Public schools' construction spending questioned by Florida House
Setting the tone for an adversarial debate this session, Florida House Republican leaders want to rein in what they call a “disturbing pattern” of school districts “glaringly and grossly” exceeding a state-imposed limit for spending on school construction projects.
Citing annual data that districts report to the state, House education budget Chairman Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said public schools have spent more than $1.2 billion over the last nine years in excess of a legal cap that dictates how much in state money schools can spend “per student station,” or the space required for each individual student.
His findings were discussed by the full House Appropriations Committee last week and offer a prelude to further conversations this session about both the annual education budget and proposed new restrictions traditional public schools might face in how they spend capital dollars.
But some Democrats and public school representatives said Fresen’s findings aren’t the whole picture.
They said requiring accountable spending of taxpayers’ dollars is a conversation worth having, but they said Fresen’s conclusions over-simplify how school construction projects are funded. In addition to state aide, districts have their own local sources of revenue — such as local sales tax and bond referenda — which they’ve had to rely on more and more as the state has cut funding and shifted dollars to charter schools.
House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, of West Palm Beach, who sits on the budget committee, told the Herald/Times the conversation serves as another attack on Florida’s public education system by a Republican-led Legislature that’s friendly to for-profit charter schools and voucher programs.
“The Legislature commonly uses information and manipulates it to fit its own argument,” Pafford said of Fresen’s presentation last week. “There was a lot not mentioned. ... They’re purposely breaking the back of the public education system.”