Education and Florida’s Budget Crisis

Published: 2021-09-24 02:30:09
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As with most states in the Union, the State of Florida faces a looming budget crisis. Revenues are down, expenses are up. Localities are raising taxes on individuals many of whom are already facing job and home losses. The business community is in a recession, drastically reducing tax revenues especially at the state level. There is already a growing backlash against Federal spending and the threat of tax increases. In response, state officials are scrambling to find cuts in spending. Whenever this phenomenon occurs, education is the easiest target.
For Florida and most other states, education comprises the biggest single expenditure of taxpayer money. In recent years critics have gained some traction with the argument that more spending on education is not necessarily better. Fundamentally, they are correct. Well targeted spending increases with accountability, in contrast, can have dramatic effects on student and teacher performance. As we move through the 21st century, having a well-educated populace will only become more important. Meanwhile the characteristics and needs of Florida’s students are changing.
This is not the time to give up on the public education system that grew America from a third-rate nation into the world’s only superpower. Education budget cuts at this time are dangerous for Floridians and the nation as a whole. Fortunately there are viable alternatives. This paper will assess the relevant issues and discuss the alternatives and their resulting effects on the stakeholders. The Current State of Affairs The State of Florida is currently in an unprecedented budget crunch. The State is borrowing money to make payments on the money it borrowed last year.



Revenues fro property taxes and other sources have fallen dramatically. Previously untouchable programs and services are now potentially on the chopping block for legislators. In 2008, the state was dealing with a $2. 3 billion budget shortfall. Economist’s projections for the near future are not good. Most revenue sources for the state, including sales tax, are expected to decrease in the near-term. If anything alarmist predictions are causing people to spend less, thereby reducing state revenues.
Statements such as the following send tremors through the population: ''Anyone who depends on the state should be deathly afraid,'' according to Ron Book, a lobbyist for local governments (Caputo and Klas, 2008). Statements like this are particularly alarming for Florida’s large retired population. Through taxes, this segment of the population pays a lion’s share of the school funding for the state. When economic activity in this sector slows, so does school funding. Last year’s cuts to education were severe, affecting schools at all levels. Education, in fact, took a disproportionate share of state budget cuts.
A recent article in Ocala. com stated that “education programs took the biggest hit, with the kindergarten-to-high-school system losing $263 million; community colleges losing $21 million and universities losing $49 million” (Dunkelberger and Scott, 2008) . The intention of Florida’s legislature is clear. They will attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the educational and health care systems. In the 2008 session, Florida representatives voted to cut education before the legislature was even graveled into session. According to many, there is no choice but to cut education. Education is the key to future success.
The children of Florida deserve to have an educational system that has their best interests at heart. “Yet schools, the public institutions devoted to creating and sustaining our identity are underfunded, underutilized and over burdened” (Kralovec, 2003). The future of . Florida depends upon the strength of its educational system. Given that reality, the debate continues as to how best to provide a quality system that prepares students for the century ahead. in the current economic crisis. To Cut of Not to Cut Can Florida afford not to cut education during the current budget crisis? The question is more complex than it seems.
Cutting education now could potentially lead to increases in other long-term costs. Not cutting education could make it impossible for the state to achieve a balanced budget. How much should be cut? From what programs? The answers to each of these questions affects an assortment of different stakeholders in sometimes unpredictable ways. The arguments over whether or not to cut often take simplified forms that fail to take these effects into full account. One side of this argument claims that the cuts to education planned by the Florida legislature will devastate an already cash-strapped public schools system.
Another side posits that the cuts will make little difference. This debate within Florida is part of a larger philosophical discussion. Studies have been done on the issue nationwide, including the landmark Colman Report of 1966. That study drew the conclusion that forces other than money were more important in the long-term success of public school systems. Since then “Economists have spent the last forty years debating whether money makes a difference in schools” (Kralovec, 2003). A clear consensus has yet to be built. At the local level most school funding is provided by personal property taxation.
Some critics have called for a decreased reliance on this form of revenue. That revenue could be replaced at the state level by increased “sin” taxes, road tolls, state permit fees and the possible installation of a state income tax. This not only would spread the tax burden more evenly throughout the state; it also could help to ensure equity in funding to all public school systems in the state. This policy would also recognize the growing resistance in the state to property tax increases, especially with the rapidly falling property values.
