• Florida lawmakers reach late-night deal on budget; education suffers


    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida legislators have a deal on a new state budget that would allow them to avoid a shutdown of the state government.

    Republican budget negotiators late Monday night traded final offers on a nearly $80 billion spending plan. The agreement means legislators should be able to vote the budget out later this week.

    School funding was expected to be one of the areas helped by the state's budget surplus. But per student, Florida will spend less next year than it did in 2007.

    "Certainly that was one of the more disappointing parts of the budget," Sen. Darren Soto said.

    Soto, whose bill to pay every teacher at least $50,000 never made it for a vote, said because the House is unwilling to accept federal money for healthcare, the state was forced to back fill, and education suffered.

    "Overall, it is a big total budget, but per student, it just wasn't there," Soto said.

    Rep. Bob Cortes agreed that there's a lack of money going to education.

    "It was a tough year with the budget. Education was extremely tough," Cortes said

    Cortes, of Seminole County, said education did get more money, just not what many had hoped for.

    "It does move in the right direction," Cortes said.

    Environmental groups were also disappointed in the approved budget. In November, voters approved dedicated funds to buy lands in Florida, but the Legislature is using that money instead to pay for other costs.

    Legislators usually pass a budget in the spring, but this year the House and Senate were at odds over health care and health care spending. They had to pass a budget by the end of June to avoid a shutdown.

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