K-12 Public Education in Florida – Summary

This summary is designed for those who have a good understanding of how the K-12 Public Education funding and spending process works. For those interested in the full story, a more detailed version is available.

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. Large districts like Hillsborough County with rapidly growing student enrollment have suffered the most.

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 among the states Florida ranks in education spending (44th) and teacher salaries (46th). The price to bring school operating cost rankings up to the national median is about $4 billion. The other component of school district expenditures is capital improvement and major repair/remodeling. Another $2.6 is needed to address huge major repair backlogs and build new schools in large growing districts. That’s $6.6 billion in total.

Impossible you say? As we know, Florida’s Constitution requires a balanced budget, meaning that spending is limited by available revenue. Rather than trying to reduce other agency budgets, we need to look with more urgency for additional sources of revenue; especially places which do not require tax increases.

Some places to look are:

  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 revenue1.
  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 revenue2.
  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.
  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.

Shouldn’t the education of Florida’s children be one of the Legislature’s and Governor’s top priorities?

1 Florida Tax Watch

2 Florida Tax Watch