Florida Senate considers $5M for struggling Jefferson County schools

A charter school company that had been running the schools is leaving “a great vacuum,” one senator said.

Tampa Bay Times | By Ana Ceballos and Lawrence Mower | February 2, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — A Senate education committee on Wednesday delivered a message of solidarity to the struggling Jefferson County school system as it comes off of five years of charter school control.

The rural, majority Black school district was the first, and only, district in the state to be privatized. But in July, the school board will resume control over its three schools, and it’s facing a multimillion-dollar funding shortfall.

“We are not going to leave them abandoned, and we are setting aside $5 million to ensure their success,” Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee chairperson Doug Broxson said as he unveiled the first draft of the Senate’s K-12 budget proposal.

Broxson said the district needs the funding because it is in “a little bit of a freefall.” He noted that Somerset Academy Inc., the charter school company the Florida Department of Education tapped to help the district back in 2017, decided to “vacate” the county and will be leaving a “great vacuum.”

“As we broadcast today, this message will go to the superintendent and to the good people of Jefferson County to know that at least the Senate is going to be there for them as they get through this transition,” he said.

The $5 million spending plan still needs to survive budget negotiations between the Senate and House, which has not yet unveiled its K-12 budget proposal. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has veto power over budget line items, would need to approve the funding, too.

Broxson cited news reports when he announced the $5 million budget proposal. However, he did not delve into specifics.

A month ago, the Times/Herald revealed the that the Department of Education, led by education commissioner Richard Corcoran, had tried to steer a multimillion-dollar contract to a politically connected company to help consult with Jefferson County’s schools.

The bid to award the contract to the vendor, MGT Consulting, fell apart when a member of the State Board of Education and one of Corcoran’s top deputies also applied for the contract, a move that the state agency investigated for potential conflicts of interest and led to their resignations.

After the Times/Herald reported that the inspector general investigated the potential conflicts of interest, but not the apparent bid-rigging for a politically connected vendor, the state’s chief inspector general announced she was reviewing the case.

The Department of Education had planned to pay new consultants roughly $4 million from a pool of federal coronavirus relief dollars meant for Jefferson County. Jefferson School Superintendent Eydie Tricquet has asked the Department of Education to allow the district to keep that money, which she said is needed to spend on education and staffing.

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