If your auto mechanic told you one day that his tools were transferred to another shop and he could only use a screwdriver and duct tape to fix your transmission. safe to say, you wouldn’t settle for that.
That’s how Florida works when it comes to allocating the resources and tools that schools and teachers need to educate our children. History has shown us that few folks in Tallahassee, if any, worry much about “equitable funding” or whether your kids or mine have a fighting chance.
We have a state constitution that says Florida has to deliver a “high quality education” to all students, from Pensacola to Miami. but the authors cleverly excluded any meaningful language that could hold them accountable. Our constitution never bothered to define or quantify what “high quality education” actually means or how much money we need to do the job right.
In 1973 the state Legislature decided how to spread the money around. It enacted the Department of Education’s Florida Education Funding Program (FEFP). Lawmakers have tweaked it a few times since, but it’s essentially unchanged. Today it still perpetuates an education caste system of haves and have-nots.
Judge for yourself. Across all 67 Florida counties and school districts, Monroe takes the Silver Spoon Award with $13,780 total revenue per student. And claiming the Oliver Twist (‘Please sir, I want some more’) Award is Clay County where schools are expected to deliver the same “high quality” education on a budget of $7,797 per student.
The state median revenue per student is $8,935. Hernando County receives $8,263 per student, placing it in the lowest quadrant of funding, where we’ve resided since FEFP’s inception. Polk ($8,522); Pasco ($8,617); Pinellas ($8,854), Citrus ($9,110) and Hillsborough ($9,191) all receive much more. Sounds fair, right?
Inequitable funding has plagued Hernando and similar counties for decades. FEFP has done such a poor job of distributing education dollars that it now IS noted in two national studies. Assessing only education funding, a September 2012 study – http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/StealthInequities.pdf – places Florida among the 15 “least equitable” states in the United States:
It warrants your attention because it discusses where regressive states such as Florida went wrong, and notes other states that actually try to distribute education dollars where they are most needed. Specifically, it highlights the formulas in New Jersey and Ohio that contain dynamics allowing them to make adjustments based on disparities and other criteria. Florida’s formula lacks those correcting components. As a result we see the glaring inequities that are the Florida ‘norm’.
Here’s how corrective elements added to FEFP might work:
Franklin: federal: $2,179; state: $2,130; local: $7,984; total: $12,293.
Hernando: federal: $1,036; state: $3,859; local: $3,367; total: $8,263.
Franklin’s total funding ($12,293) far surpasses the state median ($8,935). Looking only at the ‘local’ and ‘federal’ dollars combined, Franklin’s $10,163 still exceeds the state median by more than $1,200 per student. If the Florida formula triggered some corrective measures, some state dollars for districts like Franklin could be redirected to those in the lowest quadrant, thus narrowing the gap. Just a suggestion.
The status quo is unaffordable and intolerable. If you think this is a problem that only impacts families with kids, you’d be mistaken. Because we pay disproportionately for our school system vs. neighboring counties, it affects all businesses, homeowners and families. It adversely impacts Hernando’s economic development, too. If you’re a business owner, a homeowner and/or a parent with kids in Hernando schools, I hope you’ll take an interest.
I rarely say this, but, there’s reason for optimism. School Superintendent Lori Romano and the Hernando County School Board have listened and are taking steps to work with legislators and push for formula revision.
Additionally, 2014 is an election year. If you’re tired of hearing that we’ve been shortchanged by $15 million below the state median – again – let your elected officials know. Let your representatives in Tallahassee know the status quo isn’t working and they had better get it right.
When Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist come campaigning, ask them how they’re going to fix Florida’s education inequity. Remember, they work for us.
Let’s work together to level the playing field.
Gregg Laskoski is a Spring Hill resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.