As we continue the summer of podcasts, this week’s special guest is Debra Bellanti, the Democratic candidate for House District 60 of the Florida Legislature. While she is running as a Democrat, Debra is building a bipartisan coalition of mothers who are deeply concerned about the level of funding devoted to public education and how it affects our students’ safety. For these efforts and others, she has received numerous endorsements and distinctions.
In addition to discussing education, Debra also shares her views on several other issues that are critical for the entire Hillsborough delegation in general and her South Tampa community in particular. Please listen and share with other voters of House District 60 or concerned public education advocates!
This week’s episode of Teacher Voice podcast features Phil Hornback, a small business owner, former bricklayer, and former public school science teacher. Phil is a hard working guy who wants to bring a common sense approach to Tallahassee by standing for the constituents of the community rather than the special interests who dominate our state’s legislative sessions.
Although our conversation focuses mainly on public education, Phil also discusses his personal history, why he’s running, as well as the other important ideas for his campaign. Please listen and share this episode, especially with those who live in House District 58.
We’ve had this problem since the Great Recession and Governor Scott came into office, but it’s one that has been largely ignored by Tallahassee: a lack of adequate funding for public education.
To have Governor Scott, Senate President Negron, and Speaker Corcoran tell their version of this story, however, comes across as boastful, always touting “record levels of funding,” despite the fact that superintendents across the Sunshine State point out, most famously by Superintendent Runcie, that Florida ranks 44th in per-pupil funding.
Meanwhile, the state sits on a $3.3 BILLION dollar cash pile.
Clearly what’s good enough for the goose is NOT good enough for the gander. Why would Republican leadership, the party that champions itself on fiscal conservatism, encourage the school districts to engage in deficit spending? The state has more than enough money to really invest in public education–or at least for these student safety issues–yet it is unwilling to do so.
Many superintendents across the state–including our own here in Hillsborough County–asked the governor and legislators to not take the $400 million for school safety and security from the per-pupil spending, which is exactly what they did. Rather than pay for these additional needs out of the state reserves and then give us enough flexible funding to cover the extra costs, they instead repurposed the money that had been earmarked already for the education budget and left virtually all districts in a mess.
And yet this lack of funding for school safety and security is only one small aspect of a much bigger, growing problem presented by the lack of public education investment: teacher salaries.
Where does that leave us? Just look to West Virginia, Oklahoma, and now Arizona. It is clear that the “Red for Ed” movement is gaining traction and momentum, and it is not just teachers who are threatening to strike if public education is not properly funded. While it is educators themselves who are leading the charge, it is evident that many parents, students, and community members support these teachers and want an increased investment in education, which would mutually benefit everyone.
The students, first and foremost, would have access to recent curricula, upgraded technology, smaller classes, and additional enrichment opportunities that come with greater funding, all of which would make for a brighter future for them and for us all. For the education professionals themselves, higher salaries would be an economic boon for the entire community in which the educators live because it would mean additional dollars spent on goods and services, thereby helping businesses in the local area. In essence, better funding and a proper investment in public education would foster a virtuous cycle of economic activity that will help students gain the best education possible, keep them here in Florida rather than being siphoned off by brain drain, and have them hired by local companies who are growing and expanding thanks in part to the largest public sector workforce in the state being able to live a little rather than work two or three jobs just to make ends meet.
John Romano’s recent column in the Tampa Bay Times highlights many of these issues, particularly how the lack of funding for the school safety and security measure will leave most school districts scrambling to fund this initiative while simultaneously facing increased costs for retirement contributions, health benefits, etc. He suggests that a special session be called to address the issue, and public education advocates couldn’t agree more.
But the truth is we need to do even more than that. A lot more. If our elected officials want to do something about the growing teacher shortage, they will have to make a sizeable investment to public education as a whole. Since Governor Scott came into office, the purchasing power of the “record funding” we’ve been given has deteriorated anywhere from $1400-$1600 per pupil depending on the inflation calculator and dates used. But the point is the same:
Tallahassee created this problem. Now it’s time to fix it.
On October 20, 2016, Emma Brown of the Washington Post wrote an article about the decline of funding in public education since the Great Recession beginning in 2008. The article can be accessed here, but the chart below says it all.
And this is the central point we should address with Governor Scott, Speaker Corcoran, and Senate President Negron: inflation. No one will deny that inflation has been at happening at historic lows due to the Federal Reserve’s use of monetary policy. But inflation has still occurred nonetheless. Costs continue to rise, and school districts all over the Sunshine State have been scrimping and saving to get by on shoestring budgets passed by the Florida Legislature during the last decade.
If we were to use the pre-recession high watermark of $7126 back in 2007-2008, adjusted for inflation that number would have to be $8726, which means eleven years later we are $1600 dollars behind. And yet across that intervening decade our costs continued to climb while the spending power of money earmarked for public education has continued to shrink despite the minuscule increases that have been made.
But let’s be honest with each other, Governor Scott, Speaker Corcoran, and Senate President Negron: all of you have been lying to the citizens of Florida. They are not outright lies per se, but they certainly are lies of omission. Take the word “unprecedented” that has been bandied about recently. That may be the biggest reach of any adjective in the English language the way you’re using it. It would be one thing if per-pupil spending in Florida suddenly jumped up to $10K…that might warrant an “unprecedented” tag. But simply calling any level of funding that tops the previous year’s “unprecedented” is abusing the adjective. The phrase “record funding” also belongs in this category.
My favorite, however, was this boast from Governor Scott’s Deputy Communications Director, McKinley Lewis: “Since Governor Scott has taken office, total operational funding for Florida schools is up 27 percent, while the amount of flexible funding to school districts has grown by 21 percent.” This is a classic case of cherry picking data to make the situation seem better than it really is. How so? The first year in office Governor Scott slashed education funding by just over 1 BILLION dollars. Look at the chart below for greater clarity. The modest decline in funding in the last two years of Charlie Crist’s tenure were a result of a state economy that is predicated on tourism and construction, both of which took a massive hit during the Great Recession. But the first budget approved by Governor Scott was the 2011-2012 budget and then the nominal increases over time for the rest of two terms. The most interesting observation about this data? The year Scott slashed the budget was toward the tail end of the macroeconomic trough we had experienced during the Great Recession and by 2012 we were in recovery mode.
So why are we in such dire straits? Because of a lack of revenue (read more here). The GOP-led Florida Legislature wants to continually tout cutting taxes while starving essential services, plain and simple. All they clearly care about is the immediate future of their political careers, not making a meaningful long-term investment in the public institutions that will sustain future generations of Floridians for many years to come. There are numerous sensible solutions that have been proposed by many caring citizens, but these are roundly ignored by Tallahassee politicians who seem all to eager to cater to the whims of special interests and their donation dollars.
And so here we are. Governor Scott has signed the $88.7 billion budget, which increases the BSA (base student allocation) by a whopping 47 cents. All that remain are hard questions and disturbing facts:
How will this “unprecedented” level of funding help improve our national status as 44th in per-pupil spending? Numbers range in this metric: the highest seen has been 39th, whereas the lowest has been 50th when adjusting for certain factors; however, the number is consistently in the bottom ten states of the U.S.
How long before we have a repeat episode of 1968? How long before teachers, which represent the largest public sector workforce in the state, demand that the Florida Legislature meaningfully fund public education? Even if we had kept apace with inflation and had $8729 per student, we would still be woefully behind the national average by at least $3000.
When will the Florida Legislature make a meaningful investment in our students and their future?
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