State funding for school construction and maintenance has declined by 85 percent over the last five years. That’s because the funding for the Public Education Capital Outlay Program (PECO) comes, in part, from a tax paid on the use of land-line phones. Imagine the irony of relying on the use of land-line phones to help support the construction and maintenance of schools full of kids who can barely recognize a land-line phone. It’s the definition of unsustainable.
This legislative session, I worked with the Florida Legislature to create a long-term, sustainable source of funding for school construction and maintenance. We proposed shifting a portion of the revenue from the tax businesses pay on their electric bills to support PECO. This is a growing and reliable revenue stream that will provide millions per year to support Florida’s classrooms.
What’s more, it’s for a good cause.
School playgrounds are dotted with portables to accommodate Florida’s growing student population. Schools are opening their cafeterias at 10 a.m. daily just to get every student through the lunch line. Student enrollment at Florida’s colleges and universities is also on the rise and has put a strain on resources.
The shift of revenue will provide $160 million per year for school construction and maintenance to help schools and universities address these very challenges.
In addition, Florida’s businesses will know that the tax they pay on their electric bill will support the education of their next-generation workforce. This funding will help build more chemistry labs in K-12 schools and engineering facilities in colleges and universities — the very capital improvements we need to support STEM curriculums.
With the leadership of Sen. Anitere Flores, our proposal — to dedicate a long-term, sustainable source of funding for school construction and maintenance — gained the support of the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. This is a solution that will reap benefits for generations to come.
Adam H. Putnam, commissioner of agriculture, Tallahassee