Miami Herald Letter: State must ante up funding

Mar 30, 2010

The Miami Herald publised this letter on March 30, 2010.


The numbers don’t lie, and the equation is alarmingly simple:

Shrinking property values + less money from the state = a projected $190 million shortfall for Miami-Dade’s public schools next year.

As America struggles with its worst recession in decades, our public schools continue to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden. Few communities have been hit harder than ours, with Miami-Dade losing $1.2 billion in public school funding since 2007. The School Board has expertly cut costs to make up for the loss — sparing the classroom, avoiding layoffs and restoring depleted reserves — and federal stimulus dollars through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) have helped. The equation will change, however, when the stimulus funds run out next year.

Add it up, and you have a perfect storm — a catastrophe-in-the-making for the people of Miami-Dade and Florida. The only way for us to prevent this perfect storm is to let our leaders in Tallahassee and Washington know that we demand full funding for education.

Fortunately, citizens across the state are speaking up. Miami-Dade’s education leaders are among those leading the charge, with our School Board members traveling to Tallahassee to meet with leaders in the House and Senate. Now, all Floridians must lend their voices, sending our leaders a clear, consistent message: Stabilize education funding now.

Our leaders in Tallahassee can accomplish this by:

• Freezing the implementation of a class-size reduction measure statewide or defer sanctions for noncompliance, saving Miami-Dade’s public schools $97 million next year.

• Working with Washington to make sure that the bottom doesn’t drop out from under our public schools when the ARRA funding runs out.

• Overhauling the K-12 funding formula, now based primarily on fluctuating property values, making year-to-year planning difficult and long-term stability and improvements all but impossible.

Though the recession has exacerbated the problem, the decrease in state funding to Miami-Dade schools has been a long time in the making. Once the main source of public-school funding, the state currently provides only 38 percent, with Miami-Dade property owners paying the rest. Compare this to 2003-04, when the state contributed 62 percent.

Tallahassee must reverse this trend, in keeping with Florida’s constitutional mandate that the state, not the locality, provide a high-quality education for every Florida student.

We’ve cut the fat and the flesh; forced to cut deeper, we can only hit bone.

Despite the hits, we have seen student test scores rise in Miami-Dade, with public confidence rising along with them. In the past months our schools and students have scored a number of impressive achievements:

• M-DCPS math students outperformed those in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major U.S. cities, according to a national assessment of urban districts, with our Hispanic students scoring significantly higher than their counterparts across the country.

• Of the seven public high schools recognized recently for increasing access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses among traditionally underserved students, five were from Miami-Dade.

• Four Miami-Dade public schools were named among the 100 best high schools in America this year by U.S. News & World Report.

We, in Miami-Dade, the economic engine of the state, are once again troubled that the Legislature is considering enormous cuts to education funding. We cannot let that come to pass. We cannot continue to balance the state budget on our children’s backs. We must come together as citizens, face the hard truth and shout it out loud: “No more cuts to education.”

The numbers don’t lie. We cannot — we must not — remain silent, letting simple mathematics calculate our doom.

Alberto M. Carvalho is superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools.