29/06