Florida has not fared well in funding for public schools, especially since the recession. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities recently released its analysis of state-by-state changes in public school funding since 2008.
In an economy vested heavily in tourism, the recession hit Florida especially hard. State revenues plummeted. All services suffered, but education was hit especially hard. The federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided funding to the state that staved off mass teacher layoffs. There was a reasonable expectation that, as the economy recovered, funding would be restored.
Florida has not restored funding after several years of economic upturn. In 2016, inflation-adjusted state funding per student is still five percent lower than in 2008. Increases in the public school funding formula have primarily addressed a student population has grown by more than 176,000 students.
Lawmakers do not appear to feel a pressing imperative to restore education funding. With projected student growth of more than 36,000, the inflation-adjusted one-year increase in funding for the state’s public school funding formula from 2015 to 2016 is .1 percent. Included in this increase is one-time funding of $400 million to offset rising local property tax revenues to maintain a reasonable balance of state and local funding for public schools. Children would surely have benefitted from the state maintaining the state/local balance by appropriating proportionate state funding in addition to the $400 million in local property taxes.
In order to have a diverse and thriving economy, Florida must have a diverse and thriving populace. The Legislature spends considerable effort debating the best ways to support Florida business and encourage the growth of a sustainable economy. Those debates typically center around subsidies and tax credits. But they overlook a crucial fact.
Florida’s economic climate is only as strong as the pipeline of qualified people prepared to enter the ranks of the employed. Florida’s businesses thrive only to the extent that they are staffed with creative, critical thinking employees who have the habits of mind and dedication necessary to advance the businesses’ goals. This investment in the economy starts at the earliest levels of education and compounds through elementary and secondary schools. It creates the foundation for a Florida that can compete nationally for relocating corporations, as well as a launch pad for the small businesses that put fronds on the palms of our economy.
High-quality public schools can mitigate the long-term effects of poverty that consume state resources in the social services and criminal justice arenas. Instead, students can thrive, dream and pursue their dreams through diligence and effort. This investment can end intergenerational poverty.
Poor children enrolled in higher-funded public schools fare significantly better economically as adults than their peers in lower-funded schools. Longitudinal research identifies concrete effects of increased school funding for poor children. The research compares outcomes for poor children who attended schools for which funding was increased by 10 percent, inflation adjusted, for all 12 years of the child’s education with those for whom funding was not similarly increased. After high school, students from the higher-funded schools earned an average of 10 percent more individually, with family incomes that
were 17 percent higher than their lower-funded counterparts. The children who attended higher-funded schools were also more likely to complete their high school education and less likely to be poor as adults.
The mission for public schools is to prepare students for higher education and the workforce. This mission is essential for the long-term health and wealth of Florida’s economy. To the extent that our public schools are not funded adequately, policymakers undercut this mission. By extension, they undercut the state’s future.
It’s time to restore the state’s investment in education. This investment pays for itself multifold in revenues returned over decades of life. It underpins the development and growth of local businesses and communities. As the Florida Constitution states, public education is the paramount duty of the state.
 Jackson, C.K., Johnson, R.C. and Persico, C. The Effects of School Spending on Educational and Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms. Quarterly Journal of Economics. October 1, 2015.