So much for that level playing field. From WTSP reporter Noah Pransky:
Florida’s Constitution requires the state appropriate funds to school districts in an equitable – but not necessarily equal – way. Since 1973, the legislature has used the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) to determine how much money each district gets from the state.
Because the state requires local districts to collect property taxes for education as well, many of the state’s wealthiest counties have no problems funding their schools. But the state monies designed to help level the playing field for less-affluent counties aren’t going far enough, according to critics who cite wide discrepancies in per-pupil funding across the state.
“In other states, they have measures that allow them to close the gaps. But in Florida, we don’t have that,” said Gregg Laskoski, a father of two in Hernando County. “It’s an issue that doesn’t just impact families that have kids in the schools, it impacts every single homeowner.”
Hernando County, a largely rural district, is one of the state’s “have-nots.” Low property taxes mean low local education funds, and the state’s contributions doesn’t bring it up to the state average. Hernando County received $8,510 per pupil in 2012-13, more than $500 short of the state average.
As a result, Hernando County has struggled with keeping roofs from leaking, computer technology current, and students from dropping out. High drop-out rates have also been linked to high unemployment rates and high crime rates.
The state’s wealthiest school district, Monroe County, receives $14,185 per student, thanks to robust local tax revenues and another $1,763 from the state. Meanwhile, the state’s least-funded school district, Clay County, only receives $8,015 per student.
Winners and losers. Haves and have-nots. Wonder how all this parallels with school grades and test results
Drastic change from the legislature is unlikely, however, the issue could be decided soon in Florida courts. A pending lawsuit — filed back in 2009 by a Pasco County family — is challenging how the state funds its school systems. The suit alleges not just inequity between districts, but also insufficient funding from the state.
If the plaintiffs defeat the state in the case, slated for trial in 2015, Florida lawmakers may be forced to dedicate 30% more funds to local schools and re-write how those funds are divvied-up. Another Education Law Center report suggested Florida districts get 32% of their K-12 funding from state funds – well below the national average of 44%.
So it takes six years to fight for citizens to fight for equitable funding, but only a couple of months each year for self-righteous Florida legislators to suppress underfunded schools with unfunded accountability mandates.