In the face of resistance from lawmakers in Northwest Florida and other areas with a large military presence, state House leaders have backed off the idea of eliminating education funding for students whose parents serve in the armed forces.
“I’m very pleased at how quickly the Northwest Florida delegation pulled together on this issue,” said Okaloosa County School District spokesman Henry Kelly, who participated in behind-the-scenes negotiations to save the annual appropriation.
Okaloosa County School Superintendent of Schools Mary Beth Jackson began rallying support to fight for the $12.1 million Federally Connected Students Supplement last week after word reached her about the House leadership's plans.
The money is allocated in two categories; first to assist in helping students of military families with things like counseling when parents deploy, and second, to offset property tax dollars that go uncollected due to the presence of military installations.
Northwest Florida counties, where the military presence is pervasive, receive $6.1 million of the total allocation. Okaloosa County receives $2.37 million and Santa Rosa County $1.17 million. Bay and Escambia counties also receive funds.
Brevard County, with a huge military and space industry presence, receives $2.5 million in supplement dollars, the most of any county in Florida.
Jackson said state Rep. Mel Ponder and state Sens. George Gainer and Doug Broxson took the lead among Northwest Florida lawmakers in pushing for reconsideration of the plan to eliminate the funds. She also said an out-of-state organization, Home Front Progressives, offered its assistance in the lobbying effort.
“I’m so grateful and so thankful for their help. They stepped up to the plate when we made them aware of the situation and did everything they could,” she said. “$2.4 million may not seem like a lot to a school district, but to us that’s a lot of money and its loss could be devastating.”
Ponder, R-Destin, said he teamed with state Rep. Thad Altman, who represents Brevard County, to lobby state Rep. Manny Diaz, the chair of the Pre-K 12 Appropriations Subcommittee, to return the Federally Connected Students Supplement to the budget.
“He told us they were considering removing that item but reconsidered and that money is staying in the House budget,” Ponder said. “I’m thankful we didn’t have to do more than we did. I’m just thankful.”
A request for comment from the office of House Speaker Richard Corcoran was not answered.
Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said he learned through a discussion with state Sen. David Simmons, the upper chamber’s K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, that the Federally Connected Students Supplement was never in danger in his committee.
“I think it was a good process through which sound reasoning prevailed,” he said of the work done to secure the supplement.