The Florida Policy Institute released their summary of the state budget for fiscal year 2021-2022. The legislative session and subsequent budget occurred in the midst of a global pandemic and economic recession with unprecedented aid flowing from the federal government. The Florida Policy Institute (FPI) notes that, although the resulting “significant influx of federal dollars provided state lawmakers an opportunity to lay the foundation for a truly equitable recovery — one in which all Floridians share in economic gains — the budget falls short in utilizing these funds to their fullest potential.”
Federal relief funds came in three packages- the CARES Act, CRRSA Act, and ARPA. According to FPI, between these three programs, Florida’s child care, K-12, and higher education systems will receive $18.04 billion- equal to 60 percent of the entire FY 2021-22 state education budget. Although the state legislature was largely left out of spending decisions for CARES Act monies- they still relinquished their control and gave the Florida Department of Education spending authority for CRRSA and ARPA funding.
These federal relief programs were essential to keep Florida’s K12 public education system on its feet as Florida lawmakers had yet to make public schools whole after the Great Recession.
In the wake of the Great Recession, many states cut education funding dramatically after state and local revenues plummeted. While many states rebounded in the years that followed, Florida’s investment per-pupil was cut to 22.7 percent beneath pre-recession levels, after adjusting for inflation. State and local combined funds for Florida’s primary and secondary (PreK-12) education dropped $2,767 per pupil from 2008 to 2016, inflation adjusted.77 This funding shortage has significantly suppressed teacher salaries — Florida’s average teacher pay ranked 47th in the nation in 2019.78 Florida cut teacher pay more than any other state from 2009 to 2018.
State funding for education comes from the General Revenue Fund (sales and other taxes), the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund (lottery proceeds), and other trust funds. In nominal dollars, the budget’s $4,373 in BSA funding would be the highest on record in Florida. However, when adjusted for inflation, the BSA for FY 2007-08 would equal $5,233 in today’s dollars. Florida’s state and local spending on K-12 education has yet to rebound to levels prior to the Great Recession (2007-2009). Still, the funding boost for BSA is the largest since FY 2015-16, and the BSA funds do not include funding from CARES, CRRSA or ARPA, which provided a combined $10.9 billion (44 percent of the total FY 2020-21 K-12 budget) to school districts to pay for COVID-related expenditures, make up for lost revenue, and for services to address learning loss.
The Florida State Constitution states that the Florida Legislature has the paramount duty to provide a high quality public education to all children living in Florida. As we emerge from this recession and global pandemic, we must learn from the lessons of the past and instead invest in our public education system treating it as an economic driver, essential to the future of all Floridians.