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State Budget Doesn't Add Up; Veto Urged

In my role as superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, I am strongly urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) portion of the 2018-19 General Appropriations Act as proposed by the Florida Legislature.

Superintendents from the 10 largest school districts in Florida are united in opposition to this budget, which provides a mere 47-cent increase in the base student allocation (BSA). The BSA is the only source of flexible funding school districts receive to address the inflationary costs of running an education system and providing needed raises for our hard-working teachers and school support personnel.

Gov. Scott’s recommended budget included a $152 increase in the BSA, acknowledging school districts’ financial needs in a $88.7 billion budget that would be the largest in Florida’s history and $5 billion more than the current year. Gov. Scott also proposed funding of $450 million for his Keep Students Safe plan. Duval’s portion of this proposal based on FTE should be about $18 million of new funding. Our overall increase, including operating funds and school safety funds, was just $9.9 million.

The proposed BSA increase of 47 cents per student (.01 percent) equals an additional $60,505.95 for Duval County Public Schools for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. This amount does not even cover our average teacher’s salary plus benefits.

The overall FEFP per-student increase for Duval’s children is only $69.31 each, compared to the statewide average of $101.50 per student. Although legislators will suggest that this is a significant increase, the Legislature mandates the specific programs on which almost all of that increase must be spent -- primarily on safe schools and mental health programs -- removing any flexibility districts have in deciding how to best appropriate the funds.

While we appreciate the increase in school safety funding, Duval’s share will not be enough to provide a school resource officer at each school. We need those funds for sworn officers protecting our schools. To that end, I encourage full funding of SB 7026.

Our first priority is the safety and education of our students. A 47-cent per student increase actually represents a loss of funding to Duval schools. Utility, health, property insurance, and other business costs continue to rise for our school district, just as they do for our citizens and businesses across Duval County. An increase of just 47 cents per student jeopardizes the funding needed for important student programs, as well as the increases needed for operating expenses.

Duval County Public Schools, like the State of Florida, has achieved record high graduation rates and continuously improving student outcomes. Our students, our families, our schools, and our staff have earned and deserve greater support from our state. I am asking Gov. Scott to veto this shocking funding level, as he did last year, and ask the Legislature to go back and provide the appropriate increases in the base student allocation and school safety funding.

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