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Sen. Bill Montford Says Budget's K-12 Per-Student Funding May Lead To Program Cuts

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee
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Legislative leaders are touting this year’s $101 increase in K-12 per student funding as “unprecedented.” But education officials say that billing is misleading.

Tallahassee Senator Bill Montford has been in and around education for a long time. He knows better than most how crucial a healthy base student allocation is.

“The BSA, basic student allocation, is what school districts use to pay operational costs. So, out of the 100-plus new dollars, only 47 cents goes to the BSA per-student,” Montford said.

Montford heads the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. He says the rest of that increase is tied up in costs related to school safety and mental health, some $400 million in funding that’s not going toward classroom expenses. He insists schools will see cuts to programs as operational expenditures increase.

“What school districts are facing today, is significant increase in operational costs, that 47 cents per student just simply won’t cover those increases,” Montford said. “And that’s what the concern is.”

Montford says paying for the Florida Retirement system, fuel for school buses and insurance for employees are among the forces hiking up operational costs for districts.

Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna says that will leave the district with little flexibility to put money toward other priorities.

“Well, we need new textbooks. We need to try to get some of our employees raises. We need to buy some buses, we need to do different types of things,” Hanna said. “But with that money being allocated or earmarked directly to school safety and mental health, it kind of ties our hands.”

Hanna is saying even the school safety money set aside by legislators won’t be enough to fully fund their goal of a deputy on every campus.

“Even the safe school money is not nearly enough to cover the state mandate that we have to have a deputy in every school. So now we’re trying to look and see, we have to go back into the general fund to find more money to send over just to meet the Safe School requirement,” Hanna said.

Montford says he wants to be clear: School districts throughout the state are appreciative of the increase in funding for safety and mental health.

“Superintendents across Florida, for the last three years have said that their number one concern is mental health,” Montford said. “More than the budget, more than assessment – mental health.”

Gov. Rick Scott stands by the K-12 portion of the budget. He says students and parents from Stoneman Douglas High School had school safety at the forefront of state legislators’ minds.

“We do have more money for our student this year, but this year was an important year to listen to these parents, listen to these families and focus on school safety and that’s what we did,” Scott told reporters immediately following Sine Die.

In Senator Montford’s opinion, it may be time to start dipping into reserve money as a lifeline for schools.

“The concern I have is, we’ve got like $3 billion in reserve. Now, we all want to keep a good healthy reserve in the rainy day fund if you will, but to me, it’s raining,” Montford said. “School districts simply can’t address the increase in costs with 47 cents.”

Montford says he has heard from superintendents he knows around the state who share his concerns.