Duval School District Budgets For Upcoming Year, Braces For Funding Challenges

May 3, 2017

Duval County School Board members workshop next year's budget working around pending funding bills.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

As the Duval County School Board budgets for the upcoming school year, it’s facing another potential funding challenge from the state Legislature in the form of a last-minute amendment.

While schools with large amounts of students living in poverty get extra federal funding under Title I, the board isn’t sure if it will be able to pay for several Title I programs if the measure passes.

The district uses about $15 million of Title I money to fund initiatives like graduation coaches, field trips to museums and full days of Voluntary Pre Kindergarten for Title I students.

But the legislature is considering requiring districts give all Title I money to schools directly and not reserve any for such programs. Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said this could be a problem.

“We are able to fund initiatives that impact schools at a broader level and even students on an individual level with special programming,” he said.

He said part of the legislature’s rationale is to allow charter schools to have more control of their share of the money. Charter schools are public, but run by private companies.

“You could have a Title I charter school that is receiving more money because more dollars are going to the school level. At the same time, if there are district-wide initiatives that they meet the criteria for, they also get that pot of dollars,” Vitti said.

That’s if the legislature also requires school districts to continue providing the same level of support to charters it currently does. Board member Becki Couch said that “double-dipping” wouldn’t be fair to traditional public school students who may have access to fewer programs.

“Let’s call it what it is,” she said. “It’s stealing from our children in traditional public schools.”

The House and Senate versions of the bill allow the district to withhold some dollars for homeless programs and administration. And Schools could decide to fund programs on their own.

But the bill would also spread out Title I dollars to more schools, so while more schools would qualify, fewer dollars would be available for each school.  

Duval school board member Ashley Smith Juarez said she’s concerned these bills could be pushed through the last couple weeks of the legislative session with minimal public input.

Board member Lori Hershey said meeting with state legislators has been frustrating because some didn’t want to talk about education issues the board is concerned with.

“There’s was an intentional turning of conversation,” she said of a visit to Tallahassee.

Lawmakers haven’t agreed on the legislation, but there are still a couple days of the session for them to approve one of the bills.

Another piece of legislation awaiting vote that might impact Duval County schools is a possible cut to its capital dollars, which are reserved for technology and building projects.

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