The TaxWatch Research Blog

The TaxWatch Research Blog is a forum where our research staff can address topics and issues in a short format. Keep an eye on this space during Legislative Session for frequent posts making sense of the activity at the Capitol. 

Finding the True Cost of Public Education

Per-student spending is an easy-to-use measure by which taxpayers can evaluate public school spending and efficiency. Most taxpayers, however, have little or no idea how much is spent per student in public schools. The most commonly reported per-student spending figures in Florida are based solely on funding provided through the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP). For the 2016-17 school year, Florida public schools will spend an average of $7,178 “per student” in FEFP funding.

But this figure, which is published in legislative budget summaries and widely cited by the media, can be misleading since it does not reflect total spending per student. Funding for a number of other programs and services (e.g., debt service, school construction, etc.) is provided to school districts in addition to FEFP funding and is reported separately.

The Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) calculated an average expenditure per unweighted FTE based on reported District expenditures for the Fiscal Year 2015-16 of $10,308, which includes expenditures such as debt service, capital outlay, and other funds that are reported separately from FEFP funds. Why is it important to include debt service, capital outlay, and other K-12 funds in per student spending calculations? Because taxpayers should have a thorough understanding of how their tax dollars are being spent. A more thorough and informed understanding of funding sources makes school funding more transparent to taxpayers. Transparency helps to promote accountability, and Florida taxpayers have every right to see how government spends their tax dollars.

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