Editorial, Miami Herald Thurs. July 16, 2009
Gov. Charlie Crist keeps hailing the federal stimulus package as a magic job-saver — on Wednesday he pointed to $2 billion of the money helping 26,000 teachers stay employed in Florida.

The governor’s pronouncement came a day after President Barack Obama pledged $12 billion for the nation’s community colleges. It’s a wise investment that would help prepare a new workforce during the next decade just as new technologies offer opportunity.

True, these are extraordinary times. The current hardened recession has prompted local and state governments to look to Washington to save the day. But the federal government already is facing a whopping deficit as it funds two wars, tries to fix the banking mess and Detroit auto catastrophe and ventures into healthcare reform.

The question for Mr. Crist, who is running for the U.S. Senate, and for the Florida Legislature, which has given fiscal conservatism a bad name as it squeezes public schools, colleges and universities to the brink of mediocrity, is:

Why is Florida abdicating its responsibility to fund public schools to ensure quality education mandated by the state’s constitution?

The current recession doesn’t excuse the legislative shell game that has been going on for years. As noted in the chart below, Tallahassee has pushed the majority of the burden of public-school funding to the state’s 67 school districts.

Instead of finding a broader tax base in a state too dependent on the sales tax to cover services the public demands, the governor and legislators have passed the buck to the districts to fund deteriorating schools. This has meant an increase in the local property-tax millage for schools, while the state’s contribution from general revenue decreased by almost 20 percent over the past five years.

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho points out this is a volatile situation that directly affects kids in the classroom.

In the 2005-06 school year, for instance, the state contributed 57 percent to the K-12 budget while the local contribution was 43 percent. This year, the local share has grown to 61 percent and the state’s contribution dropped to 39 percent. All this while the total amount spent on public education dropped to under 2005 levels.

Historically, public education has been a state responsibility. This has been a Republican mantra — particularly when Democrats have tried to broaden the federal government’s role in public education.

So why haven’t Republicans in Tallahassee — the majority of the Legislature and Mr. Crist — kept up their part of the bargain?

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