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  1. Opinion

PolitiFact Florida: House says per-student bump of 47 cents is a myth. Here's why that's overstated

Students, faculty, staff, parents and guardians participate in the annual Clap-Out, a send-off for fifth-graders going to middle school held at Lithia Elementary School in Lithia on Friday. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Published Jun. 4, 2018

Florida House Republicans are playing mythbusters on claims of stagnant school spending.

The House Majority Office, which is overseen by Speaker Richard Corcoran, released a five-minute video May 17 that takes aim at teachers' unions and state educators (and unnamed "media allies") who say the 2018-19 education budget isn't enough to cover the costs of running a school district.

Back in March, superintendents of some of Florida's largest districts wrote a column saying, "The 47 cents per student increase in the base student allocation — the only funds school districts can use for student programs, teacher salaries and other costs — will force us to make cuts in critical areas of our operations."

The House Republicans' released their video on the same day 35 Democrats called on the Legislature to hold a special session to reconsider education funding for the next school year (a motion that failed).

It offers a defense of education spending (using phrases like "sparsity supplement" and "millage compression") to argue that approved spending is really closer to $100 per student, at least.

"Have you heard the '47 cents' myth?" the Florida House asked in the description of the video. "The rumor goes 'per-student funding only rose by $0.47 this year.' Nothing could be further from the truth."

The number isn't a myth; it just isn't the number that House Republicans want to highlight.

The House Majority Office argues that per-pupil spending increased by $101, not 47 cents. The $101 figure is accurate if you consider every facet of education funding.

The state's 2018-19 education budget increased public school spending by more than $485 million. In 2017-18, per-pupil funding was $7,307. In 2018-19, it increased slightly to $7,408 per student (an increase of $101.50).

It's worth noting that the $101 increase is an average of what school districts will receive, so the actual amount of per-pupil funding really depends on the county.

For example, it's possible that the largest districts won't receive all of the $101 after taking into account new state mandates and an expected student decrease. According to the Florida Department of Education documents, total per-pupil funding will increase by $65 in Miami-Dade; $52 in Broward County; $73 in Pinellas County; and $85 in Hillsborough County.

That said, other counties, particularly smaller ones like Calhoun County, will receive $263.

More importantly, the $101 increase in student spending includes every source of education funding. Some sources of funding have to be used for specific purposes.

To name a few, there's the Exceptional Student Education allocation reserved for people who are disabled or gifted; the Teacher Classroom Supply Assistance Program, which allows teachers to purchase materials and supplies for the public school students assigned to them; and the digital classroom allocation, which provides money for devices.

It also includes the money set aside to hire additional school resource officers and money to increase mental health facilities.

So, while it's accurate to say per-student funding rose by $101, it's important to know that school districts don't have a lot of flexibility in how that money can be used.

That's why state educators and unions have used the increase in the base student allocation (47 cents) to demonstrate how little money is left for districts to pay for day-to-day operating costs.

Another reason calling the 47-cent claim "a myth" is misleading? It appears in the Florida Department of Education's own 2018-19 document about education financing.

This amount refers to the budget's base student allocation, the amount of money allocated for each student. The money is unrestricted, which means districts have the most freedom in how that portion of the education budget is used.

The base student allocation is one of the only pieces of the budget that goes toward teachers' salaries and raises, electricity, fuel for buses, health care for faculty and administrators, and other operational costs.

In 2017-18, the base student allocation was $4,203.95. In 2018-19, it increased slightly to $4,204.42 per student (an increase of 47 cents, if you haven't caught on by now).

The base student allocation fell during the recession from 2007 to 2012. Funding has increased each year starting in 2012-13, though those year-over-year hikes have been bigger than in this year's budget.

The 47-cent increase wasn't always the plan. In January, before the Parkland shooting, the House's original education budget included increasing the base student allocation by $75.

The office's statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate this claim Mostly False.

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