Rich Templin of the Florida AFL-CIO on the new state budget
Good morning, welcome to Radioactivity. I'm Rob Lorei. Today we'll talk about the new state budget signed last Thursday by Governor Rick Scott. Our guest is Rich Templin, Ph.D., Legislative and Political Director of the Florida AFL-CIO.
The governor signed the state budget last Thursday at a private ceremony in The Villages and we're still kind of going through it and figuring out exactly what the budget means for the future of Florida and here to help us deconstruct the budget is Rich Templin, who is the legislative and political director at the Florida AFL-CIO. He is Dr. Rich Templin, he's got a Ph.D. and Rich, welcome to WMNF studios. You've been here via phone many times but great to see you.
"It's an absolute honor to be here as someone who just fully supports community radio. WMNF is just the flagship for community radio here in Florida so it's a real honor."
Well, you're too kind. So let's talk about, just overall, what did you think of the governor's budget? What did the AFL-CIO think of the budget?
"In politics these days it's hard to get a definitive answer on anything but my answer to that question is: It's a disaster. It's an unmitigated disaster. It's going to have disastrous consequences not just over the next fiscal year but, potentially, ten years down the road. We took so many steps backwards not only in the budget but just in general law here in the State of Florida. There were a lot of great organizations. Thousands of activists around the state that got mobilized and at the end of the day it just wasn't enough to stop enough of the bleeding that we needed to but the Legislature is back in January and I know that people around the state are mobilizing right now and getting ready to fight back even harder and hopefully we'll be able to reverse some of the damage that was done."
You used the word disastrous, if you were to pick out one or two things that you think were disastrous for the people of Florida, which would they be?
"Well, I mean for example, something that touches on everyone is public education. Florida was already lagging at about 48th or 50th in the nation in terms of not only K-12 spending but we've been at 50th in the nation for the last 5 or 6 years in higher education spending. We cut $1.3 billion out of the education budget, that's the single biggest education cut in the history of the state. That amounts to $542 per student. Now we are already getting reports of 1400 teacher layoffs in Broward County. We expect similar reports to come from our bigger counties including right here in the Bay area."
"But it's also having a devestating impact on smaller counties, rural counties. So much of the property tax goes to funding public education but that's interesting, too, because there's been a reversal since the days of Jeb Bush. When Jeb Bush took office the state put up about 60 percent of funding for local school districts and local property taxes came up with about 40 percent. After Jeb Bush that ratio was reversed to where 60 percent of our schools was funded by local property taxes, 40 percent by the state. Then we started having these Constitutional Amendments on the ballot and voted in by the voters that capped property taxes. We also have the Save Our Homes cap that is a more longer standing cap. The counties are being asked to do more and more but being dictated by the legislature to have less and less to do it. So some of these rural counties I think you're going to see a real disaster with this $1.35 billion budget cut because they just don't have the property tax base to rely on. They're going to hurting so the teacher losses will obviously be smaller but the per capita hit to those students and those communities is going to be much greater."
Did the governor make promises as he was running for office about what he would do about education? If I recall correctly, he made a promise saying that he would not cut education spending in the state of Florida. That was one of his promises.
"Yeah, the governor's been all over the place on this. When he was running for office he promised to "hold education harmless". We've heard that a lot over the last 3 or 4 years first from Governor Charlie Crist and then from Rick Scott when he was running for office. So, he promised to hold education harmless. He then offered a budget to the state legislature that cut education by a whopping $3.3 billion. That was whittled down by the legislature to $1.35 billion. Then the governor came back again just a couple of weeks ago and in his line item vetoes then recommended that the legislature go back and take those funds that he vetoed and put those back in the education. So, the governor's really all over the place and I think it's because it's his position on education is much more tied to his political aspirations than any really firm understanding of the policy implications for these dollars."
The governor said that last Thursday. He said, 'let's take the savings and we'll put it back towards education' but that would take a special session of the legislature, wouldn't it? I mean the legislature can't just, without being in session, redirect the money.
There's no plan to have a special session for education spending.
"No, not as of yet and all the media reports indicate that the Speaker of the House, Dean Cannon, isn't inclined to do so."
What do you think the real aim of the governor is when it comes to education or if you can include the Republican-controlled legislature, what would they like to see happen to public education in the State of Florida?
"Completely privatized. We know that not only because of their lack of a committment to education but, you know, something else that was done to our schools which is going to have, perhaps, even a more dramatic impact in the loss of revenue was the so-called Merit Pay Bill that was offered. If you talk to parents out there. Parents, grandparents, folks that are involved with their children's education, one of the number one criticisms they have of the Florida public system is the FCAT. This over reliance on this standardized test that dominates all of the students time. It has eliminated the arts, it's eliminated enhanced educational opportunities, field trips, direct experiential learning, thing like that. As teachers are forced to teach to the test, this Merit Pay Bill, what it does is expand that testing four-fold to where now the only experiences that students will have in schools is going to be testing. It's important to note, though, that those requirements do not carry over to private schools that are receiving public dollars through vouchers."
"Another thing the legislature did directly connected to this was there will be an Amendment on the ballot in 2012 that eliminates what is commonly called the Blaine Amendment. That is Florida's separation of Church and State. That's the part of our Constitution that says that public dollars will not go into the coffers of any religious organization. They want to repeal that completely. If they do that, if the voters approve that which I'm hopeful that they won't and I don't think that they will, but if the voters do approve that, that will remove the last barrier to vouchers on demand for everyone. At which point you'll see the end of public education as we know it and those dollars will flow exclusively to private institutions."
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