K-12 Public Education Funding and Spending in Florida – Details

What can be done to improve K-12 public education in Florida? Adequate funding is the most important issue, with teacher working conditions also of huge importance. School districts have been underfunded for two decades with funding presently only at 2007 levels and when adjusted for inflation, nearly 30% below 2007. Large districts like Hillsborough County with rapidly growing student enrollment have suffered the most.

To define the problem, we must understand the background of public education funding, the financial condition of school districts, their current symptoms, and diagnose barriers to progress. To solve the problem, we must recommend the steps required andprovide some ideas of potential sources of additional funding.

The participants:

Our children
Parents, grandparents, guardians
Teachers, counselors, support staff, administrators
– Communities
– State Department of Education
– State legislators

The key to the solution is voter knowledge. K-12 public education funding is complicated and not well understood by the average voter. This document is intended to explain how it all works

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 for school remodeling, maintenance and construction. Many counties across the state are passing self-taxing referendums as last resort efforts to address inadequate school funding.

K-12 public education funding in Florida comes primarily from three sources:

  • The Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP). The money for this program comes from the annual appropriations budget which, in turn, comes from the following sources:
    • State revenue – Primarily sales tax, plus documentary stamp tax, corporate income tax and numerous other state taxes and fees.
    • The Florida Lottery
    • Local property taxes designated for inclusion in the FEFP for school operating expenses.
    • Federal grants
  • Local property taxes and impact fees designated for maintenance, capital improvement and debt service distributed directly to local school districts.
  • Federal grants for food service and other specific programs distributed directly to school districts.

In measuring funding levels, there are three commonly quoted measures of per-pupil funding:

  • Base Student Allocation (BSA) – The portion of the FEFP based on weighted average students.
  • Total FEFP funding divided by the unweighted number of students.
  • Total PreK-12 funding from all sources divided by the number of students.

BACKGROUND: Article IX, Section 1(a) in the Florida Constitution states “The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.”

It is the state legislature which is responsible to comply with this provision of the constitution through its annual appropriation budget. The K-12 public education appropriation is controlled by the state legislature, including county property tax millage rates for schools. The legislature also enacts laws which all school districts must comply with. The state Department of Education establishes rules which districts must follow.

In addition to K-12 Public Education, which is the focus of this paper, the Department of Education’s funding appropriation includes College and University Education, Vocational Rehabilitation, Blind Services and Early Learning Services.

The following analysis will focus primarily on statewide funding, but also provide examples of how funding shortages impact individual large growing school districts.

Statewide K-12 Public Education funding for fiscal year 2019-20 (3rd of 5 calculations):

Revenue Sources – Where the money comes from:

Back when the Florida Lottery was approved, it was to be the savior of public education. Lottery profits were to be used to supplement education funding. Article X Section 15, 24.102 (2) (a) Purpose and Intent – “That the net proceeds of lottery games conducted pursuant to this act be used to support improvements in public education and that such proceeds not be used as a substitute for existing resources for public education” What actually happened? Lottery profits are transferred to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund and from that trust, transferred by the legislature as part of the annual education funding appropriation. The net result is that lottery profits have replaced other sources rather than supplementing public education funding as the law intended. Education funding has continued to lag national averages since the sale of the first lottery ticket in 1988.

According to the Florida Lottery’s March 16, 2019 “Fact Sheet”, over $34 BILLION has been transferred to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund (EETF). Nearly $30 billion has been spent on education, with $15.6 billion to PreK-12 Public Education programs and school construction, $5.6 billion to fund 808,000 Bright Futures scholarships and $8.4 billion to colleges and universities. Transfers to the EETF are projected to be $1.8 billion in 2019-20.

