Gov. Rick Scott bragged that his final state budget continues a trend of record funding for education.
"For the sixth straight year, we have secured record funding for K-12 and state universities to ensure every student has the opportunity to receive a world-class education in Florida," he wrote in a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner on March 16.
Scott’s claim is at odds with Democrats and state educators who say the education budget doesn’t go far enough to cover classroom needs. The 2018-19 budget includes specific allotments for school safety and mental health programs in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
Given the heated debate, we wanted to take a closer look at Scott’s claim. As we’ve concluded in similar fact-checks, the state’s total K-12 education budget has indeed increased in raw dollars every year for the last six years.
However, Scott is overstating the value of those dollars. The K-12 education budget has not topped pre-recession levels when adjusted for inflation.
K-12 education funding
The main source of money for K-12 education is the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP. By law, it’s a combination of state and local funding that is sometimes tweaked based on tax receipts and enrollment counts.
Scott spokeswoman Kerri Wyland said the "record funding" for K-12 education is only in reference to the state contribution, not the total funds that factor in local contributions. But that was not clear from Scott’s comment.
For the 2018-19 school year, the K-12 total budget is about $21.1 billion, or about $7,408 per student. (The state’s share is a little more than half of the total at $11.9 billion.)
That’s the highest it has ever been, and a jump of almost $500 million from the previous year.
School officials around the state have not been pleased, however, because their hands are tied about how to spend most of it.
About $400 million of the increase is dedicated for school safety and mental health initiatives. "The Legislature is touting ‘record’ funding for schools by counting money slated for safety and mental health, not for education," said superintendents from some of Florida’s largest school districts in a joint column for the Tampa Bay Times. "Their ‘record’ funding is all funneled into categorical funds and can only be used for certain purposes."
With that point in mind, we dove into the budget and per-pupil spending trends.
In sheer dollars, Scott’s claim about K-12 schools is accurate. Overall, state and per-pupil funding has increased every year since fiscal year 2013-14 in K-12 schools.
Per-pupil spending is a crucial measure, because it shows how much is spent on each student. It would be expected, then, that overall spending would increase with the number of students. There are approximately 200,000 more K-12 students today then six years ago in fiscal year 2013-14.
Scott’s boast of record funding, however, does not hold up when adjusted for inflation.
Using the federal Consumer Price Index calculator, we found per-pupil spending is not as high as it was before the recession crippled state tax revenues.
K-12 per-pupil spending would have to be more than $8,726 in 2018-19 to match the 2007-08 level. Instead, it’s more than $1,000 short.
Scott’s boasts of education spending over the years have not usually included state funding for universities. Scott’s office provided the total operating budgets for state universities in the six years he mentioned, but we were unable to find per-pupil and enrollment totals for the more recent school years.
The university budgets grew each year, from $3.48 billion in 2013-14 to $4.37 billion from 2018-19. During that time, the system also added more students.
The Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System, offered enrollment totals and per-pupil spending for this period, using a slightly different methodology to calculate the overall operating funds.
The spending totals reported by the board are slightly less than the figures cited by Scott. (One explanation could be that the governor’s data includes tuition assistance.) Still, they speak to the trend of increased record spending.
The same caveats we found with K-12 education also apply: Per-pupil spending in 2018-19 would have to be roughly $14,346 to match the 2007-08 level.
We did not find a per-pupil spending for 2018-19, but it’s safe to say that the per-pupil amount would be very close to the spending power in 2007-08.
We rate this Half True.
Edited for print. To see charts detailing education spending by year, go to PolitiFact.com/florida.