State funding is down $440 per student (9.2%) in Alachua County since the 2007-08 school year, when the School Board first decided to ask voters to approve the One Mill for Schools. During that same period, schools have had to spend more money on things like mandatory state testing, health insurance and energy.
Things aren't looking much brighter for the upcoming year. The Florida Legislature is raising per pupil spending this year by just 1%.
It's no surprise that Florida continues to be one of the lowest-ranked states in the nation for school funding. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida is ranked 48th in the nation in per student state funding and 50th in funding compared to wealth. Florida received another F for school spending in the 2016 Quality Counts Report, a report which state leaders often quote. Earlier this year, the state also received an 'F' grade for its support of education in the first-ever '50 State Report Card' from the Network for Public Education.
But thanks to the one mill, our district is in much better financial and educational shape than many other districts in Florida.
Under the ballot language approved by voters, the one mill could be spent only on school nurses, elementary art and music programs, guidance and media programs in kindergarten through 12th grade, middle and high school band and chorus programs, academic and career/tech magnet programs and classroom technology.
Up to this point, more than $80 million in one mill revenues have been spent on those items, except school nurses. For the last four years, the federal government has decided to maintain funding for school nurses through the Medicaid program. Unfortunately, that funding is not guaranteed, and could be eliminated in the future.
During this school year, the one mill is funding 164 teacher positions, classroom technology and nine technicians who install and maintain all our classroom technology.
All of the programs and positions currently funded through the one mill have been included in the 2016 ballot language. This includes school nurses. The School Board wants to make sure that all schools have a nurse regardless of what happens in Washington, D.C.
For the last eight years, an independent citizens' oversight committee has been meeting regularly to review one mill expenditures. That committee is made up of local business leaders and parents. The chairman, businessman Perry McGriff, makes a yearly report to the School Board and the public.
That oversight committee is again included in the ballot language, and must, by law continue to review and report on the expenditure of the one mill funds.
Actually, property owners won't have to pay any more than they've been paying for the last eight years. The one mill ballot item would simply maintain the property tax rate for schools, not increase it. In fact, because of the drop in the overall tax rate for schools, many homeowners are actually paying less in school taxes than they were five or even ten years ago.
For the average homeowner in Alachua County*, the one mill costs about $7 a month. If you don't own any taxable property, the one mill doesn't cost you anything.
If voters approve the renewal of the one mill, it would remain in effect for four years.
*Residential properties with homestead exemption
Voters approved the lottery based on the promise that its revenues would supplement existing education funding. In reality, revenues from the lottery have simply replaced other revenues that schools received from the state in pre-lottery years.
Most of the money raised through the lottery is used to fund the Bright Futures college scholarship program, not public schools. Another significant portion is used on jackpots and advertising the lottery.
Lottery dollars have always made up a very, very small portion of the district's budget. This year, the district received less than $100,000 in discretionary lottery funding to divide among the schools.
A number of national reports show that Florida's record for funding public schools is dismal. For example, the annual 'Quality Counts' report from Education Week grades states based on the quality of their K-12 education systems. That report has given Florida an 'F' for school spending for several straight years. According to the Census Bureau, Florida is ranked 50th among all states in per-student funding compared to wealth. This low level of funding has been the norm in Florida for years, and shows no signs of improving.
A strong, thriving community can't exist without strong, thriving schools. You may not have children in Alachua County Public Schools, but your future pharmacist, accountant, plumber and many of the other citizens you depend on each day are currently attending our schools, and we all have a stake in ensuring that they are getting a good education. Those children will one day become the taxpayers who help support this community, and the better-prepared they are to be productive citizens, the better quality of life we will all enjoy.
From an economic standpoint, good schools are a critical recruiting tool for any community. When businesses and individuals are looking to relocate, one of the first questions they ask is "How are the schools?" High quality schools that project an image of a community that values education help draw those businesses and professionals to Alachua County. That means more jobs, new programs and technologies, greater economic development and a higher standard of living for our citizens. An investment in schools is an investment in the future for all of us.