The Florida Policy Institute recently published the first installment of their “Pursue Equity” series, a part of their “multi-year research initiative on Florida’s historically discriminatory policies, their evolution and their impact on all Florida communities today”. Funding Florida’s K-12 Public Schools: Inadequacy Breeds Inequity traces the history of education funding in Florida including the establishment of the current funding formula (FEFP) in 1973.
Florida’s Education Funding Fails Across the Board
Providing a quality education to all of Florida’s students is a core constitutional responsibility of state government and critical to economic growth. Yet, school districts in Florida are dealing with a crushing teacher shortage, bus driver shortage, and overall operating cost growth that has outpaced revenue. Florida’s average teacher pay ranked 49th in the nation in 2020. All these issues are directly tied to Florida’s ongoing underinvestment in K-12 public schools.
Education Law Center’s report on state school funding, “Making the Grade,” paints a woeful picture for Florida. It grades each state and D.C. on three metrics: funding level (cost-adjusted, per-pupil revenue from state and local sources), funding distribution (the extent to which additional funds are distributed to districts with high student poverty levels), and funding effort (funding allocated to PreK-12 public education as a percentage of the state’s economic activity). Florida was one of only two states to receive an ‘F’ in all three categories. The Sunshine State ranked 45th for funding level, at $4,484 below the national per-pupil average of $15,487 for school year 2018-19 (the most recent Census data available).
The state not only ranked dismally for adequacy of funding level, but perhaps more surprisingly, the report found the state’s distribution of funds relative to district poverty level was highly unequal and regressive. On average, high poverty districts received 12 percent or $1,492 less per pupil than low poverty districts, after adjusting for local wage factors. But how could this be? Florida’s formula for school funding is touted as one of the most equitable in the nation. The explanation lies in the large disparities in counties’ tax bases, a local funding “loophole,” and a long history of state underinvestment in Florida’s public schools.