Per-pupil expenditures in Florida’s 10 largest school districts, 2017-18. SOURCE: Education Reform Now

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A new report by Charles Barone and Nicholas Munyan-Penney for Ed Reform Now, a nonprofit particularly focused on the content of student learning in public schools, has found that Florida’s system of K-12 funding broadly delivers a greater level of total subsidy to the schools of low-income students.

From the report:

In the vast majority of the largest districts in Florida, high-poverty schools have a distinct advantage over low-poverty schools, ranging from a 9.7 percent advantage ($9,000 to $8,200) in Duval County to an incredible 70.6 percent advantage ($13,900 to $8,100) in Palm Beach County …

When considering race/ethnicity, in all 10 of Florida’s largest districts, schools with the highest concentrations of nonwhite students have a significant advantage over schools with lower concentrations of nonwhite students.

Statewide, high-poverty schools receive $9,000 per student, which is greater than the statewide average of $8,200 per pupil for low-poverty schools. This is worth noting as a significant achievement. Heavy reliance upon local property taxes creates large funding inequities favoring high-wealth districts absent state equalization efforts. In the worst cases, wealthy areas both spend far more per pupil and enjoy lower tax rates than poor districts. An $800 per-pupil advantage for high poverty districts took no small amount of effort to create.

Florida does, however, have a large group of high-poverty students receiving considerably less than either high-poverty or even low poverty schools – the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. This year, 101,862 scholarship students have an average household income of $27,188, or about 13 percent above the poverty level. Sixty eight percent are black or Hispanic and 57 percent are in single-parent households.

In 2019-20, scholarship recipients will not receive either the average of $8,200 received by low-poverty districts nor the $9,000 statewide average for students in high-poverty districts. For 2019-20, scholarships will average between $6,775 and $7,250.

Hopefully, Florida policymakers will not only equalize funding but also liberalize allowable uses. Families should have the option to spend their funds on school tuition, but also on tutors, therapists and enrichment. Families should not only have the power to choose, they should also have the opportunity to maximize the value of their funds given the particular needs and aspirations of the student. Equity and efficiency need not be at odds, but instead could proceed hand-in-hand toward a brighter future.

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Bruce William Smith October 21, 2019 - 1:40 pm

Florida’s families should be granted around $8 500 per pupil, regardless of socioeconomic status, which bursaries they should feel free to spend on school enrichment or for any other legitimate educational purpose. Florida’s micro-districts, like those in other American states, should be consolidated into more competent ministries capable of competing with world leaders like Singapore’s, which small districts are in no position to do, lacking the human capital, while state education departments in large states like Florida are too distant from the action of learning and teaching to support it properly. Worst of all is trying to govern education from Washington, D.C., where Congress has failed for almost two decades to add anything but negative value, including in the current “Every Student Succeeds” act, which is failing, like its predecessor, No Child Left Behind, due to an inadequate, amateurish understanding of educational assessment.

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