April 12, 2010

The furor over the merit-pay-for-teachers bill sent by the legislature to the governor for his signature (or veto) occurs in the context of a long battle over the level of funding for education in Florida.

For more than a decade, governors and legislators have enacted a series of education policy changes focused on the FCAT and various accountability systems designed to hold educators' feet to the fire to make sure that "no child (is) left behind." 

Educators and others counter that it's the legislature that hasn't been accountable, failing to fulfill this guarantee in the Florida Constitution: 

"Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education...."

When the people of Florida have spoken directly about public schools in the last decade, they have twice voted to require the legislature to spend more to make schools high-quality (approving constitutional amendments for a universal voluntary prekindergarten program and a major reduction in class sizes). 

The legislature has been finding it difficult to do what the voters required (and to maintain adequate levels of funding for other vital state services) and is relying heavily on temporary federal stimulus money to make ends meet.

SB6 links teacher pay to outcomes on standardized tests, some of which aren't developed yet.  And it requires local school boards to set aside 5 percent of existing funds to make the necessary changes.  In other words, it requires school systems to do more with the same amount of funding--an "unfunded mandate" from the state to school boards. 

The long, deep national recession makes the task difficult for the legislature, of course--particularly when it refuses to close any tax loopholes or considers adding more.  But declining revenue also makes it even harder for teachers, school administrators, and school boards to do their jobs.

When considering how well the legislature has funded public schools in Florida, here's a useful measure: 

In the 1998-99 school year, 52 percent of all government funding for public schools in Florida came from the state.  Local school boards provided almost 41 percent, and federal funds less than 8 percent.

In 2007-08, the state and local shares had reversed.  State funding had fallen to 40 percent of all public school spending while local revenue climbed to 51 percent.  

For those dissatisfied with property taxes, there's one reason.  The legislature provides less state money to schools while requiring local school boards to provide more.


Nancy M. Noonan
April 14, 2010 at 18:13
It is welcomed and heartening to see the fact as stated above about how the State Legislature in Florida are "pulling out all stops" to AVOID their constitutional mandate to "adequately fund education as a fundamental value for the children of Florida". I have never see in my 35+ years as an educator, the level of disrespect toward teachers, students and our public schools. Their actions come at a time when Florida has a critical need for high-quality public education. SB 6 and the Class size amendment are but a few of several distractions (and very bad ones)that miss the REAL issue of not funding our schools. The money is here! Our lawmakers are choosing to give away $3 Billion every year in tax exemptions and corporate tax giveaways. Why must Marion County and other counties, where people pay their fair share of taxes to schools and to Tallahassee, be further burdened to pay more at the local level because the state legislature will not act responsibly as elected officials? Our state legislators cannot continue to give away the profit margin of this state and claim that they doing what is right for the future of Florida. A REAL INVESTMENT in high-quality public education is THE delivery system of the American Dream! Legislators must LEAD and do what is right for our children and grandchildren!
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