The last few months have shown how important scientists, engineers and health professionals are to the future of Florida and the nation. Children from every school and neighborhood in our state deserve the opportunity to join the next generation of professionals in those fields.
But our K-12 schools are heading for a fiscal train wreck that would cut off our children from that opportunity. A large package of federal aid of more than a hundred billion dollars is likely needed to avert this educational catastrophe.
Florida’s sales tax provides a large percentage of the funding that pays teachers and purchases the supplies necessary for the state’s students to learn. In March, statewide sales tax collections fell $750 million short of expectations (according to the Orlando Sentinel) – and April was probably significantly worse. School districts are planning for budget cuts as large as 20 percent. The Florida Department of Education says that schools spent an average of more than $8,000 per student in 2018-19, so the coming budget shortfall for the 2020-21 school year is likely to be significantly more than $1,000 per student, and perhaps as large as $2,000 per student.
With such devastating cuts, Florida’s school districts would likely focus their remaining effort on the most basic educational functions – teaching the reading and low-level math skills needed to pass the state’s accountability tests in those subjects and graduate from high school. Science instruction at the elementary and middle school levels would be deemphasized, and much of the fine work that is being done at those levels to inspire students and convince parents that their children can join the next generation of scientists, engineers and health professionals would end. The courses necessary for students to prepare properly for college majors in science, engineering and health professions – including physics and upper level math – would disappear from many of the state’s high schools.
Here at Bridge to Tomorrow, we are allowed to do the math. So here it is: During the 2019-20 school year, there were 56.6 million PreK-12 students in the United States. 50.8 million of them attended public schools, and 5.8 million attended private schools. A federal aid package of $2,000 for each of those students – including those at both public and private schools – would amount to $113.2 billion. Such an aid package would be both pro-public education and pro-school choice.
This amount of money would have seemed extraordinarily large only a few months ago. Now it is dwarfed by other expenditures that the federal government is making.
But the most important thing to keep in mind is that this $113 billion is probably the price of keeping the nation’s most important supply chain – the supply chain of opportunity for our children – intact.