Public Service Funding Mystery Series Episode 5 – K – 12 Public Education

What can be done to improve K-12 public education in Florida? Adequate funding is the most important issue, along with teacher working conditions. School districts have been underfunded for two decades. Large districts like Hillsborough County with rapidly growing student enrollment have suffered the most.

The key to the solution is voter knowledge. Education funding is complicated and not well understood by the average voter. Positive signs that voters are taking notice include Hillsborough County’s passing of a half-cent sales tax referendum to deal with its huge, urgent school maintenance backlog and the County Commission’s passing of local legislation to double impact fees. Many counties across the state are passing self-taxing referendums as last resort efforts to address inadequate school funding.

The Florida Constitution requires the “adequate” funding of education. Citizens expect school districts to provide the opportunity for an excellent education to each of Florida’s children. However, those expectations are unrealistic in view of how close to the bottom Florida ranks in education spending (44th) and teacher salaries (46th). The other component of school district expenditures is capital improvement and major repair/remodeling. $1.6 is needed to address huge major repair backlogs and build new schools in large growing districts.

Background: Adequate funding of public education is a requirement of the Florida Constitution. The state legislature, through its annual appropriations budget, is responsible to comply with this provision of the constitution.

The Florida Lottery was to be the savior of public education. That has not happened despite taking in over $34 Billion since the first ticket was sold in 1988. Instead of supplementing public education, those funds merely replaced other sources.

To bring Florida’s annual investment in PreK-12 public education up to the national median of 3.3% of state Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would require an increase of $5.8 billion per year!

In 2017-2018 Florida ranked 42nd in total per-pupil spending, $2,598 below the median ($13,321 – $10,633). Raising per pupil spending by $2,598 for Florida’s 2.8 million students would cost $7.4 billion.

Current Financial Condition: As you would expect, the result of these huge funding shortages has left Florida’s largest growing school districts in terrible financial condition. Florida’s three largest school districts, Miami-Dade, Broward & Hillsborough, are nearly insolvent! And their financial reports do not include the huge maintenance backlogs, which in Hillsborough’s case is over $1.5 billion!

Fortunately, there is hope that additional funding can be found. The dynamic growth of state revenue should be a primary source as it increased from $52 billion 20 years ago to $93 billion in 2020-21.

Potential sources of additional state revenue:

  1. Transfer to the seller the responsibility for the payment of sales tax on purchases from out of state and out of country suppliers. It is currently the responsibility of the purchaser to remit use tax to the state on such purchases. That requirement has not been enforced. Most states have changed their sales and use tax laws to require payment by the seller. Estimates indicate a current potential of nearly $1 billion and growing rapidly.
  2. Complete the negotiations of a new gambling revenue sharing contract with the Seminole Tribe. Estimates approach $500 million and growing as casino revenues grow.