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  1. Opinion

Column: Scott should demand lawmakers raise school spending

Published Mar. 16, 2018

Editor's note: This is a joint column by the superintendents of Tampa Bay area school districts and many of Florida's largest districts: Broward County superintendent Robert Runcie, Duval County superintendent Patricia Willis, Hillsborough County superintendent Jeff Eakins, Manatee County superintendent Diana Greene, Orange County superintendent Barbara Jenkins, Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning, Pinellas County superintendent Michael A. Grego and Polk County superintendent Jacqueline Byrd.

As the superintendents of many of the largest public school systems in Florida, proudly serving more than 1 million students, we are disappointed to be once again placed in a position of having to ask the governor to veto the education portion of the state budget. In a year when the state budget increased by $5 billion, the Legislature only spared pocket change for the costs of educating students.

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. We cannot overstate the negative impact this level of funding will have on students, dedicated teachers and staff, and communities. Let's do more for our kids.

In many of our communities, school districts are one of the largest employers in the county, if not the largest. When our employees get raises, the community as a whole benefits. When we have money to build schools, the community as a whole benefits from the economic impact. When our local communities see economies improve, we see our statewide economy and economic confidence improve.

This can only happen when school districts receive increases in their flexible funding that can be used for personnel salary increases. For the past three years, the Legislature funded limited one-time bonuses for teachers instead of raises. Bonuses help with one-time purchases. They don't help pay the mortgage or cover the annual rising costs of utility bills and health care.

The Legislature is touting "record" funding for schools by counting money slated for safety and mental health, not for education. Their "record" funding is all funneled into categorical funds and can only be used for certain purposes. The majority of the increase in the overall education budget, outside of Safe Schools and Mental Health, will not cover the costs of serving an additional 27,000 students statewide. In most counties in Florida, it adds up to less than the salary of one new teacher.

The additional funds for school safety and mental health services are needed and appreciated. But with a $5 billion increase in the state budget, Florida can afford to do more. We can afford to fund both security and classroom needs.

We are continually tasked by the state with expanding educational programs and opportunities for students. It will be extremely difficult to carry out this mission with an increase of just 47 cents (.01 percent) in base funding. Our districts will have to cut millions of dollars from our budgets because of other state mandates and reductions. These cuts will impact our schools, our communities and — most importantly — our students.

The original budget proposed by Gov. Rick Scott included an increase to the base student allocation of $152 per student. The final number of 47 cents is more than 300 times smaller than that. As parents and community leaders, we implore you to join us. Email Gov. Scott at rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com with the subject "Let's Do More." Tell him why you support bringing the Legislature back to Tallahassee for a special session on education funding to do more for our students. Let's do more to provide a meaningful investment in education for students and teachers.

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