Two new studies illuminate Florida K-12 funding. The first, from Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, includes this chart:
So, for those of you squinting at your iPhone, the east-west axis is tracking the percent change in enrollment between 2000 and 2015, while the north-south axis is showing the constant dollar percentage increase in per pupil funding.
There obviously is a negative relationship between rapid enrollment growth and high levels of per pupil spending growth. Most of the states with very large increases saw their student population shrink. Florida looks to have seen population growth of approximately 15 percent during this period and per pupil funding growth of 18 percent.
Petrilli notes a national baby-bust, but in Florida this may simply mean a moderating of enrollment growth, already noted between older Census estimates and more recent state projections. There will be no moderation of the increase in the elderly population. A decade from now this may look like the good ole days of funding increases, so buckle up.
TaxWatch also released a study finding an “all in” per pupil number for Florida schools of $10,856. The analysis compared the traditional district school cost to the cost of two of the largest learning options the state currently provides to parents and their students – charter schools and tax-credit scholarships.
TaxWatch estimated per charter school student funding for fiscal year 2017-18 to be $7,476. The average maximum scholarship available through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which allows children from low-income and middle-income families to attend private schools, for fiscal year 2017-18 was $6,447.
A Florida newspaper editorial board that recently editorialized that Florida “could not afford” vouchers may require some remedial math; Florida has a great deal of enrollment growth on the way and can more easily afford to choose charter and private schools than districts, although all three will remain options.
Enrollment slowdown: State analysts project that Florida’s K-12 public school enrollment will grow by less than 17,000 students in the 2019-2020 school year, to about 2.86 million. That’s just an 0.6 percent increase over the forecast 2.84 million students expected when schools start in August. Analysts think the state’s various scholarship programs are in part responsible for the slowing growth. A new program, the Hope Scholarship for bullied students to transfer or get a state scholarship to attend private schools, begins this year and is expected to send 6,400 students to private schools by 2019-2020. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship. News Service of Florida.
Federal funding risk: Florida risks losing $1.1 billion in federal education aid if its impasse with the U.S. Department of Education over compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act is not resolved soon. Florida is the only state without an approved plan. The state is resisting giving state assessments tests in languages other than English for those who are just learning the language, and also in breaking down results by more student subgroups in order to target specific schools for assistance. Education Week.
Counseling firm investigation: A mental health counseling firm working in several Florida school districts is being investigated for possible Medicaid fraud by the state attorney general’s office. Motivational Coaches of America (MCUSA) offers free counseling to at-risk students. But an investigation by the Palm Beach Post showed the company focused largely on so-called “sponsored” children, or those with insurance or on Medicaid. The company has received more than $400,000 from Medicaid in the past two years, and has gotten unwanted public attention recently when counselors quit because they hadn’t been paid. Miami New Times. WJXT. MCUSA withdraws an offer to counsel students for free in Manatee County, just a day before the school board was going to consider the proposal. No explanation was given for the company’s decision. Bradenton Herald.
Framers may weigh in: The so-called “framers” of the 1998 constitutional amendment that requires the state to provide high-quality public schools will be allowed to file a brief in a court challenge of a state education law, the Florida Supreme Court rules. The group Citizens for Strong Schools is suing the state, claiming it is not fulfilling its obligation to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system” of public schools. Ten of the members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission had asked to be allowed to file a brief on their intent in the phrasing of the amendment, in support of the suit. The state objected, and will still be allowed to challenge the brief. News Service of Florida.
Union threatens lawsuit: The Florida Education Association says it will file suit today against the portion of H.B. 7055 that allows teachers unions to be decertified if they can’t maintain more than half the eligible membership. “This is about equity and fairness, and being targeted and singled out,” says FEA president Joanne McCall, who says the law applies only to teachers unions. Gradebook.
Broward bond projects: A watchdog group says it’s time for the Broward County School District to outline a plan for fixing decaying schools or admitting it can’t be done before the deadline it set. Florida TaxWatch, which was hired by the district to monitor the progress of the work scheduled under an $800 million bond referendum approved in 2014, found that only 10 percent of the identified projects have been completed and only 12 percent are under construction. “We are desperately behind and we need to know why,” says board member Heather Brinkworth. Sun-Sentinel. A timeline of the bond program. Sun-Sentinel.