Anti-spending forces have used such reports to extrapolate that increased spending is usually ineffective in fostering student growth. Others warn that this is a distortion of the research findings. An eminent Harvard economist said that: In my view it is simply indefensible to use the results of quantitative studies on the relationship between school resources and student environment as a basis for concluding that additional funds cannot help public school districts. (Kralovec, 2003) The issue is more complex than whether money helps or doesn’t help. Clearly, money helps if it is spent correctly.
It does not help if most of the money is directed away from classroom instruction. The United States leads the world in spending on education. At the same time, it lags behind many industrialized countries in terms of student performance. Taking away the money is not the answer, nor is spending it foolishly. There may be no better time than now for legislators, lobbyists and stakeholders to reaffirm their commitment to students and reform the budgetary process for the public schools. The appropriation of school funding in Florida could use some improvement.
The majority of spending does not go directly to classroom instruction. Florida is not unusual in that regard. Nationwide, approximately 60% of school funding is spent directly on classroom instruction. The remaining 40% is spent on ancillary staff, construction and maintenance. Citizens have been generous in passing numerous school bond referenda. The results are often disappointing however. When tax payers push “Yes” in the ballot box, they assume that their vote is providing books, paying for good teachers and supplying other critical elements for the students to succeed.
“All too often, here is what happens: additional resources go toward bureaucracy, new programs, across the board salary increases, and amenities that have little to do with academic basics” (Bennett, Finn and Cribb, 1999). This is why education budget cutters and pro-privatization forces have gained a foothold in recent years. Education budget cutters come from a variety of perspectives. Some are simply fiscally driven. Others come from an ideological bent. Voting on the cuts typically falls along party lines. Democrats oppose the cuts.
Republicans see them as absolutely necessary. Proponents of the cuts argue that even with the cuts, education will receive more than it did the prior year. This is simply “decreasing the increase”. In this they have a strong argument. Under the State of Florida Constitution, budget deficits and deficit spending are not allowed. There are a limited number of areas in which cuts can be made. Localities may be able to make up for state education cuts by raising property or sales taxes. The State of Florida simply cannot afford to dig any deeper a hole.
Opponents of maintaining the current level of spending would have us believe that education spending is responsible for the current state of the budget. The reality is much different though. The amount Florida spends on education is often overstated. In comparison to other states, Florida is already miserly when it comes to spending on schools. According to Dunkelberger and Scott: The planned cuts will almost certainly erode Florida's national ranking in per-student spending. The state now ranks 38th, but in recent years has been 45th. Education Week magazine recently gave Florida an "F" for spending on
education - and that was before the current budget crisis. (2008) Another argument of opponents is that spending in no way guarantees good schools. An often cites example is the District of Columbia Public Schools. That system is routinely near the top in per pupil spending. Substantial improvements in education quality and student performance have been elusive however. In 2008 about $357 million was cut from education. The entire package of budget cuts amounted to about $548 million. This year budget cuts are expected to exceed $2 billion (Dunkelberger and Scott, 2008).
Determining the effect of these cuts is a long-term process to be played out over the decades ahead. It is expected that schools will be forced to cut music and arts activities, along with extracurricular programs and programs benefitting at-risk students. A lack of a well rounded education leads to a lack of opportunities. This creates problems the costs of which will dwarf anything spent on education. Welfare and unemployment rolls are likely to increase as education deficits become more endemic. Social services and welfare are likely to be stretched to the limit.
The criminal justice system will also pay a heavy price for having an under-educated populace. Ideologically-based opponents of additional school spending may use the budget crisis as an opportunity to thrust forward their views. These opponents also cover a range of perspectives, from those who are against state involvement in education all together, to those promoting a school choice agenda. Dwindling resources will only increase the level of competition to attain them or control how they are spent. Advocates of local control often do not like the strings that come along with state funding.
For that reason some are in favor of even larger cuts than are being proposed. Meanwhile, an anti-tax faction is gaining strength. Passing any additional taxes in this environment is likely to be a significant challenge, even if the funds are tagged for education. Proponents of school choice are likely to claim that if the current education tax revenue were given back to the people the schools would naturally improve. “Competition” is their mantra. Give people vouchers to choose their own schools and there would be no need for a state tax increase or an increase in state funding for schools.
