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Guest opinion: Funding levels a key issue for school districts — and students

November 2, 2012
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

To the Lee County Community:

At The News-Press Second Annual Education Summit, Governor Rick Scott laid out his education platform for the 2013 Legislative Session. The Governor touched on a few areas, but I wanted to focus in on two of the larger issues.

I must say it's nice to hear our Governor speak about education in a positive and proactive manner. We've all been working hard to convey how important public education is to Florida, and it seems hearing from teachers and others has had an impact on Governor Scott's approach.

That being said, many of the items discussed sound good on the surface but when you peel back the layers you see that it may not be exactly as it sounds. One example is the issue of funding levels for public education.

The Governor said he wants next year's spending levels to be the same as they are this year - or maybe see slight increases. That sound good, after all, no cuts to public education funding is always a good thing given what we've experienced the past few years

But here's the thing: in 2011/12 the State cut $1.3 billion from public education funding. For 2012/13 (this year,) lawmakers reinstated $1 billion to public education funding, which was very welcome, but that still left a $300 million difference from the year before.

Keeping next year's funding the same as 2012/13 is really $300 million less than was allocated in 2011/12. And if you look even further back, you'll see that today's funding is less than it was five years ago. That's right, our current funding is less than it was in 2006/07. The position of our School Board and the Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards is to return to funding levels from 2006/07.

We're not asking for a blank check at the expense of another part of the State's focus - what we are saying is let's get Florida toward the top of the list in America in terms of per-pupil funding. After all, Florida's Constitution specifically says the State must adequately fund public education; we're not sure funding today's schools at the same levels as five years ago is adequate, but it would be a significant improvement.

Another topic the Governor is championing is that of choice, specifically targeted toward charter schools.

I want to be clear - charter schools serve a valuable role in public education and will continue to do so in the future. For every one that doesn't succeed, there are others that flourish. But here's the thing: while they aren't run by the local School Board, charter schools are still public schools and because of that, they should have similar requirements that our traditional public schools have.

For example, did you know that Florida's voter-approved Class Size Amendment - the law that dictates the student-teacher ratio at various grade levels - is calculated at the school-wide average for charter schools but it's a classroom by classroom calculation for traditional public schools? That's right - it's a State law, but applied differently. And believe me, in terms of fiscal impact, being able to have a school-wide average for traditional schools would save millions of dollars for our District, and those dollars could be spent in other targeted ways, including our classrooms.

We're all in this together - charter schools, traditional schools, teachers, students, parents, legislators and taxpayers. Everyone has a vested interest in seeing public education not only survive, but thrive. Most students in America receive their education via the public school system, so we all must come together to make it successful.

Funding needs to be done at appropriate levels and with appropriate oversight. Public school options must be available in a well thought out way and not by taking from one to give to another. And we all must have a serious discussion about the culture change that must take place if our public schools are to prepare today's children for tomorrow's world. We are committed to college and careers first and to the most compelling outcome for all students.


Dr. Joseph P. Burke




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