After Governor DeSantis vetoed $295.5 million in education spending, Florida's total education budget still grew by $732 million over the previous fiscal year. However, many education proponents and local leaders, pointing to the twin pressures of the COVID-19 crisis and population growth, contend the funding is far from enough. The COVID-19 pandemic caused childcare centers, schools, colleges, and universities across the state to close their doors and move online. At the very time that schools need extra resources to provide a healthy environment, the revenues that propel education in the state have steeply declined.
In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which earmarked $30.75 billion to K-12 and higher education systems in the Education Stabilization Fund, of which Florida received $2.04 billion. More than a third of these Florida funds —$693 million — went directly to school districts to help with a range of COVID-19 response related expenses. Higher education institutions in the state directly received $874 million, half of which was required to go directly to students. DeSantis has broad discretion to spend the remaining $475 million. Of the $224 million earmarked for childcare support, his office earmarked $86 million to go to safety net reserves and $136 million to support childcare centers, support childcare for first responders and health care workers, and ensure that no parents lost their school readiness subsidies during the crisis. The governor is aiming the remaining $251 million mostly at supports to reduce the “achievement gap” by funding reading coaches, reading and civics curriculum, and data collection. The governor also has earmarked $35 million toward short-term industry certificate programs and $2.5 million toward a “Job Market Dashboard.”
Education Stabilization Funds were not included in the FY 2020-21 budget passed by Legislature in March. While the initial funding boost is helpful, many school leaders are sounding the alarm that more federal support for schools is critical. On April 28, 2020, the superintendents of Broward, Orange, Miami Dade, Duval, Palm Beach, and Pinellas school districts joined a letter sent to Congress calling for $175 billion more in education stabilization funds.