Special Report
Education Funding

Despite Continued Fiscal Woes, Florida Dodges K-12 Budget Cut

By Erik W. Robelen — May 15, 2009 4 min read

Despite fears that school funding would be cut amid a continued fiscal squeeze, the $66.5 billion budget approved by Florida lawmakers this month for fiscal 2010 keeps overall K-12 spending at roughly the current level, with extra aid from the federal stimulus package playing a big role.

But some education advocates were quick to note that the budget still represents a decline in education spending from two years ago. And even as districts, on average, get a small increase in per-pupil funding, one high-profile program, the Florida Virtual School, will see a cut of about 10 percent in its per- pupil allocation.

Even so, Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, praised the work of the two legislative chambers, which are controlled by his party.

Mr. Crist, who last week announced plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2010, also applauded lawmakers for approving the use of $5.3 billion in federal aid made available to Florida under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with some $2.7 billion of that going toward education at all levels.

Some Republican governors have balked at spending portions of the federal aid, but Mr. Crist—and the state’s lawmakers—have welcomed it with open arms.

In fact, the legislature approved the use of the federal money before receiving a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education giving the state access to a large chunk of the education aid. That waiver, needed because the state’s financial support for public schools has dropped since 2006, was granted May 11.

A ‘Triage Operation’?

In addition to using the federal stimulus dollars, Florida lawmakers adopted steps that, if approved by the governor, would bring in additional revenue, through measures such as a higher tax on tobacco and higher fees.

The sergeant at arms for the Florida House, Earnest Sumner, left, and the Senate sergeant at arms, Donald Severance, drop their handkerchiefs in the sine die ceremony ending the legislative session on May 8 in Tallahassee, Fla.

The final budget for fiscal 2010 would allot some $17.9 billion for K-12 education, up by about $5 million from the current level, a figure that combines state and local aid, as well as federal stimulus dollars. The average per-pupil funding amount across school districts would rise by about $28, to $6,873.

But that average level is down from a high of $7,306 per pupil under the budget Mr. Crist signed two years ago. And overall K-12 spending is down by about 7 percent from the $19.3 billion allotted in that budget.

“Considering where we were before the session started, we are fairly pleased with the outcome,” Wayne Blanton, the executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, said of the new budget package.

School districts have faced some difficult times of late. Over the past year, the state enacted two rounds of midyear budget cuts based on lower-than-expected revenue.

“Facing a really, really difficult budget year, we managed to patch together a budget that isn’t a disaster, but it’s by no means any progress,” said Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. “There is a huge infusion of federal cash, ... so that’s kind of our little triage operation here.”

Meanwhile, the legislature passed a measure that would allow local school boards to charge an extra quarter mill in property tax with a supermajority vote of their members. That amount, equal to $25 per $100,000 in assessed value, could generate up to $255 million total if all districts levied the increase, Mr. Blanton said.

“They kind of conveniently passed the buck to every school district in the state,” said James M. Warford, the executive director of the Florida Association of School Administrators. “It lets the legislature off the hook, and puts the school boards on the hook ... for raising the money.”

Many districts are expected to exercise the new authority to bring in needed resources.

Passage of the state budget came on the final day of a one-week extension of the legislature’s regular 60-day session. The Republican-controlled Senate approved the plan by a vote of 32-8. In the House, which Republicans also control, it passed 75-43, largely along party lines, with most Democrats opposed.

As of press time last week, Gov. Crist still had not signed the budget. He did get some welcome news, though, when the U.S. Education Department granted the waiver allowing the state access to some $1.8 billion in education aid under the stimulus law’s state fiscal-stabilization fund.

To qualify for the stabilization cash, the law says, a state must be able to use its own money to fund schools to the level of state support provided in fiscal 2006. Then, the state must use its stabilization money from the federal government to backfill any cuts it made below that level and to restore funding to the fiscal 2008 level.

Cut for Online School

Although overall K-12 funding stayed about the same under the legislature’s budget, some categories of funding did see reductions, including the nationally known Florida Virtual School. Its per-pupil allocation was reduced by about 10 percent.

“We know some teachers will be asked to take on more students in their classes,” said Julie E. Young, the president and chief executive officer of the virtual school, which is based in Orlando and serves about 90,000 students online. “We also know that our course-development schedule will have to be modified due to fewer resources.

“Our top priority,” she said, “is to ensure that students continue to receive a high-quality education.”

A projected rise in the virtual school’s enrollment to 150,000 in the coming academic year was expected to help compensate for the lower per-pupil amount, however.

The state online school did avoid some new restrictions the Senate had been seeking to impose. Lawmakers backed away from a plan that would have limited state reimbursements to the virtual school for students’ online classes to core courses only. (“Fla. Budget Threatens Online Ed. Mandate,” April 29, 2009.)

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 20, 2009 edition of Education Week as Despite Continued Fiscal Woes, Florida Dodges K-12 Budget Cut

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Building Leadership Excellence Through Instructional Coaching
Join this webinar for a discussion on instructional coaching and ways you can link your implement or build on your program.
Content provided by Whetstone Education/SchoolMint
Teaching Webinar Tips for Better Hybrid Learning: Ask the Experts What Works
Register and ask your questions about hybrid learning to our expert panel.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Families & the Community Webinar
Family Engagement for Student Success With Dr. Karen Mapp
Register for this free webinar to learn how to empower and engage families for student success featuring Karen L. Mapp.
Content provided by Panorama Education & PowerMyLearning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Hiring Bilingual and Special Education Teachers NOW!
Newark, New Jersey
Newark Public Schools
DevOps Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
User Experience Analyst
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Senior Business Analyst - 12 Month Contract
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association

Read Next

Education Funding Return of Pet Projects in Congress Could Mean More Money for Schools to Address COVID-19
"Community funding projects," also known as earmarks, could support district and nonprofit K-12 projects.
3 min read
In this Jan. 4, 2020 photo, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. On Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, DeLauro was elected chair of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee by fellow Democrats, a position colleagues say will make her the most powerful politician from Connecticut in Washington in generations.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington last year. On Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, DeLauro revealed a proposal to restore the practice of earmarks after a decade-long ban in Congress.
Al Drago/Pool Photo via AP
Education Funding Concern About Unspent COVID-19 School Aid Continues as Congress Moves Toward More Relief
A congressional analysis has spurred discontent about how fast money will be spent, but some warn against over-simplifying the situation.
5 min read
Thermometers, gloves, and cleaning swabs sit on a table at the entrance to the Frederickson KinderCare daycare center, in Tacoma, Wash on May 27, 2020.
Thermometers, gloves, and cleaning swabs sit on a table at the entrance to the Frederickson KinderCare daycare center, in Tacoma, Wash on May 27, 2020. As a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, workers and children have their temperatures checked every day before they enter the building.
Ted S. Warren/AP
Education Funding Opinion What's It Take for Philanthropy to Help Rural Schools?
Place-based philanthropy has enormous potential to revitalize rural communities. The trick is, it’s tough to get this sort of approach right.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Education Funding Summer School, Extended Learning a Priority in $129 Billion COVID-19 Relief Bill
The reconciliation bill from House Democrats is an early attempt at what's shaping up to be a new federal aid package for education.
5 min read
A staff member holds the door open for kids on the first day of school at Goodwin Frazier Elementary School in New Braunfels, Texas on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
A staff member holds the door open for kids on the first day of school at Goodwin Frazier Elementary School in New Braunfels, Texas on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
Mikala Compton/Herald-Zeitung via AP