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Should Individual Schools Make Their Own Budgets?

Meredith Geddings
Florida House of Representatives
Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, asks a question during the consideration of a measure on the House floor, March 5, 2012.

A school reform advocacy group is pushing to make education funding more transparent. The group Students First—created by Governor Rick Scott’s former education advisor and one-time Washington D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee—says it wants to know more about how schools are spending the education dollars they receive from the state.

“Fiscal transparency is needed to bridge the gap between school-level financial data and academic data the state already collects," said Pam Witmer, legislative analyst for StudentsFirst. " Right now we can’t answer simple questions like how does a school that gets an ‘A’ allocate its funding compared to a school that scores a ‘D’ or ‘F’." 

StudentsFirst previously backed the so-called parent trigger bill that would have allowed parents a say in what to do with persistently failing schools.  The bill has twice failed in the Senate. In it's latest report card on state education policies, the advocacy group rated Florida #2 in the nation for choice, with a B- grade. Witmer says improving school funding transparency could boost the state in upcoming years.

While StudentsFirst pushes transparency in local school funding, Republican Representative Erik Fresen (R-Miami), wants to take that issue several steps forward.

Fresen wants to give individual school principals control over their budgets, instead of letting school boards iron it all out. The representative says those principals know where their needs are greatest:

“I have these discussions with principals and AP and LEAD teachers and I ask them, ‘if you had the full autonomy to go through your budget, would your school look exactly as it looks right now?’ And they all say, ‘no’.”

Fresen says his idea is not that different from how Florida’s charter schools operate. Charters are usually affiliated with a school district, but their budgets aren’t handled by a school board. Fresen admits his idea may be a tough sell in the Florida Legislature, so he’s working on a pilot program proposal, starting in a few school districts.

For more news updates, follow Lynn Hatter on twitter @HatterLynn