Unfortunately, competition, in this context, naturally leads to inequity. Primary funding for schools is done locally. Wealthy counties are able to fund their school systems at a much higher level than poorer, rural counties. Therefore, it is no surprise that retention, graduation and college acceptance rates are almost always better in the rural counties. Of course there are other factors to consider, but it cannot be argued that better funded school systems produce better schools. In a purely competitive voucher scheme, poorer students will eventually be priced out of better schools.
Under the current system it is the role of state government to even the playing field as much as possible. An even educational playing field will benefit everyone in Florida in the long run. Over-focus on dire budget predictions risks losing perspective of the bigger picture. The biggest single factor in the future economic heath, or lack of it, in Florida is the school children of today. The government has made a commitment to these children. Keeping that commitment sacred is the right thing to do. The mission of the State Board of Education of Florida:
is to increase the proficiency of all students within one seamless, efficient system by providing them with the opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills through learning opportunities and research valued by students, parents and communities,,, (Florida Board of Education, 2008) Making large cuts in the state budget for education is a no-win proposition. The state risks creating situations like that in California where over 9,000 Los Angeles teachers and school staff were laid off. Controlling school spending is necessary for both the performance of the schools and for the state budget.
Making the cuts first and forcing the schools to adapt later will inevitably hurt the students. Secondary effects will ripple through the community of stakeholders eventually affecting the state as a whole. Analysis The budget crisis is a difficult one for Florida legislators. It is almost mandatory that some expenditures will have to be cut for the state to stay solvent. At the same time, each Floridian faces similar dilemmas within their own household. State Treasurer Alex Sink said that 'There are some really tough decisions that need to be made...
The checkbook is not looking any prettier'' (Caputo and Klas, 2008). Many Floridians feel as though they would not be personally affected by sharp budget cuts in education and/or health care. They resent any additional taxation because they are unable to see the end product. In localities school bonds are routinely approved by the voters. Even in hard times Floridians are willing to spend for public education in their own home towns. The problem with local-only funding is that severe inequities between school systems can occur, even to the point of becoming unconstitutional.
Unequal funding also risks lawsuits that could devastate cash strapped smaller counties. Equal access to education is good for the students, business community and for the state as a whole. Furthermore, it is simply the right thing to do. It is easy in times such as these to become overly focused on the present day-to-day problems. The effect of present day actions on our future may be underestimated. Failure to take such consideration is not fair to the children of Florida. Beyond that, the most obvious short-term fix for a problem might not always be the best.
In other words, the state might be “shooting itself in the foot” by making drastic school budget cuts at this time The budget problem is daunting and has no easy fixes. Philosophical discussions about the role of the state in educating are children are good. Acting in a panicked way to fix the budget is not. While some school systems may have enough money and are actually wasting state money, others are hanging by a thread. They are dependent on state money to even keep their doors open. Considerations such as these must be accounted for before making decisions that could drastically affect the lives of Florida’s children.
The nations of the world are more linked than ever. Florida’s future adults will live in a competitive global marketplace. Today’s budget crisis offers the opportunity to adopt international standards of education. Students will then be better prepared for college and future careers. This is the ultimate payoff for the investment of Florida taxpayers today. Recommendations Any potential policy change must take into account the varied stakeholders in the public school system. Each category of stakeholders is affected by policy change in unique ways.
The effects of a large decrease in funding at this time would have a ripple effect first through the stakeholders, then through the rest of society. The stakeholders are those most closely involved and affected by policies regarding public schools. They include: students, parents, teachers, administration and staff and the community. Any budgetary reform process should seek greater involvement of these groups. A series of stakeholder focus groups held in 2002 identified several areas of concern for the coming years. Some areas particularly vulnerable to budget cutting were programs for “at risk” students.
For example, the panel concluded that:“Non-college bound students need more options... stakeholders expressed an interest in more viable alternatives for these students, including rigorous workforce programs in 11th and 12th grade” (Florida Board of Education, 2002). Immediate budget cuts are also likely to affect students who need additional help from teacher’s aides and tutors. After school programs are also likely to be cut. Many parents who cant be home in the afternoon are reliant on such programs to keep their kids safe, engaged and out of trouble. In terms of the latter, the entire community benefits from the programs.
