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Duval County Superintendent Says State Education Funding Won’t Cut It

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Lindsey Kilbride
/
WJCT News
Governor Rick Scott (left) highlighted his education budget in Jacksonville in November.

Duval County is joining other school districts around the state demanding Governor Rick Scott call lawmakers back to Tallahassee to retool the state’s K-12 education budget.

As Scott is lauding this year’s education funding as a dramatic increase from last year, many superintendents – including Duval’s Patricia Willis – say it’s not adequate. That’s because nearly all of the money is earmarked for mental health and safety measures in response to last month’s school shooting.

School Board member Becki Couch said that means less than a dollar of the average $100 per-student increase is left for everyday costs.

“We won’t be able to pay for the cost-of-living increases, the fixed-cost increases that we have just for transportation (and) with everything: healthcare, now probably insurance because of the safety issues that have been happening,” Couch said. “So, I think that’s insufficient.”

The leftover amount for per-student funding, also called base student allocation, is 47 cents. Willis wrote in an open letter posted on the district’s website that amounts to an additional $60,505 for the entire Duval School District next school year.

“This amount does not even cover our average teacher’s salary plus benefits,” she wrote.

Willis also said, “the [base student allocation] is the only source of flexible funding school districts receive to address the inflationary costs of running an education system and providing needed raises for our hard-working teachers and school support personnel.”

The governor originally proposed more than a $150 increase per student, and the legislature approved an average of $101.50 more per Florida student –  which will be about $70 per student in Duval, Willis said.

At the request of Scott, the legislature poured dollars into school safety and mental health measures including an anonymous reporting tool, hardening schools with metal detectors and bulletproof glass, more mental health counselors and officers in every school.

“In this year’s budget, K-12 public schools are provided hundreds of millions of dollars and the flexibility needed to make each school safer while still increasing Florida’s per-pupil funding to a record high,” Governor Scott’s Deputy Communications Director McKinley Lewis said in an emailed statement.  “The Governor has been clear – the number one priority right now is making our schools safer, and he’s glad that the Legislature provided funding for that specific reason.”

Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah told the Tampa Bay Times he understands superintendents fighting for their districts, but having a special session for dollars that aren't there would not be effective.

Couch said she’s read comments like Diaz’s, and doesn’t see it the same way.

“They’re created new programs that cost a lot of money, there’s tax cuts that have been made that doesn’t necessarily have to happen,” she said. “I think there is an opportunity. It’s just prioritizing public education and the students’ both academic and safety needs.”

The Associated Press is reporting Scott is expected to act on the nearly $89 million state budget by mid-day Friday.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride