Educators sound alarm on education funding

By Duwayne Escobedo

Florida lawmakers are considering a cut in funding per public school student, known as the Basic Student Allocation, by about $25.97 with the growth in students for next school year projected at 23,919.

Even though the Legislature proposes a $69 million increase or a 0.34 percent increase in student funding statewide, it is “inadequate funding to meet our needs,” said Escambia County School District Superintendent Malcom Thomas.

Thomas and other school district superintendents across the state Thursday united to fight for a larger increase, so they could at least maintain current education programs for their students.

Thomas said in his nine years as the superintendent and in 37 years in education, he has never experienced such a drastic reduction in state funding.

“The funding cut will impact our students and impact our classrooms,” said Thomas, who reported funding per student has never returned to the level it was in 2007.

The reduced money to Escambia in its base student allocation would be about $2.4 million, Thomas said. Escambia is looking at cutting costs by 5 percent per classroom. “We will take a hard look at every project,” Thomas said.

Meanwhile, Santa Rosa County Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said if the current proposed budget passes, it could mean cuts to student programs. Santa Rosa expects to add 800 students next year.

Programs Wyrosdick and his team could cut include career academies that train high school and middle school students for professions and jobs available in the local community. For example, Gulf Breeze High School’s Academy for Medical and Health Professions or Pace High School’s financial academy could be scaled back or eliminated, Wyrosdick said.

It could also mean reductions to its STEAM, science, technology, engineering, arts and math programs, Drivers’ Education and academic intervention programs, he said.

“The budget being proposed is inadequate to maintain programs, let along expand them,” Wyrosdick said.

Thomas said the budget does increase the Best and Brightest program from $50 million to $200 million and puts another $200 million into the Schools of Hope program for charter schools.

One solution he suggested is keeping the Best and Brightest at its current funding and putting the $150 million that would increase the student funding to more than 1 percent. The Governor’s and Senate’s proposed budgets originally increased education spending by 3.1 percent.

“We’re just saying make us whole,” Wyrosdick said. “Help us maintain and sustain what we have today.”