The furor over the merit-pay-for-teachers bill sent by the legislature to the governor for his signature (or veto) occurs in the context of a long battle over the level of funding for education in Florida.
For more than a decade, governors and legislators have enacted a series of education policy changes focused on the FCAT and various accountability systems designed to hold educators' feet to the fire to make sure that "no child (is) left behind."
Educators and others counter that it's the legislature that hasn't been accountable, failing to fulfill this guarantee in the Florida Constitution:
"Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education...."
When the people of Florida have spoken directly about public schools in the last decade, they have twice voted to require the legislature to spend more to make schools high-quality (approving constitutional amendments for a universal voluntary prekindergarten program and a major reduction in class sizes).
The legislature has been finding it difficult to do what the voters required (and to maintain adequate levels of funding for other vital state services) and is relying heavily on temporary federal stimulus money to make ends meet.
SB6 links teacher pay to outcomes on standardized tests, some of which aren't developed yet. And it requires local school boards to set aside 5 percent of existing funds to make the necessary changes. In other words, it requires school systems to do more with the same amount of funding--an "unfunded mandate" from the state to school boards.
The long, deep national recession makes the task difficult for the legislature, of course--particularly when it refuses to close any tax loopholes or considers adding more. But declining revenue also makes it even harder for teachers, school administrators, and school boards to do their jobs.
When considering how well the legislature has funded public schools in Florida, here's a useful measure:
In the 1998-99 school year, 52 percent of all government funding for public schools in Florida came from the state. Local school boards provided almost 41 percent, and federal funds less than 8 percent.
In 2007-08, the state and local shares had reversed. State funding had fallen to 40 percent of all public school spending while local revenue climbed to 51 percent.
For those dissatisfied with property taxes, there's one reason. The legislature provides less state money to schools while requiring local school boards to provide more.