THE ISSUE: State imposed school district mandates.
OUR OPINION: Compliance is squeezing school district budgets.
The core mission of school districts is to educate students.
However, the thicket of state mandates that grows with each legislative session is inexorably squeezing classroom time and dollars to the point that Florida school districts are faced with the challenge of miraculously doing more and more with less and less until they can do everything with nothing.
While some of the close to 400 state mandates imposed on Florida school districts have merit, many contribute little, if anything, to providing students a solid educational foundation. The escalating costs of the thicket of state mandates, many of which are either unfunded or underfunded, have resulted in Florida’s 67 school districts assuming an ever increasing compliance burden.
This growing state control over education through mandates is compounded by inadequate state funding and state-imposed restrictions placed on the school districts’ allowable required local effort.
As for the state’s inadequate funding, Education Week, an independent news organization that has covered K–12 education since 1981, recently assigned Florida an “F” grade for school spending. Even more disconcerting is that Florida’s per-pupil allocation stood alone among the 50 states with just 0.1% of its students in districts where spending reaches or exceeds the national benchmark.
Despite the school districts’ required local effort being the primary funding source for mandate compliance, the school districts have no latitude. The state sets each school district’s millage rate based upon the certified property tax valuation of its county, as well as each district’s allowable discretionary and capital millage rates. Compounding these statutory restrictions is that state lawmakers inextricably reduced the allowable capital rate from 2 mills to 1.5 mills in 2008.
The state’s inadequate funding and restrictions placed on the school districts’ required local effort have not only greatly diminished the ability of school district officials to prioritize and manage resources, but has also necessitated the diversion of resources from educating students to complying with state mandates at the expense of teacher pay, educational programs and extracurricular activities.
Our school district, working within the minimal statutory maximums allowed, has demonstrated a commendable ability to squeeze limited resources in complying with an ever-growing and costly number of state mandates.
Nonetheless, state lawmakers, as well as taxpayers, should bear in mind that already thin school district budgets that are being increasingly consumed by mandates with little educational value can only be stretched so far before their core mission becomes impossible.