The legislature’s current K-12 funding formula is designed to be both adequate and equitable in funding public school districts across the state. It fails in both respects. It has been inadequate for all districts and not equitable for rapidly growing school districts whose capital improvement needs are greater than those with slower growth. While the largest share of funding for school operations is logically based on the number of students served; the funding formula for capital improvement dollars lacks full consideration for differences in growth rates of school districts. This has resulted in growing districts burdened by debt used to finance new schools and huge deferred maintenance backlogs.

Revenue Sources – Where the money comes from:

Operations funding: The 2019-2020 state appropriation for K-12 education totaled $21.9 billion. ($12.5 billion from state and federal sources and $9.4 billion from local property taxes). $14.9 billion, or 68% was based on a full-time equivalent student calculation and can be used for any category of school expenses. The remaining $6.9 billion is distributed to districts in 21 other categories. This “Categorical” funding, which is far short of actual costs, can only be used to pay expenses within each specific category.

Capital Improvement funding: Capital improvement funding (major repair, remodeling and building of new schools, purchase of school buses and technology upgrades) comes from the county in the form of property taxes and impact fees and in smaller amounts from other sources.

  1. Property taxes – In 2019-20, the 1.5 mil school local property tax assessment generated approximately $3.1 billion statewide. In 2007, in response to lower state revenue and citizen hardships during the Recession, the legislature reduced the historical 2.0 mil property tax assessment for schools to 1.5 mils. The failure to restore it to the 2.0 mil level as the economy recovered has resulted in billions of lost funding and continues at an annual rate of $1.1 billion statewide. As far back as 1999-2000, the legislature controlled property tax millage rates each county was allowed to assess for school operations by a calculation which “rolls back” the millage rate to a level that is intended to result in the same amount of property tax revenue as was collected in the previous year on property assessed in that previous year. This operates to remove inflation from owner’s tax bills but ignores the fact that inflation affects school expenses. New construction on the tax rolls is also taxed at the “rolled back” rate. Since 1999-2000, the school property tax millage rate has been reduced from 6.812 mils to 4.636 in 2019-20, a decline of 2.176 mils. That decline annually removes $4.5 billion of potential property tax revenue from school district funding!3.
  2. Impact fees – Each county assesses impact fees on new construction to provide funding for the infrastructure and service needs of new residents and businesses. Impact fees vary widely across the state. In 1988 the Hillsborough County Commission first began charging impact fees of about $200 per house to developers for new home construction to offset the cost of providing services to new residents. To promote development, commissioners held impact fees at levels substantially lower than neighboring counties and far short of covering the cost of services to be provided. In 2007, impact fees were raised for the first time to about $4,000 per house, still far less than nearby counties and the actual cost of providing county services to new residents. Impact fees currently bring in $25 – $30 million per year for schools. School construction costs range from about $25 million for an elementary school to $75 million for a high school. In March 2020, the Hillsborough County Commission doubled school impact fees which is estimated bring the annual total up to approximately $60 million effective June 2020.

Spending – Where the money goes:

Operations spending:

Compensation: The historical underpayment of our teachers has certainly resulted in many excellent teachers leaving or not entering the profession and damaged the quality of life of those dedicated teachers who have persevered despite the situation.

In 2017-18, the average annual salary of the state’s teachers ranked 46th and trailed the national median by $6,045 ($54,213 – $48,168)1. Instructional staff average salaries trailed the national median by $9,328 ($57,854 – $48,526). To bring Florida’s approximately 200,000 instructional staff to the national average would cost approximately $2.4 billion annually ($9,328×200,000×1.3 to incorporate fringe benefits). This would not include the state’s approximately 100,000 support and administrative personnel. Assuring a living wage to support staff could push the total cost to $3 billion.

Graph #1 shows the widening gap between average Florida teacher salaries and the national median:

Graph #2 shows how little Florida’s average teacher salaries have increased in actual dollars over 16 years and that the effect of inflation has resulted in a decline in the purchasing power of those salaries:

Other Operating Expenses:

The shortage in funding to cover the costs of categories such as Transportation and Safety results in “robbing Peter to pay Paul” by taking funds which could be used for salaries. As salaries and benefits comprise 80+% of total operating expenses, it is one of only two categories which can be accessed to cover shortages in other areas: “operation of plant” (building maintenance) being the other.

