Florida school districts are already strapped for cash, but Republicans plan more cuts.
Gov.-elect Rick Scott said on his new website that, “In the coming days, we will also reach out to the Legislature to develop the partnership we need to enact the reduction in property taxes and the elimination of the business tax.”
Escambia County Superintendent of Schools Malcolm Thomas, also a Republican, said Scott’s plan to reduce state-mandated school property taxes by 19 percent would cause serious problems because school districts have little left to cut.
“If he’s expecting local school boards to deal with a 19 percent decrease in local funding, it would be devastating, unless he’s going to replace that,” Thomas said.
Instead, Thomas hopes Scott will look for ways to help better fund schools, including meeting the class-size amendment requirements affirmed in Tuesday’s vote and anticipated shortfalls caused by disappearing federal stimulus money.
One of the major budget issues school districts are facing is funding for the class size reduction amendment Florida voters approved in 2002. This year’s Amendment 8 would have replaced the class size reduction amendment, but it didn’t reach the 60 percent voter approval on election day it needed for passage.
School districts that have not complied with mandated caps on the number of students per classroom scheduled for 2010 will be penalized, but they have vowed to go to court.
State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune he
regretted that voters did not approve a measure [Amendment 8] that would have given school districts more flexibility in meeting teacher-student ratios the electorate approved several years ago.”
“They’re going to have to whack their budgets even more,” Bennett said of the school districts.
Damien Filer, political director of Progress Florida, an organization that opposed Amendment 8, tells The Florida Independent, “Legislators have refused to fund class size reduction. Last year they estimated $350 million to fund class size reduction, but didn’t approve a penny and now they’ll penalize school districts.”
Filer adds that legislators lost their push to secure passage of Amendment 8, and now they have to fund class size reduction or go to court.
In the legislature, Amendment 8 was sponsored by state Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
In a written statement issued on Wednesday, Weatherford said, “The result of the election has not changed the need to create flexibility for our students, parents, teachers, principals and school district leaders. It has also not changed the harsh reality taxpayers will face when paying higher taxes to achieve class-size compliance.”