How much does Florida education really cost?
During the first 90 minutes of its budget workshop, the Florida Board of Education got reams of information on the costs of public schooling. The goal was to set a base for services it can compare to the amount of money available for spending.
"If we get as close to having an accurate number … then we can move in the right direction," board member Ashkay Desai said.
The trouble is, it's not so easy to pinpoint a cost per student statewide, DOE senior advisor John Newman told the board.
Digging past state averages, Newman explained, you find that there's a difference of $1,900 between the district that spends the most per student in the state funding program and the one that spends the least. Fourteen districts have a discretionary local property tax, and among those the range in per student support goes from $119 at the low end to $1,300 at the high.
Of the 16 districts with local sales taxes for construction projects, they range from $30 per student at the low side to $193 on the other end.
Looking at administrative costs, the disparaties continue. Smaller districts have much less economy of scale than larger ones, so the costs are higher, Newman observed.
Board chairwoman Kathleen Shanahan suggested that there might be opportunities to bring together smaller districts to work in concert, and the state could create laws and policies to help. "Maybe for these smaller rural districts there is interest in doing that," she said.
UPDATE: Walton County superintendent Carlene Anderson told the board that the small rural districts of northern Florida already collaborate on several aspects including insurance and professional development. She suggested that trying to merge the districts would be harmful for community support, but noted that other joint efforts might help.
The district and college officials are now beginning to offer their input. Stay tuned.