WEEK IN REVIEW
FINANCE COMMITTEE ADOPTS EDUCATION AND HEALTH SERVICES BUDGETS
(AUSTIN) — The Senate Finance Committee finished up the education and health and human services portions of the Senate budget bill Thursday, adopting workgroup recommendations on the two largest portions of the state budget. After the committee wrapped up initial budget hearings, the panel split into 10 workgroups, each dealing with some portion of the budget. The committee is now in the process of hearing the recommendations from each workgroup and is deciding whether or not to approve and add them to the version of the budget that will be presented before the full Senate.
The Education workgroup made a number of changes from the introduced version of the Senate bill. Tweaks to the school funding formulas mean that no school will have less money than last biennium. The recommendations also increased the amount of money flowing to pre-kindergarten classes by $40 million, bringing pre-k funding to $840 million total for the next two years. Other adopted recommendations included more money for training teachers of students with autism, an increase in funding to career and tech training for 7th and 8th graders, and more money for early college programs that let high school students earn an associate's degree over their four years of secondary education.
Recommendations made by the Health and Human Services workgroup include more money for caseload growth, infrastructure improvement and operations at the Department of Aging and Disability services. The workgroup also put in $200 million toward expanded mental health services and $100 million more for women's health programs. The recommended Health and Human services budget also fully funded all agency items related to hiring additional caseworkers at Child Protective Services.
Both sets of recommendations, as well as recommendations for the Department of Parks and Wildlife were accepted by the committee and will be rolled into the budget presented before the full Senate next month.
Also this week, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved a measure intended to lower the cost of long-term and chronic Medicaid services through the expansion of managed care. SB 7, by Committee Chair Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, would extend the states STAR+PLUS Medicaid managed care program to rural areas and would bring in 12,000 eligible clients currently on waiting lists for services. "The managed care model has proven to ensure that patients receive efficient, coordinated services that keep them healthy," said Nelson said. "We can't continue to fund the same inefficient, unsustainable Medicaid systems and expect a different result." SB 7 will now head to the full Senate for approval.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was in town Wednesday to talk about public education reform. He encouraged members of the Senate Education Committee to set lofty goals when it comes to improving public education. "Either go big or go home", he told members. Bush advocated setting high achievement standards that apply to all students and to fully fund all reform measures.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 4 at 2 p.m.