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Thursday, July 7, 2011

It is official, Census says Florida cares about kids the least


by Lindsay Peterson

As school districts across the state plan for teacher layoffs and other changes to deal with severe education cuts, a new Census Bureau report shows Floridians have the lowest school tax burden of any state in the country.

The tax money that went to the schools in 2008-09, the most recent data available, averaged less than $32 for every $1,000 of personal income statewide, says the report, released Wednesday.

Only the District of Columbia, which has no state school revenue, spent less, with about $18 of every $1,000 in income going to the public schools. Residents of Alaska, who spent the most, contributed twice as much as Floridians relative to their income.

"Shame, shame, shame," said Hillsborough School Board chairwoman Doretha Edgecomb. "It's dismal. It's disappointing, but I don't think it's surprising."

The figures for the upcoming school year are likely to be worse, she said, since state lawmakers slashed $1.35 billion from the state education budget.

Hillsborough must cut about $100 million from its budget. It's avoiding layoffs, but hundreds of teachers in Pasco and Pinellas are losing their jobs.

Responding to the report with a statement to the Tribune, Gov. Rick Scott highlighted Florida's educational success in recent years.

Education Week's 2010 Quality Counts Report ranked the state fifth in the country this year, up from eighth place last year and 31st in 2007.

"This census report is further evidence that per-student spending, while important, is not the most significant factor determining success in education," Scott said in the statement.

The head of the Hillsborough County's teachers union agreed that Florida had made great progress. But she questioned whether the state can sustain the high marks of the Education Week report, which were based largely on data from 2009.

For many years Florida has been at the bottom of the Census Bureau's list showing school expenditures as a portion of personal income. But it was moving up.

By 2006-07, public school spending had risen to nearly $34 per $1,000 in income, then it began to slide and in 2008-09 it was down to $31.14.

"Education in Florida has never been given the value it should or could have," Clements said. "Neither the citizens nor the elected officials have made it a priority."

She attributes this to the state's unique character.

"We're a strange mix of folks from all over the world and the country, with lots of different backgrounds. A lot of people come here to escape the taxes and financial obligations they have elsewhere."

It's not that they don't care about children, Clements said.

It's that in many cases, their loyalty is with the school district in their hometown, not in Florida.

Edgecomb said it seemed to her that when the economy turned down, people turned their anger toward government institutions like the public schools.

"They started being more critical of public education and in many cases not willing to support it."

So many of the people with wealth in Florida "don't have any connection to the public school system," she said.

"They don't feel they have an obligation to support it."


Figures represent amount per $1,000 of annual personal income.

United States: $41.29

Top 5

Alaska: $66.30

Vermont: $56.93

New York: $53.71

New Jersey: $51.97

West Virginia: $51.10

Bottom 5

Washington: $34.46

Arizona: $34.21

South Dakota: $34.13

Colorado: $33.02

Florida: $31.14

Source: U.S. Census, 2009 data

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