Storm closes schools: More school districts around the state announce closings because of Hurricane Irma. Orlando Sentinel. Sun-Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Times-Union. Florida Today. Lakeland Ledger. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. Charlotte Sun. Fort Myers News-Press. Gainesville Sun. Ocala Star-Banner. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. St. Augustine Record. Daily Commercial. WPBF. Bay News 9. WTSP. WESH. WOKV. News 13 Orlando. WUFT. WGCU. WKMG. Other districts say they will keep their regular school schedules, at least for now. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. Pensacola News Journal. Northwest Florida Daily News. Clay Today. Citrus County Chronicle.
School budgets: The Palm Beach County School Board approves a $2.9 billion budget, up from $2.6 billion last year. Most of the increase comes from a higher sales tax voters approved in November to upgrade or replace schools and technology, and buy new buses. Sun-Sentinel. The Gulf County School Board is expected to approve a budget today that boosts spending by 12.5 percent. Port St. Joe Star.
ACT scores: U.S. students show a slight improvement in ACT scores this year, up to an average of 21.0 compared with 20.8 last year. Minority students also post gains. The number of students taking the ACT declined by about 60,000, down to 2.03 million. That represents about 60 percent of the nation’s graduating high school class. Education Week.
Teacher pay: Prospects for a statewide $200 million raise in pay for teachers have dimmed after proponent Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says he is no longer pursuing the hike. Instead, Simmons says, he is backing an expansion of the teacher bonuses program, known as the Best and Bright Teacher Scholarship. Both the Senate and House are considering bills that would increase the money for bonuses and widen eligibility. Naples Daily News.
Public education spending: The true cost of educating one public school student in Florida for a year is $10,308, according to a report from Florida TaxWatch. The Florida Education Finance Program funding formula expenditure was $7,178 per student for the 2015-2016 school year. But TaxWatch says other tax dollars spent by districts take the total spending per student to more than $10,000. redefinED.
Protecting undocumented: The Miami-Dade County School Board declares its district a safe zone for undocumented immigrant students, and will review what else it can do to protect those students from U.S. immigration officials. The intent, says board member Lubby Navarro, is “to ensure that our schools are safe havens for all students and that this message resonates throughout entire communities, our neighborhoods, our barrios, so that everyone knows that our schools are safe for our children and our families.” Miami Herald.
Teacher program: The Palm Beach County School District and Nova Southeastern University will partner to create a teacher-training program that promises students jobs in the district after graduation. Students will be paid substitute teachers during their senior year at Nova, and will be offered fulltime teaching positions when they graduate as long as they meet certification and other requirements. Nova is hoping to enter into similar partnerships with Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Sun-Sentinel.
The most commonly cited price tag for Florida public schools represents only two-thirds of what they actually spend, a new report from Florida TaxWatch shows. The “true cost,” it says, shines a more favorable financial light on public education alternatives.
“To be good stewards of education dollars,” writes TaxWatch president Dominic Calabro, “it is critical that taxpayers have a clear understanding of how much education revenue is available, how that revenue is spent, and what it is spent on. Without this understanding, taxpayers and policymakers will be unable to determine whether their state and local K-12 education investments are cost-effective.”
As the Florida Legislature enters the second week of an annual session that already is punctuated by budgetary duress, the report tackles perhaps the most widely misunderstood funding formula in public education. It’s called the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) and was adopted in 1973 as a way to provide the appropriate balance of state and local funding for basic school operations.
Bill drops name: A bill that would prohibit Florida high school students from leaving campuses for lunch won’t bear the name of a Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School girl who was killed in a car crash during lunch off campus in 1999. Sen. Rene Hialeah, R-Hialeah, removed the name of Mayra Capote from his bill at the request of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who said he didn’t want bills named after people because it puts lawmakers in an awkward spot if they want to oppose them. Miami Herald.
Legislative issues: The expansion of school choice programs, cutbacks in testing and the expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program are among the top issues to watch in this year legislative session, which begins in a week. Orlando Weekly. WFSU.
District denies report: Orange County School District officials deny a ProPublica report last week that the district is using alternative schools to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade. Spokespersons for the district and Accelerated Learning Solutions, a for-profit charter school management company that manages five charter alternative schools in the county, say students choose the alternative schools. One of the schools mentioned in the report, Sunshine High School, is up for contract renewal. District staff is recommending the school board approve the renewal at today’s meeting. Orlando Sentinel.
District criticized: Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit group that monitors financial performances of institutions, is criticizing the Broward County School District for construction delays and overruns in its $800 million bond program to upgrade schools. County voters approved the bond in 2014, but many projects expected to be under construction by 2015 still haven’t begun. Sun-Sentinel.