Florida’s public educational institutions have not escaped the adverse impacts of the global credit crisis and economic downturn. To balance state and local budgets, every facet of K-12 fiscal policy must be scrutinized so as to identify necessary reductions in spending that do the least damage to the state’s public services. Fortunately, the state has been given a partial reprieve by the national economic stimulus package, which the U.S. Department of Education projects will provide Florida with as much as $3.9 billion in additional federal assistance over and above previous levels over the next two years. But that aid is only temporary assistance, not something that the state can rely upon as a permanent revenue stream. The Department and the state legislature therefore need to take advantage of the short-term opportunity created by the stimulus assistance to put into place a longer term strategy that will enhance school quality while preserving the fiscal viability of the state and its school districts.
This report contains a variety of recommendations which reflect four guiding principles that need to shape the state’s overall response to the fiscal crisis:
1) Retain and build upon key, relatively low-cost policies that appear to have driven school improvement over the past decade.
2) Use the opportunity provided by the federal stimulus package to introduce new policies that will enhance the school system’s long-term productivity.
3) Avoid locking in expensive programs that cannot be sustained when stimulus funding stops.
4) Identify areas where cuts can be made with minimal impact on educational quality.
Above all, the state must maintain its focus on student performance – protecting policies that provide incentives for higher achievement while concentrating belt-tightening measures on aspects of the system that do not seem to contribute to performance. It is important to resist the temptation to eliminate new programs that promise to boost student achievement under the guise that such innovations must be sacrificed in order to protect jobs in the schools. Were that strategy taken, it would constitute a step backwards that is not in the interest of Florida’s children.