Florida's Constitution says education is the state's 'paramount duty.' It's a phrase that was added to the constitution in 1996 by Florida voters, who recognized the importance of public education to the success of children, families, businesses and all other citizens in the state.
Unfortunately, the state's budget hasn't reflected that same level of commitment. A series of statewide and national reports and studies show that Florida's record of funding public schools is dismal, and will only get worse as the state continues to cut school budgets.
This is a serious situation, because strong schools are the foundation of any successful community-or state. Unfortunately, Florida has developed a national reputation for its poor investment in education. In fact, a recent Time Magazine article refers to the 'slashing' of "school budgets that were already among the nation's stingiest." (Time Magazine, 'Is Florida the Sunset State?' July 10, 2008) It will be very difficult to attract new businesses, jobs or citizens to a state with that kind of reputation.
A summary of statewide and national reports on the school funding situation is provided below. We've also included links to those reports for anyone interested in learning more about Florida's ongoing school funding crisis.
Census Bureau: In its Annual Survey of Local Government Finances, published in April of 2008, the Census Bureau reports that Florida is ranked 50th in the nation in per pupil funding compared to wealth. The report also shows that the per pupil expenditure in Florida is $7759, 15% lower than the national figure of $9138. (The report is: Here.)
Quality Counts: This annual report produced by Education Week grades states based on the quality of their K-12 educational systems. Quality Counts is frequently cited by state officials because it ranks Florida 14th for student performance. However, it also assigns the state a grade of 'F' in the category of school spending. (The report is: Here.)
Tough Choices Update 2008: This report was produced by the LeRoy Collins Institute, an independent, nonpartisan and non-profit organization which studies and promotes creative solutions to key public issues facing Florida and the nation. In the chapter on Pre-K Education, the authors talk about the state's diminishing financial support for public education, in both good and bad economic times. (The report is: Here.)
Tax Foundation: This non-partisan tax research group based out of Washington, D.C. prepares an annual report of the total tax burden per capita for each state. Using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Census Bureau, the Council on State Taxation and other sources, the organization ranks states based on their total tax burden (income, property, sales and other taxes). That report shows the per capita tax burden in Florida is 47th in the nation. The per capita tax burden in the state is 20% lower than the national average, while per capita wealth is 5% higher than the national average. (The report is: Here.)
Florida's school funding crisis is also generating a lot of attention--and strong words--from the editorial boards of newspapers statewide. Below are samples of editorials from around the state.
Going Missing, The Gainesville Sun, 9/18/08: Here.
Education's priority losing ground, St. Augustine Record, 9/7/08: Here.
Study contradicts notion of an overtaxed Florida, Palm Beach Post, 9/7/08: Here.
A silver lining for schools? Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 8/25/08: Here.
Bulk savings concept works better for schools than thrift-store fix, Orlando Sentinel, 8/24/08: Here.
Cuts keep coming, Gainesville Sun, 6/27/08: Here.
Florida Back to the Future: Build Prisons, Cut Schools, Tampa Tribune, 5/6/08: