It was a close call, but as of today (March 2), the Flagler County school district will not lose some $600,000 in state funds to run several programs for the disabled in its Adult Education division. In essence, most–but not all–of the 18 jobs in the division will be saved. The Legislature’s budget still calls for a 15 percent cut in funding, the second successive 15 percent cut for the division. Last year, the cut cost Adult Education three jobs.
The funds were feared all lost two weeks ago when lawmakers in the Florida Senate appeared to have eliminated more than $10 million in funding for about 40 such programs across the state. Evelyn Lynn, the Ormond Beach Republican, claimed that the money had merely been shifted under another designation. That was not the case. The House budget allocated $9.9 million to Adult Education programs, the Senate budget allocated nothing, with no concurrent replacement in other portions of the budget.
The district, led by Colleen Conklin, the school board member and the board’s legislative liaison, George Valentine, program manager of the Flagler Adults with Disabilities Program and Virginia Giaramita, who heads Flagler’s Adult Education division, quickly launched a public-awareness campaign. They held a news conference to highlight the affected programs’ value to the county (see below). And they urged people to write and call legislators to prevent the funding cut-off. It worked.
“I really think that the community sending letters, emails, making phone calls was a tremendous benefit,” Conklin said. “And I really truly believe that they did not intend to zero out this budget item, and once many of them were made aware of it and the drastic changes that were being proposed, became engaged.”
Janet Valentine, the school superintendent, circulated an email Thursday evening to school staffers: “Flagler County did a great job in rallying! All the phone calls and letters worked. Adults with disabilities made it through conference tonight and is in the budget!”
It’s not a done deal: The money was restored to the Senate portion of the budget when the House and Senate went into a joint budgeting conference this week to work out differences in their respective budgets. As of Friday afternoon, the portion of the budget dealing with adult education was worked out in favor of the House version. But conferencing isn’t over. While last-minute changes are always possible, they’re not likely at this point–not with these programs.
Once the two chambers agree to the final version of the budget, each must vote, up or down, on the entire package to approve it. Then it heads to Gov. Rick Scott–who can, and will, veto several items.
The programs affected include Step Up Industries, which helps disabled adults learn enough life and job skills to earn a living–and not be dependent on the state or the community. The Adult Activities Center is another program that helps nurture independence for the disabled by giving them a place to go every day and working with an instructor. Community Inclusion, yet another program, prepares disabled students about to become adults to make the transition to the workplace. They’re paired up with job coaches, counselors, vocational teachers and business partners to ease the way, again stressing independence and self-sufficiency.
To view a list of programs that would have been eliminated here.
The image below shows the restored fund in the Legislature’s latest conferencing document. Click on the image for larger view.
The legislators influencing the legislation:
Rep. Bill Proctor, Flagler County Representative and chair of the House Education Committee
Phone: (904) 823-2550
Sen. Evelyn Lynn, chair of Senate Education Committee
Phone # 1-886-831-2665 or (386) 238-3180
Sen. John Thrasher, Flagler County’s Senator
Phone # (904) 727-3600
Sen. Audrey Gibson, Flagler County’s Senator
Phone # (904) 359-2553 or (386) 506- 3492
Rep. Fred Costello, local Representative
Phone # (850) 488-9873 or (386) 736-5100
Sen. David Simmons chairs the K-12 Appropriations Committee
Sen. J.D. Alexander chairs the Senate Budget Committee
firstname.lastname@example.org (863) 679-4847 Statewide: 1-800-444-9747
Sen. Steve Wise, chairs the Senate Education Committee
email@example.com (904) 381-6000
Rep. Denise Grimsley, chairs the House Appropriations Committee
Denise.firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: (850) 488-3457
Rep. Marti Coley, chairs the House k12 Appropriations Sub-Committee
email@example.com Phone: (850) 718-0047