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You made a difference during this legislative session. Hundreds of thousands of calls, letters and emails made an impact. Your voices inspired Governor Crist to action. Because of your effort, he vetoed Senate Bill 6. That’s huge.
What’s more important is that we did this together.
We are a state-wide alliance of advocacy groups that communicate and speak with one another. We are non-partisan. We are unique because we are driven by love. This fight to force our elected officials to uphold their paramount duty as stated in Article IX, Section 1 of the Florida Constitution is growing by leaps and bounds. You might recall that we made some predictions at the start of this session. One of them was:
Session ends: 1 – 2% cuts, setting everyone up nicely for their elections in November. The little guys will think their legislators “fought” for them.
Well, we hate to say it, but that is precisely where we are. The Final version of the budget is out. The per pupil amount is $6,685, which is within .002% of last year’s amount. Our legislators call this “Level Funding.” It sounds good.
But guess what? They had to. If they didn’t keep the cut to under 1%, Florida would not be able to prove its “Maintenance of Effort” and would not be able to qualify for the next crucial round of $873 Million dollars in stimulus money. Our legislators depend on this Federal money. They planned this year’s budget around it.
They are calling what they did “level funding.” What does that mean? On the surface, it means basically the same per pupil dollar amount as last year. You just have to scratch the surface to see that there is no money included whatsoever for market increases to:
- Retirement Benefits
- Unemployment Tax
Not to mention the added coursework and testing created by Senate Bill 4
So, your “level funding” really is a 6% cut to your district’s budget. That’s $1 Billion Statewide.
Districts are also being asked to chip in more money. That’s us. That’s our money. The budget is based partly on the requirement to insert 96% of the estimated value of the Required Local Effort. That’s the money that the state requires districts to come up with to supplement the budget shortfall that happens every year. In years past, the ratio was 60% state and 40% local. Now that number has flipped. Now our districts are paying 60% of what is clearly, according to our state constitution, the paramount duty of the Legislature.
What does this mean? First it means that our property values better not continue to drop, since that’s where most of this money comes from. The budget was written in the “hope” that the fall would not exceed 10%. That’s an optimistic number. Dr. Amy Baker, Florida’s Chief Economist, voiced concerns this fall that property values could dip as low as 12%.
Remember the quarter mill? Remember how legislators “gave” that option to districts last year so they could avoid being accused of raising revenue? Senators and Representatives were so driven to access this money that they didn’t even require a public vote of approval for the first two years. Districts were told to, “Just take it.” Some districts took the option and some didn’t.
This year, the budget is based on every district taking advantage of the last year the quarter mill can be accessed without a public vote. The potential revenue is already written into the budget. Now, districts that may want avoid going to the property owners again are left with little choice. They are essentially dooming their district to another cut. Use it or lose it. Except the property owners are the ones being used. In Orange County that comes to about $23 Million.
We are headed into elections. Our next task is to examine just how everyone voted. We’re going to look at who wrote the bills, who voted against the best interest of public education and who boldly supported of our kids and their future. It’s a shame that only our bravest will stand up for our kids. This year, the budget was somewhat predictable. Next year, there is no plan. There is no replacement for the stimulus dollars. That’s a 1 billion dollar hole starting out. We have a lot to do this summer.
Stay with us. Together we can share our vision for Florida and public education. This session showed each of us that we do have power. Each of us knows that we will never leave our kids unattended in the halls of Tallahassee ever again. The clock is ticking.