Why is Duval County Considering a Sales Tax for Schools?
For more than a year, our 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. Read our August 2019 statement calling on the City Council to place the referendum on the ballot.
JPEF has been working hard to inform the community on this historic opportunity to better fund our schools. On this page, you'll find all of our resources about the half-penny sales tax referendum in one place. You can also learn more on the Duval County Public Schools' tax referendum website.
On April 14, the Jacksonville City Council voted to place the referendum on the ballot. Read the reaction from education advocates, including JPEF President Rachael Tutwiler Fortune.
Public Opinion on Taxes for Schools
Spring 2019: Public Opinion Poll One-Pager
Since 2013, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund has worked with the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida to conduct a scientific, representative poll of Jacksonville residents about their opinion on public schools, including taxes. For six consecutive years, a majority of respondents said they would support a small tax increase for schools. In 2019, 78.5 percent of respondents said they would support a small tax increase for school buildings.
Issue briefing (5 min)
JPEF's former Director of Policy & Advocacy, Laura Alrutz, gave an overview of the sales tax referendum in this 2019 video.
Q&A with Duval County School Board Chair Lori Hershey (25 min)
JPEF's former Director of Policy & Advocacy, Laura Alrutz, interviewed former School Board Chair Lori Hershey in 2019 about the sales tax referendum.
FAQ about the Sales Tax Referendum in Duval County
Why are our public school buildings in need of such costly repairs?
Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) has the oldest school buildings in Florida. Many were built more than 50 years ago, and they’re no longer suited for the way children learn today. Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining them continues to increase as they get older, in some cases taking away funding from other areas of need.
Funding from the state has been decreasing over the years, especially since the recession of 2008, and therefore, DCPS hasn’t been able to accommodate the demand for building upgrades. Duval County is the only county in Florida that doesn’t collect any local funding beyond property taxes. Other counties have impact fees or sales taxes to support schools, especially school buildings.
When would the vote take place?
The School Board originally sought a special election in fall 2019 for voters to decide. The measure stalled in City Council, but in 2020 the Council took it up again and voted to place it on the ballot for the general election on November 3, 2020.
What do voters think about a tax increase to fund public schools?
The Jacksonville Public Education Fund’s annual poll has shown year over year that Jacksonville residents would be willing to approve a small tax increase in support of our schools. In the 2019 poll, 78.5 percent of respondents said they would support a small tax increase for school facilities.
- In June, the UNF Public Opinion Research Lab did another poll specifically of registered voters and found similar overwhelming support for the proposed half-cent tax increase: 75 percent of voters overall and on both sides of the aisle - Democrats supported the tax at 86 percent, and Republicans at 60 percent.
Many other districts around the state of Florida have pursued similar tax referenda, and voters have overwhelmingly supported them.
What does the tax referendum have to do with the district’s facilities master plan?
Last spring, a consultant shared a draft facilities master plan at several community meetings around Duval County. The $2 billion plan would impact every school in the district - including upgrades to schools, the construction of new schools, and the consolidation of some schools where the student population has declined over the years.
In summer 2019, the School Board voted to approve the facilities plan.
The tax referendum would help fund this plan, but the vote wouldn’t be on the facilities plan itself. What residents will decide is whether we will contribute a half-cent sales tax to fund the plan. If you have input on the facilities plan, you should reach out to your representative on the School Board. You can find out which School Board member represents your school on this list.
Could we use a half-cent sales tax to pay for expenses other than public school buildings, such as teacher salaries?
The law restricts the way the district can spend the revenue from a half-cent sales tax; it’s only possible to spend it on capital infrastructure.
The advantage of sales tax funding is it can be approved by voters once for a longer period than other funding sources. In this case, the sales tax would last for 15 years.
It’s possible that the sales tax could benefit other public education needs indirectly, by offsetting facilities costs that are currently requiring a significant amount of funding.
What other funding sources could we pursue for public schools?
Alternative funding sources, such as a millage (property tax) increase, could be used for other purposes, including increasing teacher salaries. For example, St. Lucie passed a millage increase to fund school safety and teacher salaries in 2019 through a special election by mail. The election had record high turnout.
The limitation of millage increases is that they are only valid for four years, so the district would have to go back to voters every four years to ask them to re-approve the increase.
Would the revenue be used only for district schools or would it also pay for facilities in public charter schools?
In the 2020 legislative session, state lawmakers mandated that any sales taxes for public schools share revenue with charter schools on a per-pupil basis.