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. 

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The True Cost Of Public Education In Florida 2.0

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 2017-18 school year, Florida public schools would have spent an average of $7,307 “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 other programs and services (e.g., school construction, voter-approved general obligation bonds, pre-school programs, debt service, school construction, etc.) is provided to school districts in addition to FEFP funding and is reported separately from the FEFP. 

The Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) calculated an average expenditure per unweighted FTE based on reported District expenditures for the Fiscal Year 2017-18 of $10,856, 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 accurate 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. 

TaxWatch also compared the true cost of traditional district schools to the true cost of two of the largest learning options the state currently provides to parents and their students -- charter schools and private school scholarships. The comparison suggests these alternatives are quite cost-effective, and compare very favorably to the $10,856 cost of educating a K-12 public school student. TaxWatch estimates the true cost per charter school student for Fiscal Year 2017- 18 to be $7,476. The average maximum scholarship available through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which allows children from low-income and working class families to attend private schools, for Fiscal Year 2017-18 is $6,447. 

It is critical that taxpayers have a clear and complete understanding of how much education revenue is available, how that revenue is spent, and what it is spent on. Without this understanding, taxpayers and policymakers will be unable to determine whether their state and local K-12 education systems are cost-effective. Parents will be unable to make informed decisions regarding educational programs and services that best meet their children’s needs. 

The landscape of public education in the U.S. has been changing over the past several decades as parents’ options have expanded. Being able to choose from a number of high-quality options and to select what is best for their child are options that should be available to all parents. 

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