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Florida Proposes Small Step Out of Big Education Funding Hole

The budget proposal that Florida Governor Rick Scott laid out last week — one of many governors’ proposals coming in the next few weeks — illustrates the enormous challenge that states face as they seek to restore funding for education and other services that they cut deeply in the wake of the recession.

Florida’s revenues plummeted in the downturn, and policymakers responded with several years of steep cuts in education and other public services.  Governor Scott’s budget contains a significant increase that makes up for some of that lost education funding.  But it would still leave the state in a deep education funding hole.

After adjusting for inflation, Governor Scott’s proposal translates into a $59 per-pupil increase in combined state and local education funding.  That’s far from enough to counteract the $823 per-pupil decline in funding that hit schools this year, and even further from restoring all the cuts that the state imposed since the recession started.  Under the governor’s proposal, per-pupil state and local funding for education would remain over $1,300 or 17 percent below the pre-recession level of five years ago (see chart).

One reason that Governor Scott’s proposed increase would make up so little ground is that school districts’ local property tax revenues continue to decline as a result of the real estate crash; part of the governor’s proposed funding increase would simply make up for declines at the local level.  Another reason is that Florida’s school-age population continues to grow, so funding is spread over a larger number of students.

But perhaps the most important reason that Florida education funding would remain deeply depressed is that the state cut so deeply to begin with.

To make meaningful progress in climbing out of its education funding hole, Florida will need a bigger infusion of state funds.  Doing this without deep cuts to other public services means raising additional revenues.  Governor Scott’s proposal largely avoids revenue increases, instead opting for Medicaid cuts to finance the education increase.

Florida is hardly unique.  As our recent report shows, states across the country have made deep cuts to education funding as a result of the recession.  To train the highly skilled workforce they will need to thrive economically in the future, states will need to restore their investments in education.

It will take years before economic recovery leads to a full state revenue recovery, as my colleague Liz McNichol has pointed out.  So states are going to have to raise additional revenues if they’re going to restore the lost funding in education and other public services.