Less property tax revenue, nonrecurring funds on tap for Florida schools
Going into the new school year, Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders have touted their move to put $1 billion more into Florida public education. Critics have been quick to point out that the money doesn't cover cuts of recent years, and also that most of the funding will go toward filling holes left by shrinking property tax income and a loss of nonrecurring funds.
The Florida Board of Education plans to discuss what it sees as the options moving forward during a budget workshop at its meeting Monday and Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale. A lengthy presentation highlights some of the key issues on the horizon. Among them:
• The state's certified taxable value for schools declined by $5.38 billion between the September 2011 estimate and the July 2012 report, with the housing market continuing to show weakness in several counties. A rebound isn't expected until at least 2014. Required local effort would mean that tax rates would rise to make up the difference, or the state would have to shift more money to schools to keep them even.
• Nonrecurring revenue sources (such as federal grants and carryover funds) are projected to continue to shrink. The biggest example of this was when districts lamented the end of the federal stimulus, which had replaced state money that's no longer in the budget. The loss of the money without a substitute source has meant cuts to programs and people. The state projects $1.95 billion in nonrecurring funds for the 2012-13 general operating budget, down to $49.8 million for 2015-16.
These issues and others in mind, the board is looking to adopt general guidelines for pursuing its 2013-14 legislative budget request. The pending recommendations include:
• Provide continuation funding, including the replacement of nonrecurring funds, for items which meet at least one of the following criteria: a) Constitutional requirement, b) Statutory requirement, c) Supports State Board of Education Strategic Plan
• Include no change in current millage rates, tuition or fees.
• Maximize the use of federal funds that do not obligate the state to additional future commitments.
Scott and others have said they want to pump more money into schooling. But almost in the same breath, they caution that there's probably not enough state revenue to do it. School board members who have attended state conferences lately have come away with the message that they most likely have what they're going to get financially for a while.
How would you recommend the State Board and local school boards come to grips with the financial picture as they enter the fifth year of cuts, minimal to no raises and other difficult decisions?