Teacher and staff layoffs would create a greater strain on unemployment, welfare and other social services. Pay freezes will make it all the more difficult to attract talented and dedicated teachers, especially in math and science. Immediate cuts give no time for cost saving measures to be effectively developed and implemented. Yet the budget shortfall remains. Fortunately, there are measures that could be taken that would both minimize the strain to Florida taxpayers and allow the Florida Department of Education to fulfill its mission for the students. A small state income tax could make a significant difference in school funding.
A firm commitment that the tax would only be used for schools would help garner the support needed for such a measure to pass. The tax could also be limited to a specific number of years, at which time it could only be reinstated by public referendum. The State of Florida has not been allowed to tax income since a prohibition was written into the Constitution in 1924. Over the years a number of attempts have been made to pass such a tax. All have failed, despite the fact that a state income tax could potentially reduce the overall tax burden for the majority of Floridians.
The dual crises Florida faces in its educational system and in its budget are cause for reconsideration however. An income tax would be the fairest way to raise the necessary funds to increase the performance of Florida’s schools. Additionally, it would relieve the state from having to take on as much debt just to pay for basic services. By not taxing income, Florida’s education budget is already behind the 8-ball. Almost all other states fund education and other state expenditures by a three-pronged combination of sales tax, property tax and income tax. Without one prong the other two prongs must make up the slack.
This gives Florida legislators less flexibility in writing the state budget. Excessive property and sales taxes are burdensome to middle class and lower middle class Floridians. The tax campaign would be part of a larger campaign to increase accountability. This accountability applies to state government, localities as well as to all the stakeholders. Involving all of these parties in the process from the earliest possible date affords the greatest possibility for success. The ultimate goal is not to produce a slick marketing campaign to pass a new tax, then return to business as usual.
Instead, this budget crisis can serve as an opportunity to reform public education in Florida and set it on a path for 21st century success. The tax campaign should exist simultaneously with an accountability campaign. Florida voters should have complete access to revenue, budgeting and allocation figures for the state and for the locality in which they live. Voters need proof that school spending is efficient and effective. Implementation of a statewide data system would involve a significant initial expense but would pay dividends in the long run.
Such a system would enable quality based tracking of schools, teachers and programs. Then budget officials are better prepared to make changes as needed. The overall efficiency of the system is improved and money is saved. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to implement such systems effectively in a budget cutting environment. Opponents of an income tax claim that the tax advantages Florida offers is a draw for many businesses and individuals. In this they have a strong argument. For this reason every possible attempt should be made to phase out the tax as the budget crisis passes.
Fortunately, there are ways that this could be achieved. There is no doubt the state school bureaucracy and the individual systems themselves could operate more efficiently. However, the process of efficiency requires time and money in and of itself. There are many suggestions as to how this can be done. A logical course of action would be to attach these reforms to the proposed state income tax. According to recent estimates, an income tax of 3% could raise over $9 billion dollars. This boost to the state coffers would likely make it possible for localities to trim property taxes.
Reduced property taxes could, in turn, stimulate the sagging housing market. Having a diverse array of funding sources is necessary for a government to run efficiently and effectively. Property tax, and especially sales tax revenue are particularly shaky. Revenue can go up dramatically, or down dramatically as it is now. The income tax would modify swings in other tax revenues and provide a more reliable stream of funding for education. There are examples to draw knowledge from. In the early 1990s Connecticut, a no-tax state, was facing severe budget shortfalls. After a 4.
5% income tax was instituted the state quickly balanced its budget and restored funding to education. Effects on personal wealth and business activity were minimal. The state remained one of the wealthiest in the union. Of course, taking these measures during a severe downturn in the economy is easier said than done. There is truth in the proposition that we cannot spend our way to good schools. At the same time there is also truth in the maxim “You get what you pay for”. These are not contradictory propositions. It is true that spending, just for the sake of spending, will not improve schools.
Money has been, and still is, being poured into such things as school construction, wiring schools for the 21st century and various other technologies. Some of this spending is necessary. Some is questionable. This is why measures of performance and school quality have not always increased in sync with increases in funding. Equipping a school with the latest in personal computer hardware is as feel good initiative for the public and a chance for politicians to appear pro-public education. It may or may not translate into tangible results. Better targeted spending, on the other hand, can benefit the educational system.
