Lawmakers are in the early stages of exploring a drastic overhaul to how public schools are locally governed in Florida, which some superintendents and school board officials say could have severe consequences on equitable funding and educational opportunities for 2.8 million schoolchildren.
Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, are proposing a constitutional amendment that would allow citywide school districts, instead of the countywide oversight the Florida Constitution requires.
The Constitution empowers lawmakers to create and dissolve cities and special districts, and Caldwell said that should extend to school boards, also. He argued the proposal (HJR 539/SJR 734) would increase local control over neighborhood schools.
“When you look at our larger school districts, parents don’t feel they’re able to have the kind of impact they want to. It’s an impracticality of a large district,” Caldwell said.
But school superintendents said the system of countywide districts works well and saves taxpayers’ money. They said increasing the number of school districts statewide would cause administrative costs to skyrocket, without actually improving student outcomes.
“It would significantly deteriorate the amount of funding that actually goes into the classroom,” Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie said.
The biggest fear, though: Students in wealthier cities would have access to better schools than those in impoverished areas, because those schools would have a more concentrated, more affluent tax base from which to draw local funding.