July 24, 2023

Sue Kingery Woltanski: For Florida’s Public Schools, the 2023-24 Budget Is NOT Worth Celebrating.

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Sue Kingery Woltanski offers a reminder that sometimes the best way to know what politicians really value is not to listen to them talk, but to see what they do. Next year’s budget gives a clear picture of what Florida’s leaders value.

Budgets reflect priorities and Florida’s 2023-24 Budget does not prioritize its K-12 public schools. This is no surprise. Despite lawmakers’ insistence that Florida has increased education spending every year for the past decade, when you consider the impacts of inflation, population growth and diversion of public funds to private vouchers, those increases vanish. This year’s budget is no different.

On June 15, 2023, at a yacht club in Ft. Pierce, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s 2023-24 budget in a campaign style event focused on celebrating the successes of the GOP’s legislative session and record tax cuts in the face of a record budget surplus.

At the bill signing, DeSantis spoke briefly about K-12 education spending in the budget. Specifically:

  • He celebrated $1.1 Billion for raises for teachers and instructional personnel, saying “that’s a record.” He pointed out that these funds could only be spent on teacher salaries and “not to bureaucracies or unions.”
  • For K-12 funding, he celebrated a “record” $28.6 Billion dollars.
  • He also celebrated a record per pupil spending, touting $405 more than last year which, he said, was the previous record.

However, a closer look shows something else.

  • $1.1 Billion for raises for teachers and instructional personnel? Nope. $252 million for raises.

In 2022-23, the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), the primary funding formula for K-12 public education in Florida, included $800 million as part of the Teacher Salary Increase Allocation. This year’s FEFP included $1,052,803,316 for Classroom Teacher and Other Instructional Personnel Salary Increase – $800 million to continue previous year’s salary increases and $252,803,316 million for new raises. While it is great that the state is funding teacher raises, it is an exaggeration to suggest $1.1 billion was spent on raises this year.

  • Record K-12 Funding? Again, Nope – Not when adjusted for inflation and population growth.

The high water mark for K-12 Funding in Florida was Gov. Charlie Christ’s final budget in 2007-08, before the Great Recession and Gov. Rick Scott’s dramatic budget cuts to public education. Public education funding in Florida has never recovered, despite massive budget surpluses over the last 2 years. Florida’s 2007-08 Budget included an FEFP with a per pupil spending of $7305.79, which adjusted for inflation would equal $10,716.05 in today’s dollars, far higher than the $8,648 celebrated in DeSantis’ new budget.

In addition, the student population has grown significantly since 2007, when the budget funded 2.642 million students. This year, following years of population growth and this year’s expansion of publicly funded vouchers to all private school students, the FEFP funds 3.095 million students (over 450,000 more than in 2007). If today’s population of students were funded at the inflation adjusted 2007 levels, it would cost $33.2 Billion, vastly more than the $26.8 billion “record” celebrated by DeSantis.

There’s much more and it gets, as Woltanski says, “weedy and math-heavy,” but it’s an example of the kind of digging public education advocates need to do in order to see what their state is really doing. Read the full post here. 

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