Teaching and learning are still very human endeavors. Finding better ways to reward both for performance could help reinforce the concept that society values education, and that a good education is a valuable tangible asset. The recommendations provided here are designed to continue the State of Florida’s commitment to excellence in education while also recognizing the budget realities the state faces. While it is not recommended that the year-to-year increase in state funding be cut any further, it is recognized that a reconsideration of school budgetary processes also be taken.
Several cost savings measures, both short and long term, are included among the following policy recommendations. Fig. 1 Policy Recommendations State of Florida Education Budget 2009-10 # Hold spending increase to current yr. -to-yr. Average (no further cuts) # Begin school budget restructuring process # No further program add-ons without elimination of another with similar costs # Renegotiate construction contracts to reflect current economic realities # Phase in additional teacher incentives # Streamline administrative process to statewide efficiency standards
# Begin campaign for a 2010-11 income tax devoted solely classroom instruction issues # Seek support for a shift of extracurricular functions from the schools to the community Typically when new programs are added, they are done so without consideration of the cost and efficacy of old programs. In many cases programs become redundant. At least for the near future, as a cost saving measure, it is proposed that no further new programs be implemented without a corresponding elimination of a redundant and/or similar costing program. Gaining community input before such transitions are made can help smooth the transition.
The costs of extracurricular activities are a particular strain on the budgets of local school systems. These activities are extremely important to the lives of young people and should be maintained wherever possible. It is possible for a fully engaged community to absorb some of these costs away from the school. For example, the local community theater might volunteer to host the high school drama department. Many sports activities could also be maintained and hosted by the community. If asked, many communities would be willing to contribute to the lives of its young people in both ways.
Beginning this process of community uptake now will result in future cost savings and better funding for core academic areas. Moving away from incremental budgeting and toward zero-based budgeting is a cast savings strategy for the long term. In many districts funding for individual programs and services is determined every year by a process of shifting funds back and forth. Besides being inefficient, this process threatens to divert school districts away from the primary functions of the school over time. In zero-based budgeting each community determines first what is most important for the school to accomplish.
Budgeting is then taken from that perspective. Wider community input into this process can lead to better community buy-in to the mission of their school. Zero-based budgeting is designed to concentrate funding in the core areas of importance as determined by the community. Greater awareness of revenue and cost issues will help communities to focus in on one important question - What issues are of the greatest importance to us as a community? Funds are then allocated accordingly. This does not mean that less critical services and programs will be cut.
With the community already involved in the budgeting process there is a natural liaison to other business or agencies who may be able to sponsor those activities. Zero-based budgeting is not intended as an immediate fix. Instead, it is recommended as a process that could help stakeholders have a greater sense of control and to make budgeting more efficient as the century moves on. Conclusion Making these changes will not be easy. It will require a recognition that neither the state budget nor the education status quo can remain. All parties will need to refocus and recommit themselves to the welfare of Florida’s children.
The State Legislature is in the unique position to be able to lead this process. Bold leadership is needed to prevent further education cuts at this time while also challenging all stakeholders to join the process of reform. Florida’s children deserve no less. Before voting to drastically slash education again, each Representative should remind himself that the public school system in Florida exists “to change the culture of our schools, from PreK to post-secondary by raising the ceiling and raising the floor to better enable students for success in the 21st century” (Florida Board of Education, 2008).
Education cuts may appear to be a quick solution for the budget crisis. The future costs will far outweigh any savings now. At this critical time in history, Florida cannot afford to give up on public education. The public education system has served the state, and the nation, well. Fulfilling the potential of all students in Florida will require difficult fiscal decisions, but will pay off tenfold. There are ways to make the schools more efficient. Additional school budget cuts at this time could erode academic progress made in the last decade and work counter to the state’s goal of fiscal responsibility.
Sources
Bennett, William; Finn, Chester E. And Cribb, John T. E. (1999). The Educated Child: A parents guide from preschool through eighth grade. New York: The Free Press. Caputo, Marc and Klas Mary Ellen. (2008). “Florida Legislature sets special budget crisis session. ” Miami Herald. Dec. 16 A01. Dunkelberger, Lloyd and Scott, Anna. (2008). “Education takes brunt of state budget cuts. ” Accessed 3/24/2009 from: http://www. ocala. com/article/20080304/NEWS/803040340/1002/NEWS Florida Board of Education. (2008). “Florida’s Next Generation PreK-20 Education Strategic Plan. ” Accessed 3/24/2009 from: http://www. fldoe. org/

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