Public education is a core function of government — so much so that it is enshrined in the state constitution, Article IX, section 1, which says, in part, “the education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida.”
But despite the rhetoric, in reality Florida consistently ranks in the lower quarter of the nation in funding per student, and educational funding has been a controversial topic in the state for years.
Florida’s lack of funding for public education was underscored by a recent report from the Washington, D.C-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that showed Florida last in the nation in funding for K-12 compared with a decade ago.
In seven states, inflation adjusted spending per student was at least 10% below pre-recession levels, but Florida’s was down 22.7%, which the report said was the “deepest cutting state.”
This kind of drop in funding impacts everything from teacher salaries to class size and textbooks and high school class offerings.
According to the National Education Association (NEA), on a national basis “over the last decade, the average per-student expenditure has risen by 13.1% ... but after inflation adjustment, the expenditure per student in enrollment has decreased by 2.3%.”
A similar impact has been felt in teacher salaries. Again, according to the NEA, salaries have increased, but “there are are significant differences between the average salaries in current versus constant dollars. The current dollar increases over the years since 2009-10 appear substantial for both instructional staff and classroom teachers.”
But, when the effects of price inflation are taken into account, “the average classroom teacher salary has actually decreased by 4.5% from 2009-10 to 2018-19, while the average salary for instructional staff has decreased by 3.6%.”
Couple salary pressure with demands for a rigorous testing schedule, multiple competing demands on their time, active shooter drills, knowing safe places to hide if a shooter is on campus, and being disrespected by the legislature, it is hardly surprising that there is a teacher shortage in Florida.
Florida has a complex formula for school funding, but in general the state provides about 39% of funds for school operations, local taxpayers provide about half the funds, and the federal government pays the rest.
The state funding percentage for education in Florida is below the national average, and local funding is above the national average. With federal funding not likely to increase, and local funding limited by the state funding formula, the most realistic way to increase education funding is for the state legislature to step up and put more resources into schools.
Our state constitution says public education is a core function of government. The question for our state legislature is why this core function remains consistently underfunded.