Capital Improvement spending:

This spending can be grouped into three major categories and is peculiar to the needs of each district. Hillsborough is used as an example of the statewide situation.

1. Major repairs and maintenance of existing school facilities.

Repairs and maintenance of roofs, air conditioners and other building components. Spending in this category can be delayed when there is not enough money to go around. The absence of an adequate funding source for new school construction forced Hillsborough to borrow to build nearly 80 new schools in the three decades of the 80’s, 90’s & 2000’s. At the peak, the district’s debt was $1.3 billion in 2007. The annual principal and interest payments on that debt are currently about $65 million which consumes 40 -50% of the capital improvement funding, leaving so little for major repairs that the overdue maintenance backlog in Hillsborough has grown to over $1.5 billion! While the voter approved half cent sales tax referendum which became effective January 1, 2019 will help, at $130 million per year it will take more than a decade to reduce the backlog to a manageable level.

2. New school construction, replacement of aging school buses and technology upgrades.

3. Major remodeling or replacement of inefficient, aging, and obsolete school facilities.

During the underfunding of the past 2 decades, the repair and new construction needs have grown to such a high level that there are simply no funds available in the foreseeable future to address the remodeling/replacement of obsolete schools. Hillsborough’s facilities include over 230 schools whose average age is about 50 years and some 40+ are over 90 years old!


Unlike most other states which have multiple school districts within a county; in Florida, each of the state’s 67 counties is a school district. As measured by student enrollment, Florida has 5 of the 10 largest school districts in the nation. (Miami-Dade – 4th, Broward – 6th, Hillsborough – 8th, Orange – 9th and Palm Beach – 10th). This structure results in the school district often being the county’s largest employer whose spending has a significant ripple effect throughout each county

As you would expect, the result of these huge funding shortages has left Florida’s large, fast growing school districts in terrible financial shape. The financial condition of Florida’s four largest districts as shown in their Annual Reports for the year ended June 30, 2019 ($ in Millions) is shown below:

No. of General Net Long-term
District Students Fund Position Debt
Miami-Dade 345,551 $243 $52 $3,449
Broward 267,807 $161 $381 $1,756
Hillsborough 215,429 $151 $625 $841
Orange 206,451 $385 $4,422 $1,156

And these numbers do not include the huge overdue maintenance backlogs.

General Fund – The balance remaining after revenues are reduced by spending. Often called Reserves.

Net Position – The governmental accounting equivalent of Net Worth on a corporate balance sheet.

It took many years to fall into such a dire financial position. The funding not provided during those years can never be recovered. If we continue the current course, more teachers will either leave or not enter the profession. Our schools will deteriorate to the point that they become health and safety hazards, as some already have. Even the implementation of the funding solutions suggested will only begin to stem the decline in school facilities.

To provide an example of the amount of funding necessary, we can look behind the numbers at Orange County (Orlando area) whose financial condition is the envy of nearly every school district in the state. Orange County is similar in size to Hillsborough with 206,000 students, but on solid financial footing with $385 million in the General Fund and a remarkable $1.9 billion in its total Fund Balances ($1.0 Billion in Capital Funds), a growing Net Position of $4.4 billion compared to debt of $1.2 billion. Wow, why are they so different? In partnership with its citizens, Orange County has had both a sales tax referendum for school capital improvements and a property tax referendum for school operating expenses (salaries, busing, etc.). The one-half cent sales tax referendum brought in over $3 billion since 2003, was renewed in 2014 and has financed 49 new schools and the renovation or replacement of another 108 schools. The 1.0 mil property tax referendum brings in $120 million per year for school operating expenses (salaries) and has been renewed by voters every four years since its inception.

