No one will disagree with that. However, our conversations around education funding in Florida almost singularly begin with one question: “How much?”
“How much?” matters, but that should not be the only question we ask ourselves when it comes to the state’s distribution of more than $20 billion in education funding each year. We should also be asking “How fair?” How fairly are we distributing the dollars — and are we doing so with equity and transparency.
Along with tremendous gains in student outcomes, Florida’s spending on public education has increased in the year’s following the recession. But a flaw in Florida’s public education funding formula has left dozens of counties – Miami-Dade included – without their fair share of those additional dollars. These dollars often leave local school districts unable to invest fully in teachers and classrooms.
Florida’s education funding is complicated. Very complicated. Some of that complication is in the dozens of factors that are taken into consideration when determining how much each school district receives to educate a student. The factor that we believe most dramatically impacts the equity and transparency of public education is the “District Cost Differential.”
The District Cost Differential, also known as DCD, is a variable in Florida’s education funding formula that purports to adjust school district allocations depending on criteria that may dictate the cost of hiring teachers. In fear of getting too technical, the DCD was amended in 2006 to use a “price-level index” to determine how school districts would be weighted. This formula used factors like “proximity to the beach” as variables in determining what wage a teacher would be willing to accept. You can instantly see why such criteria is so questionable when considering the differential communities should receive to pay teachers.
So, what does this mean for Miami-Dade County?
While the full impact of the flawed DCD may not be known, Miami-Dade County Public Schools believes that hundreds of millions of dollars have been directed away from our community’s classrooms and teachers as a result of the flawed formula. Last session, the Florida Legislature commissioned a study to look into the accuracy and transparency of the DCD – and just this past month, the Balmoral Group released its study. The findings were clear: The current funding formula is flawed. A more accurate formula exists. Changes should be made.
Legislation we’ve proposed would replace the price-level index currently used for the DCD with a far-more-accurate index that takes into consideration comparable wages. The new formula would accurately define the “true cost” of living in Miami and the comparable wage our teachers deserve. Our legislation is supported by Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the Board of County Commissioners, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Miami-Dade and it is a priority for our legislative delegation. This is an issue that should (and will) bring us all together.
But this is more than just about our community. This is about transparency and accuracy in the way Florida funds public education. The education arena has no shortage of policy issues that can bring individuals from either side of the aisle to ideological blows; however, equitable and accurate funding for public education is something all of us can get behind.
Our teachers deserve better. Our community deserves better. Florida deserves better.
And, this legislation will make better possible.