The editors of the Lakeland Ledger focus on Polk County Schools woes they will experience under the education budget which Governor Rick Scott signed yesterday.
Florida legislators have been patting themselves on the back for increasing school funding in their annual session, which ended May 2.
Even so, funding for public schools in Florida — particularly in Polk County — is not nearly enough. Public schools, although governed by county school districts, are funded by the state primarily.
As Polk school officials spoke with lawmakers during the 60-day legislative session, they were told to expect a budget increase of about $23 million. Instead, the budget passed by the Legislature May 2 and signed by Gov. Rick Scott on Monday increased education funding in the county by about $16 million — and by $529.4 million statewide.
New state spending mandates, said Polk Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy, will chew up nearly all of the county’s funding increase, reported The Ledger’s Bill Rufty in an article May 27.
Looks like Florida republicans want to get by with unfunded mandates again. Meanwhile they give their Chamber of Commerce corporate cronies a tax break to fund voucher expansion.
Incrementalism becomes clear in state education budgeting when one examines this year’s increase, hailed by Scott as an “education investment” and as a record for Florida.
This year’s $18.9 billion in public school spending exceeds the previous greatest amount of $18.75 billion passed in 2007. The amount passed last year was $18.325 billion.
In two ways, the $18.9 billion education amount, signed into law by Scott on Monday, is a record on paper only.
First, because Florida had about 67,000 fewer students in 2007, statewide funding per student was $7,126 in 2007 vs. $6,937 this year. The amount allotted this year for Polk is $6,768.
Second, because of inflation, the 2007 state public school fund is worth $21.44 billion in 2014 dollars vs. the $18.9 billion approved this year. The 2007 state funding per student is worth $8,148 in 2014 dollars.
It is these numbers which the Ledger referred to as a “paper tiger,” and provides real numbers to back state Democrats attack on Scott’s budget. From Sunshine State News reporter Kevin Derby:
“For three years, Floridians have witnessed the devastating effects Rick Scott has had on public education. Now, in addition to running for re-election, Rick Scott is trying to run from his record of slashing education funding while lining the pockets of special interests and top campaign contributors,” said (Chairwoman of the Florida Democrats) Allison Tant on Monday. “But no amount of poll-tested talking points can change the fact that per-pupil spending still remains below 2007 levels, and that Bright Futures serves far fewer students than it did seven years ago.
“This week, Rick Scott is expected to sign a budget filled with hundreds of millions in pork-barrel spending,” Tant added. “He will have to answer to Florida’s teachers, students, and parents for every dollar he fails to veto as our schools continue to struggle. Floridians will be watching carefully as Rick Scott decides what’s most important: pet projects for special interests or giving our children the best education possible.”
Having numbers available which any 4th grade kid can understand – even in a convoluted Common Core lesson – is a political consultant’s dream. Will it still matter to voters in November?