Some would argue that if wasteful spending on administration was redirected to teacher salaries, funding shortages would be resolved. This is not the case. In Hillsborough, in 2018-2019, General Administration expense of $42 million represented 1.8% of total expenditures, while School Administration of $106 million was 4.6%. The total of those administrative categories is down $25.8 million or 17.4% from 2015-2016 as a result of successful efforts to bring the district in line with industry norms. While there is generally some inefficiency in any large organization; even if General and School Administration could be further reduced by as much as 10%, it would save $15 million, only a small fraction of the additional funding need.


1. Students unprepared for their first year of school.

2. Students not reading at grade level.

3. Disruptive pupils.

4. Over-stressed teachers.

5. Failing schools.

6. Deteriorating school facilities.

Hillsborough achievements despite these hurdles:

1. Improved high school graduation rates.

2. The achievement gap (as measured by graduation rates) has continued to narrow between Whites and both Hispanic and African American students. – Source – sdhc.k12.fl.us


1. Failure of the state legislature to provide adequate funding.

2. Insufficient parental involvement.

3. Teachers underpaid and stressed by too many administrative duties and the daily disruption caused by undisciplined students.

4. The “No Child Left Behind” mandate has resulted in classroom discipline issues which seriously impact teaching and learning effectiveness. Mental health counseling services must be increased in the effort to find the key to help each child engage his learning opportunities.

5. Many school districts lacking the funding to properly maintain, remodel and replace aging facilities or to build new schools to accommodate growth in the student population.

How much should Florida be spending on K-12 public education?

We can use calculations made by national organizations to compare Florida to other states. Where should Florida rank in comparison? Clearly not at the top due to a higher cost of living in places like California and New York, and certainly not near the bottom where we currently reside. Florida should aspire to be in the top quarter, but because we are so far below even the median, the median should probably be our short-term target. There are two measures we can use:

1. Investment in education as a percentage of state gross domestic product (GDP):

In 2015-16, the latest report available from the National Center for Education Statistics, Florida’s investment in education of 2.73% (ranked 44th) of the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was well below the national median of 3.25%2. Applying the 0.52% difference to Florida’s 2019 GDP of $1.1 trillion indicates that Florida is $5.7 billion below the national median. These investment in education figures do not include spending for capital improvement and debt service.

2. Total Per pupil spending:

In 2017-2018 Florida ranked 42nd in per-pupil spending, $2,598 below the median ($13,321 – $10,633)3. Raising per pupil spending by $2,598 for Florida’s 2.8 million students suggests a statewide funding gap of $7.4 billion ($2,598 x 2,847,918).

Graph #3 shows how far Florida’s per-pupil funding has fallen below the national median since the Recession:

The National Education Association’s ‘A Decade of Neglect’1 report presents Florida’s ranking among the states. In 2016, Florida ranked 44th in Pre-K-12 per-pupil spending. Florida’s 2016 average teacher salary was 47th. The report’s calculation, in inflation adjusted dollars, needed to reach Florida’s own pre-recession funding level is $4.1 billion.4

Florida’s budget growth:

During the 20 years of this century, Florida’s budget grew from $52 billion to $93 billion for 2020-21, a whopping increase of $41 billion. The 20-year funding history of the 30+ agency appropriations as a percent of the total budget shows an alarming trend. The share of the largest agency, Health Care Administration (mostly Medicaid), has grown by 11.50% to 33.02%. Nearly every other agency’s share has declined, often severely restricting the capability to recruit and retain the personnel needed to accomplish their mission. The Department of Education (61% K-12), the second largest agency, has suffered the most with its share declining by 3.14% from 32.15% to 29.01%, a loss equivalent to $2.9 billion of funding.

Graph #4 shows the decline in the priority of funding for the Department of Education as a percent of the total state appropriations budget:

These are the facts, so where do we go from here?

