Why Avossa calls PBC a ‘donor’ county to state’s ed budget

When Superintendent Robert Avossa rails about how little Florida invests in education, he often talks about Palm Beach County being a “donor” school district.

Read about his objections to the state’s proposed budget here. 

What does that mean and why does this keep coming up?

First to the why.

For all those transplants to our state, district leaders want you to know the school district’s per student budget isn’t determined locally as it might be up north.

The district is countywide and though Palm Beach County is property rich – it has lots of value that generates lots of tax dollars – the state is responsible for determining how a majority of the school tax will be levied and what that money will be spent on.

Photo by Andy Frame

The how.

When it comes to a district’s operational budget, lawmakers in Tallahassee decide the base amount school districts will get per student to cover costs from text books to transportation, salaries and benefits, light bills and more. And from there it adds to that base for students who are disabled, or in exceptional poverty.

It also has a formula that is intended to deliver equity throughout the state’s counties – some very rural and property poor, and others not so much.

It does this by redistributing most of Florida school districts’ property tax revenue.

This is where the “donor” part comes in.

So, the state looks at Palm Beach County and says because the county can raise so much tax money locally, a larger portion of the money spent per student will come from local taxes. A smaller amount will come from the state.

A property-poor county, on the other hand would get more from the state.

Thus, the county is paying in more to the total  – but it is still being held to the state prescribed formula. Just because Palm Beach County has a larger wealth of property value, doesn’t mean it gets to spend more per student in its classrooms.

The county will get more per student than other counties based on the last budget. One reason, the cost of living – thus the cost of hiring teachers and running schools – is higher in Palm Beach County and the state’s formula chips in a bit more for that. Also, the county gets a bump when it has more special education students, whose education costs more and therefore draws more money from the state formula.

To be clear, this equalization across the state is just the general fund.

Capital budget is a different ballgame.

All districts can impose a district-wide tax for capital and keep that money. There is a state cap – a cap that was lowered during the recession in 2008-09.  Which prompted the need to find another source for capital projects, mostly school repairs but some replacements and 5 new schools. In November, voters approved a penny sales tax countywide, half of which goes to those projects.

Final note. 

Property values can make Palm Beach County look like a wealthy place. But not all of its students are. About 65 percent of the district’s students come from families poor enough to qualify for a free or discounted lunch from the federal government.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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