Half-Penny Sales Tax for Public Schools
For more than a year, the Jacksonville community has been discussing a half-penny sales tax to repair and replace our aging school buildings. Duval County has the oldest school buildings in the state of Florida, and 30 percent are in poor or very poor condition.
On May 7, 2019, the Duval County School Board voted to approve a resolution seeking a vote on a half-cent sales tax over 15 years to pay for a $2 billion plan to upgrade our school buildings at a cost of about $6 a month for the average household. The Jacksonville Public Education Fund has been following the issue closely. As a research-driven, independent organization working to close the opportunity gap, JPEF believes the sales tax is necessary to help improve outcomes for children from low-income backgrounds.
2020 Legislative Recap
On Thursday, March 19, 2020, the Florida Legislature concluded an extended legislative session by voting to approve a $93.2B budget for the state and passing several important education measures. Lawmakers expanded vouchers for private schools, required panic alarms in every public school, and appropriated $500 million for teacher raises.
The Legislature took a big step forward on teacher pay, but the final appropriation was not without controversy. Gov. Ron DeSantis wanted to give starting teachers a big boost, bringing starting salaries up from $37,636 to $47,500. The idea was to attract more young people to the profession. (Our own research at JPEF has shown fewer millennials are pursuing education careers.) But more experienced teachers objected to being paid less than rookies, and the final budget included $400 million for starting teacher raises and a less generous $100 million for veteran teacher raises. Another milestone in teacher pay: the Legislature scrapped the “Best and the Brightest” bonus program for teachers -- good news for the many teachers who have said bonuses aren’t nearly as helpful as raises.
SALES TAX REVENUE
Last year’s push for a half-penny sales tax for public school facilities in Duval County stalled out after City Council members questioned whether enough revenue would benefit charter schools. The Duval County School Board proposed most funds go to the school buildings in the worst condition, while charter advocates argued the money should be shared on the basis of student enrollment. Local leaders couldn’t find a compromise, but the debate became moot during the legislative session. Lawmakers voted for a statewide mandate: any new sales tax revenue for schools is now legally required to be shared on the basis of student enrollment with charter schools.
ELECTING THE SUPERINTENDENT
In the midst of the sales tax discussion, state Rep. Jason Fischer proposed putting another education issue to a vote: whether Duval County should move from an appointed superintendent to an elected one. Elected superintendents are extremely rare in large school districts, because they severely limit the talent pool to draw from, among other reasons (you can read JPEF’s full summary of the issue here). The Duval County School Board, the elected body that currently appoints the superintendent, unanimously condemned the idea. When the dust settled, this proposal didn’t make it out of Tallahassee. There will be no referendum on electing the superintendent in Duval County this year.
ONGOING LOCAL ISSUES
Teacher pay will continue to be a big issue in Duval County. The Legislature appropriated funding for districts to spend on teacher raises, but exactly how those raises will be distributed is still being worked out. The Legislature has required districts to try to get as close to $47,500 as possible. Some money is allocated for veteran teacher raises, but not as much, so more experienced teachers could end up making about the same as new teachers. Duval County will receive about $50 million, and Duval County Public Schools will work out the details in negotiations with the teachers union.
- Tampa Bay Times: How will Florida's teacher raises work? We answer your questions.
- JPEF poll: 4th Perceptions Poll shows high support for teachers, including increased compensation
This year, Duval County Public Schools led a community conversation about our aging facilities for public schools and the need for a new source of revenue for massive updates, repairs and construction. The Duval County School Board passed a request to place a referendum on the ballot so that voters can decide on a half-penny sales tax to create more revenue for school facilities. The measure stalled in City Council in 2019, which declined to place it on a ballot, and the School Board sued. Right now, the City Council has taken the issue up again with more support, but the coronavirus crisis has led City Council to cancel its meetings. Meanwhile, the Legislature approved a requirement that any new sales tax revenue be shared on a per-student basis with charter schools.
- Florida Times-Union: Duval Schools tax potentially stalled by virus
- Duval County Public Schools Master Facilities Plan: Find out which schools will be repaired or replaced
- Florida Times-Union: A timeline of the sales tax saga
- Education Dive: Years of inadequate funding have left many school facilities neglected
As part of the master facilities plan, Duval County Public Schools is consolidating some small schools into larger schools in more modern buildings. Schools that are closing and being consolidated into other schools include John Love Early Learning Center, Brentwood Elementary, and Saint Clair Evans Elementary.