Florida should better fund school construction and maintenance, leaders say
Over six years, local funding for Florida school construction and maintenance needs has fallen by $1.5 billion, from a high of $3.46 billion in 2007 to a projected $2.005 billion for the coming year.
One big difference is the amount that school districts could tax property owners for such projects. In 2007, the maximum rate was $2.00 per $1,000 of taxable value. A year later, the Legislature dropped the cap to 1.75 mills, and the following year it lowered the cap again to 1.5 mills. At the same time, property values steeply declined, and state funding for capital projects also shrank, with most of that money going to charter schools.
State education leaders are calling for a reversal, as growth returns in some areas and ignored repairs are taking their toll on several districts.
The Florida Association of District School Superintendents, for one, has made one of its legislative priorities the provision of "adequate funding for the growing need for maintenance and repair of district operated public schools." The Pasco school district has separately urged its legislative delegation, which includes the House speaker and Senate education chairman, to restore districts' maximum capital tax rate to 2.0 mills.
If it would help, the Pasco officials suggested, lawmakers might limit the use of some of the money to such things as technology improvements, which would assist the state's conversion to digital curriculum and testing. But failure to act, they suggested, will hinder districts in their ability to best serve students.
Lawmakers haven't taken up the issue publicly to this point. But look for this sticky issue to get some attention as committees resume their meetings in the months leading to the spring legislative session.