Higher Property Values Fuel House And Senate Boosts In Education Funding Proposals

Mar 19, 2014

Florida lawmakers have rolled out their education spending proposals for the upcoming fiscal year, and according to the raw numbers, there’s more money in there for the state’s public schools. But as the legislature looks to up the ante, much of the increase is coming from local property owners.

One of the biggest differences between the two budget outlines is in the area of how much per-student funding should go up next year. The senate is looking at a $175 per-child increase while the House is coming in more than $33 above that figure. Both plans are above Governor Rick Scott’s budget proposal, which recommends a $168 per-student increase.

Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Bill Galvano unveiled his chamber’s education spending plan Wednesday, which includes  an overall boost of $651 million in the FEFP-- the formula used to break down how much money school districts get per-student. The Senate's K-12 spending plan is coming in  at nearly $19 billion in overall K-12 education funding for the upcoming fiscal year.  The state and school districts will split that cost, with district’s getting their portion from local property taxes.

Florida lawmakers aren’t looking at increasing property tax rates to account for the increase in spending; instead, explains State of Florida’s Chief Economist,  Amy Baker, they’re looking at a rise in property values:

“What they’re saying is, if you take the same rate and charge it against a higher value, you’re going to bring in more money.”

Baker heads the state office of Economic and Demographic Research and says the numbers lawmakers are using to determine how much local governments will contribute are based on the state’s housing market recovery. As property values go up: so does the revenue that fills coffers for school districts:

“It’s just like the sales tax. If someone spends a dollar, the state brings in six-cents on each dollar. But if that same person spent two dollars, we’d bring in 12-cents even though the tax rate didn’t change either way.” 

Baker cautions the numbers lawmakers are working with are estimates—and notes final tallies won’t be in until June—well after lawmakers have solidified the state’s budget. Both the House and Senate are recommending similar amounts for per-student spending—making good on the governor’s call for more dollars going directly into the classroom, says House Education Appropriations Chairman, Eric Fresen.

“The education state funding exceeds any previous year in Florida’s history.”

The House is looking at a $207 per-student increase in spending. But this is just the start of the state budget process. The two chambers still have to pass their budgets, and differences in funding amounts have to be ironed out, as Democratic Representative Dwayne Taylor points out:

“This is not the final budget. There are a lot of non-recurring dollars that’s not in here that we had last year, that may be placed in the budget at the next stop," he said.

One area the two chambers will have to reconcile deals with how much money to put into school district technology and infrastructure. The state is trying to shore up its hardware in classrooms with purchases for tablet computers—it’s also trying to get enough bandwidth into schools to run all its new tech. When it comes to such upgrades, the House and Senate are about $40 million apart. Schools will need to boost their digital footprints in time for students to take new state exams which will soon be administered online.