Florida fully funds education choice scholarships and protects district budgets

Duval County Public Schools recently claimed Florida’s newly expanded scholarship program will leave a $17 million hole in their budget.

“In a year like this year where they only partially fund the vouchers then that money has to be made up and its made up from our budget,” a representative from the district told First Coast News.

But the state did fully fund the scholarships and it appears the $17 million gap claimed by the district comes from a honest misunderstanding of both the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) and a new law intended to address this very concern.

Florida law requires the scholarships to be paid for by state and not local tax dollars.

HB 5101, which passed in June and took effect July 1, created a new education funding category called the “state-funded discretionary supplement” to ensure school districts would not be financially burdened by state-funded education choice scholarship programs.

This new funding category can be found in column 6 on page 34 of the latest FEFP breakdown published by the Department of Education. For Duval County Public Schools, that amount is $16.8 million being paid to the scholarship program by the state. It is not funding the district will have to pay for itself.

For Duval County, the state estimated there would be $124.4 million in FES scholarships paid for by state dollars. This total amount includes the new $16.8 million supplemental funding category.

In addition to creating a new funding category to prevent potential holes in district budgets, Florida lawmakers also set aside a $350 million “education enrollment stabilization program” that the Florida Department of Education can use to ensure districts’ now-established budgets would be protected if scholarship programs grow faster than the expected 117,000 student growth.

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BY Patrick R. Gibbons

Patrick Gibbons is public affairs manager at Step Up for Students and a research fellow for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. A former teacher, he lived in Las Vegas, Nev., for five years, where he worked as an education writer and researcher. He can be reached at (813) 498.1991 or emailed at pgibbons@stepupforstudents.org. Follow Patrick on Twitter: at @PatrickRGibbons and @redefinEDonline.