Education funding has drawn considerable attention.
This week, Gov. Charlie Crist announced a state budget proposal to add millions of dollars for education funding that he cleverly tied to a casino deal many say will never see the light of day. But it did give him a nice photo opportunity and what politician can resist a little grandstanding especially with kids at an elementary school?
"When business groups talk about reforming education," a St. Petersburg Times Jan. 24 editorial concluded, "they need to explain how they would pay for it. Otherwise they're just talk."
Perhaps the same can be said for Florida legislators. The Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) is the funding program adopted by the Florida Legislature in 1973 to allocate funds appropriated by the Legislature to school districts for public school operations for grades kindergarten through 12.
Florida residents who are interested in seeing their school districts' revenues and expenditures can get a good snapshot of their local data at fldoe.org/fefp/pdf/fefpdist.pdf but information on per capita student funding (Full Time Equivalent (FTE) is found in the financial profiles of school districts report (April 2009) and it reflects the most recent school year available: 2007-2008.
How does Hernando County education funding compare with the rest of the state? Of the state's 67 counties, 61 of them receive more funding per student than Hernando. According to the state Department of Education here is where we are compared to neighboring counties in per-student funding: Hernando, $5,893; Citrus, $6154; Hillsborough, $6,043; Pinellas, $6,334; Pasco, $6,1674. We receive from $150 to $471 less per capita than other Tampa Bay area school districts.
While it is very encouraging to hear that Bryan Blavatt, the newly appointed superintendent of Hernando County Schools, is interested in parity, I don't know if anyone has told him yet DOE cares little about it.
Consider the following: In DeSoto County, funding is ample at $6,910 per student. (In DeSoto, the politicians apparently know how to play the system and look after the local interests.) The state pays 56.92 percent of the education tab, the federal government pays 14.79 percent and locals kick in just 28.29 percent for education.
Dixie County students don't receive quite as much as DeSoto, $6,192, but state funding pays for 62.7 percent, federal dollars kick in 12.9 percent, and locals pay only 24.4 percent.
In Hernando County, apparently, federal and state dollars have a hard time finding us. We receive 48.94 percent from the state, 6.71 percent from the federal government and we locals pay 44.36 percent of the $5,893 in per student funding.
Blavatt may not have heard the TV commercials but Gov. Crist (a former Florida commissioner of education) says he wants to be our U.S. senator and "bring Florida common sense to Washington."
Perhaps Mr. Blavatt might ask the governor to bring some Florida common sense to Tallahassee first. Hernando schools have been cheated long enough.
Gregg Laskoski is a Spring Hill resident and he and his wife, Maria, serve on Challenger K-8's School Advisory Council.