For public education, the budget boils down to just 47 cents

To hear some Florida lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott tell it, public education came out a big winner in the 2018-2019 budget.

Big winner? Only if you can get excited about 47 cents.

Public education’s funding increase works out to a total of $101.50 per student across the state. Subtract from that all the money pegged for safety measures and other specific purposes, and education is left with an increase of 47 cents per pupil for the base student allocation.

That’s 47 cents per student for:

  • Higher utility bills and other basic costs
  • New or expanded educational programs
  • Rising retirement expenses
  • Teacher salary increases

State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, summed up the problem before the budget passed. “The base student allocation pays to keep the school doors open and is the operational budget. The cost of doing business is not covered by 47 cents. Florida school districts will have to cut programs and will have to find a way to save money and scrape by.”

Or, as Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano puts it: “They have robbed education to pay for safety.” 

The safety money is much needed, which is why public schools have requested more funds for that purpose for years, long before the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“We are grateful the state stepped up … to pass a school safety bill,” Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie told the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times. “However, that I believe is being done at the expense of our core business.” Douglas High School is in Runcie’s district.

Back in November, long before the Parkland massacre brought safety to the fore, Gov. Scott had asked lawmakers to increase general spending per student by $152. With the actual increase for base allocation dollars now standing at 47 cents, Florida superintendents and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents recently asked the governor to call a special legislative session to address the shortage in operating money for public schools. The governor and legislators dismissed the request, and Gov. Scott signed the budget on March 16.

Many superintendents say the safety money is not even enough to cover new mandates. The Tampa Bay Times tackles the budget’s numbers for education in a blistering editorial:

“Floridians should not have to choose between keeping students safe and providing them with a first-rate education in decent facilities. Yet legislators made that Hobson’s choice, and they didn’t even do it well. They gave school districts an unfunded mandate on school safety. They required an armed law enforcement officer to be in every school but did not provide enough money to pay for it. They required districts to harden schools, but they allocated just $99 million for bulletproof glass, steel doors and other improvements. That won’t be nearly enough.”

An unfunded mandate plus 47 cents – this “historic budget” is no winner for public schools, kids or teachers. 

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