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PolitiFact Florida Finds Tallahassee 'Transparency' Rather Opaque

Photo courtesy PolitiFact Florida
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, left, and Senate President Joe Negron talk to the press at the end of the legislative session on May 8

A lot of big promises came up before this year's legislative session in Tallahassee. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said this way back in November:

"On your desks are the most aggressive, transformative rules in the history of the Florida legislature. These rules make us a national leader in transparency and accountability."

But when it came to the state's massive education bill, a lot of people say that was hammered out behind closed doors in the last days of the session.

So Corcoran took to Twitter, tweeting on May 12: "Time to end the myth of ‘legislation negotiated in secret.’ #transparency#HB7069#PutKidsFirst"

So was Corcoran being transparent or opaque? Here'sPolitiFact Florida's ruling:

The legislative session began in March with dozens of education bills in the House and Senate. Many bills moved their way through the traditional legislative process of public committee hearings and votes.
But at the end of the session, at least 55 bills were crammed into one mammoth $419 million, 278-page education bill negotiated by legislative leaders. The final outcome is now in the hands of Gov. Rick Scott, who can veto the entire education bill or sign it in the coming weeks. In March, both chambers produced bills -- HB 7069 in the House and SB 1552 in the Senate -- to expand eligibility criteria for bonuses to top public school teachers under the Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program. Lawmakers wanted to add in bonuses for principals, and the House budget proposal called for $214 million to the expanded program in the 2017-18 budget, up from the $49 million this year. Two House committees voted in favor of the bill at public meetings on March 10 and March 29. Although senators also expressed interest in expanding the program, the Senate’s initial budget proposal included no such funding. The decision was part of a strategic move in hopes that the Senate would get some of its priorities in later negotiations with the House. On April 13, the House version passed the House (79-38). The Senate voted unanimously -- but not to pass the bill, rather to send it to budget conference. HB 7069 was among four K-12 policy bills sent into conference negotiations. 00000174-1250-d47e-a1f7-5275b6550000 During the final week of the regularly scheduled session, Corcoran and Negron -- with help from other key lawmakers, such as Simmons, Diaz and House Education chairman Michael Bileca, R-Miami -- negotiated in private a catch-all education bill that included a final version of the teacher bonuses language, the policies of the other K-12 budget bills and myriad other proposals unrelated to spending. That final version of HB 7069 was made public for the first time on Friday evening May 5. While part of the legislative process was done in public, Corcoran omits that the final dealmaking between the House and Senate was largely done behind closed doors. We rate this claim False.

Rep. Corcoran also touted the overall level of spending the Legislature approved for schools in a May 6, 2017 tweet:

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

As a quick overview, the most common measure of education spending is the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), the main source of dollars for K-12 education. When most people discuss K-12 school funding, this is what they are talking about.
By law, it’s a combination of state and local funding. Each school district must contribute property tax dollars, called the "required local effort," in an amount dictated by the state. In recent years, the state has also received federal stimulus dollars. For 2017-18, the Legislature increased the base education budget, or FEFP, from about $20.2 billion to $20.4 billion. In the current school year, spending is about $7,196 per pupil. The 2017-18 budget raises that to about $7,221 per student, a 0.34 percent increase. The small change has drawn jeers from educators and parents, and is $200 less than the $7,421 amount Gov. Rick Scott requested in his proposed budget. Corcoran is talking about more than the FEFP to reach his total. Getting to $24 billion His $24 billion figure includes several allocations for multiple programs outside the FEFP, and technically is the total for voluntary pre-kindergarten, as well as other programs including mentoring services and grants. We requested analyses from both the House and Senate on both sides of the aisle, and they came up with roughly the same figures: The entire education budget for the next fiscal year — including the FEFP, grants, special programs and more — is about $14.7 billion in state funds (including $3.2 billion from state trust funds), plus another $9 billion from the required local effort. That’s a total of $23.7 billion, give or take a few estimated millions. When you add HB 7069’s $419 million to that, you get about $24 billion. In sheer dollars, that appears to be the case in large part because the Legislature agreed to an incremental bump in funding. Even if Scott doesn’t sign HB 7069, which targets very specific programs, the main state-local funding source alone is still at the highest total it’s ever been. But it's not a runaway difference. Compared with the current year, the per-pupil increase is less than one-half of 1 percent. The increases that do exist won't affect every school district equally, and some counties likely will see less money because of how the state allocates school funds. Corcoran is also including spending that hasn't yet been approved by the governor. The claim loses even more luster when taking into account that Florida's education spending, already lower than the national average, hasn’t kept up with inflation for years. The next fiscal year is no different. The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details. We rate it Half True.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.