Florida government leaders didn’t hesitate to send out alerts and announcements last September, after Education Week issued its 2018 “Quality Counts” report that rated the state fourth nationally for student achievement.
“It is no coincidence that Florida is leading the nation in K-12 student achievement,” then-commissioner Pam Stewart said in a prepared statement. “Governor Scott has invested record funding in education to ensure every Florida student has access to the world-class education they deserve.”
The 2019 “Quality Counts," however, takes a dimmer view of Florida’s education finances.
In the latest report, released this week, Education Week gives Florida the nation’s top mark for its funding equity — meaning essentially spreading money based on needs — but also logs the state in at 45th for spending overall.
In other words, Florida doesn’t spend a lot on education compared to other states, but of that amount, it spreads it fairly. It’s not alone, according to the publication.
“States That Score Well on Spending Tend to Score Poorly on Equity and Vice Versa,” the authors wrote. “Florida highlights this disconnect. The state is ranked first for equity, receiving the sole A for the indicator, but 45th for spending, with an F.”
Also in that mix are states like Alaska and Vermont, among the highest spenders but with poor ratings for equity.
Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently wrote a piece in which he praised Florida’s financial position as a virtue.
“States like Massachusetts and New Jersey made [academic] progress, but spent a ton of money along the way. Schools in the Bay State, for example, increased spending 22 percent from 1999 to 2009 — the period of its greatest NAEP gains — or about $3,000 per child in inflation-adjusted dollars. New Jersey schools, meanwhile, now spend an average of $21,000 a year, up about a third in real dollars since 1990,” Petrilli wrote.
“Florida, on the other hand, kept spending per pupil flat as a pancake, actually inching downward from $9,765 per pupil in 1990 to $9,724 in 2016 in inflation-adjusted dollars. This makes Florida a serious outlier, as the next-stingiest state, Arizona, increased spending by 13 percent, or about $1,000 per pupil, over the same period. Considering Florida’s achievement gains, it means the return-on-investment of the A+ reforms are through the roof.”
The Florida Education Association, a frequent critic of the Republican-led Legislature and its education policies, was quick to highlight the state’s latest Education Week ranking, though it did acknowledge the positive piece as well.
“Florida’s grades are much like last year’s,” the group wrote in its press release after the “Quality Counts” publication. “We get an F on spending, ranking 45th in the nation. In 2018, Florida also earned an F on spending, ranking 44th. On overall school finance for 2019, Florida earned a D-plus, ranking 39th out of 49 states receiving overall finance rankings. The nation received a grade of C for school finance. Florida’s finance grade is unchanged from 2018. The bright spot for Florida is equity.”
The Department of Education has yet to weigh in.