Steps required to solve non-financial problems:

1. Convince legislators to hold publicly funded charter schools to the same standards as traditional public schools.

2. Engage in a dialogue regarding how to return discipline to the classroom in order to minimize the negative effect on learning opportunities for the classmates of disruptive students.

3. Challenge the legislature, the Department of Education and school district administrators to simplify laws and regulations and to assure that as much of the administrative burden as possible is handled by administrators rather than teachers.

4. Identify ways to promote the development of an improved partnership between school administration and its employees. Those relationships have become strained over the lack of progress in bringing compensation to adequate levels in comparison to other states and other professional occupations.

Potential sources of additional state revenue:

Rather than trying to reduce other agency budgets, we should look at potential additional revenue sources that do not tax our lower income citizens.

  1. Once again, the legislature failed to address the issue of remote sales tax collection, thereby missing the opportunity to collect as much a $1 billion in sales tax on purchases of goods from out of state and out of country sellers. Most states have changed their sales and use tax laws to require payment by the seller rather than the buyer. SB 126 was unanimously reported out of the Finance Committee but died as its companion bill was not considered in the House. Every day which passes is a day of lost revenue5.
  2. Negotiate a new contract with the Seminole Tribe regarding the sharing of gambling revenue with the state. The issue has been in limbo due to the expiration of the old contract. The tribe has not made a payment for over a year. Hard to estimate but could approach $500 million and should grow as casino revenues grow. Collection of the missing payments would provide a much-needed boost to state revenue6.
  3. Eliminate sales tax exemptions on non-prescription drugs, supplements, cosmetics, and other items. Rough estimate $100 – $200 million.
  4. Close the many corporate tax loopholes which allow Florida’s increasingly profitable corporations to avoid paying their fair share of income taxes. ? million.
  5. New revenue sources on the horizon:
    1. Taxation of medical marijuana
    2. Legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana
    3. Taxation of sports betting

Using the current system of funding, where should most annual funding increases occur?

State Annual Appropriations:

1. Increase the per student funding allocation to a level sufficient to raise instructional and support staff salaries to the national median. – $3 billion.

2. Fully fund “Categoricals” such as transportation and safety. – Estimated – $1.0 billion. Transportation alone was underfunded by $575 million in 2017-18.

3. Provide targeted funding to large growing districts who have been forced into debt to build new schools. – $1+ billion. (This could be phased out as district debt is reduced to manageable levels).

Local Property Taxes:

4. Return the local property tax millage rate for capital improvement from 1.5 mills to 2.0, the prerecession level. – $1.1 billion.

5. Terminate the annual property tax millage rate rollback calculation so that funding can grow along with the property tax base instead of being restricted to the prior year’s level. – $516 million in the year the rollback is eliminated. The impact of this increase would be reduced by the “Save Our Homes” annual increase limit of 3% or the CPI index, whichever is less.

These increases total an estimated $6.6 billion statewide, with $1.6 billion from local property taxes.



1,3 National Education Association – Ranking of the States – April 2019 – nea.org

2 National Center for Education Statistics, National Science Board, Science & Eng. indicator S-10

4 American Federation of Teachers – aft.org/Decade-Neglect

Other sources:

Florida Department of Education – fldoe.org

Transparency Florida – transparencyflorida.gov

Florida Tax Watch – floridataxwatch.org

Florida Tax Handbook – edr.stste.fl.us

Florida Fiscal Portal – floridafiscalportal.state.fl.us

Florida Association of District School Superintendents – fadss.org

Florida Education Association – feaweb.org

Florida School Finance Officers Association, Inc. – fsfoa.org

Florida Policy Institute – fpi.institute

1 National Education Association – Ranking of the States – April 2019 – nea.org

2 National Center for Education Statistics, National Science Board, Science & Eng. indicator S-10.

3 National Education Association – Ranking of the States – April 2019 – nea.org

4 American Federation of Teachers – aft.org/Decade-Neglect

5 Florida Tax Watch

6 Florida Tax Watch