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Stewart: State Needs Local Dollars To Fund Education Increases

Florida Department of Education budget presentation 12/7/17.
Florida Department of Education

Governor Rick Scott wants Florida lawmakers to spend an extra $200 million to raise per-student spending to another record high. But in order to get there, much of the increase would come from local contributions, and the state’s top educator made the case for it Thursday.

Both the state and counties contribute to funding public education.  The local share comes through what’s called required local effort or RLE. It’s a percentage of property tax revenues, and recently tax rates have remained flat but revenue has increased because of higher property values. But the House has resisted collecting all the money it could have, calling it a tax hike. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says this year the state needs to keep the percentage the same and tap into all of the RLE funds it can in order to get to $7,497 per-student in spending.

“We’d find ourselves unable to do that if we didn’t leave the RLE at the current level," she told members of a Senate education panel Thursday. "And we’d find ourselves woefully short because there is not enough state funding to bring those increases.” 

She was responding to a question from Tallahassee Senator Bill Montford, who also heads the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

Pressures continue weighing on state funds, and lawmakers are growing increasingly worried about whether there will be enough money to go around. The state is expecting public school enrollment to grow and so far more than 10,000 students have enrolled in Florida public schools from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico--which were both heavily damaged by hurricanes this year and where large swaths of both countries remain powerless.

"I have no hard information on students that are coming," Stewart said, "we keep hearing there could be more coming through the month of December, but I have no information that confirms that or is definitive in that area. We’re just hearing rumors that there will be more coming in December.”

She says most districts have budget reserves than can be used to fund any additional expenses that may be incurred from the addition of more students in the middle of a school year.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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