Miami Herald: Schools funding doesn’t add up

May 6, 2010

The Miami Herald published the following on May 4, 2010:


Legislature’s budget assumptions hurt public schools

The Legislature wrapped up its 60-day session pretending that all is well with public-schools funding. It’s not. Consider:

• The base student allocation lawmakers agreed on is $3,623.76 per student. That’s $7 less than in the 2003-04 school year and $540 less per student than in 2007-08, before the economy started to tank.

• The Board of Education recommended spending $354 million statewide to meet the requirements of the class-size amendment. Yet the Legislature appropriated only $82 million, hoping that voters will alleviate the class-size requirements in November. In the meantime, superintendents have been left to scramble to meet the requirements based on October enrollment numbers — or risk heavy penalties.

• Using “creative” math, the House based each school district’s property-tax collection at 96 percent — one percentage point over the usual formula. That makes it seem that more money will come to districts even though, historically, Broward and Miami-Dade districts have brought in less than the 95 percent rule as property owners appeal assessments and delay payment. This will continue with more foreclosures. It’s an unrealistic number.

• The budget also passes along a heftier obligation for districts to pay a bigger share of their employees’ retirement costs. This is the first state budget that cuts funding to districts and also raises their required contribution rates to the Florida Retirement System. For Miami-Dade that means finding an extra $15 million; for Broward, another $10 million.

All of these legislative maneuvers, meant to make it seem as if public schools have been protected this budget year, in essence saddle districts with millions of dollars in more costs. Miami-Dade would need $109 million more, and Broward would need $88 million to hire more teachers.

The options are limited.

Local districts can raise the property tax by a small amount, but that would bring only about $48 million to Miami-Dade and $33 million for Broward. With foreclosures and unemployment rates at historic highs, this would be the wrong time to raise taxes.

Cutting expenses will continue, but more lay-offs of teachers will affect quality in the classroom. Remember, Florida’s voters have approved constitutional amendments calling for a quality public education system that’s a “paramount” state responsibility.

Legislators flunked that test. They continue to play games with Florida children’s education funding. Districts should turn to the courts to settle this game of pass-the-buck.