It is the end of another school year. With much pomp and circumstance, many throughout the community spent the last week attending graduations all across South Florida, recognizing the accomplishments of the Class of 2015.
As these students move their tassels from the right to the left, signifying they have completed 13 years of education, it is our hope that, as a public school system, we have delivered a robust educational experience filled with lessons on the arts, humanities, foreign languages, music, technology, and literature as well as core subjects that have prepared them to be successful and productive in whatever endeavor they pursue.
Make no mistake, Florida’s future rests squarely on the shoulders of these graduates and the students who will follow. They represent the next generation of leaders, doctors, police, engineers, teachers, accountants, attorneys and clergy. They will be responsible for making decisions that shape our lives and economy. They will be the reason that industry chooses to locate in Florida, chooses to stay away or, worse, re-locate. They are our future, and the time to invest in them is now.
As the Florida Legislature reconvenes its special session on Monday , we call on our elected officials to make good on promises to Florida’s children by adopting a per-pupil funding level that is, at a minimum, consistent with Gov. Rick Scott’s recommended budget proposed before the Legislature’s regular session began. The idea that “level funding” would be acceptable is false. Level funding for Miami-Dade Schools represents a real decrease in dollars available to the classroom, especially given the Value Adjustment Board (VAB) tax-collection shortfall, which would make a difficult scenario into a near-impossible one.
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The economy has recovered. The state has a revenue surplus that should and must be directed to support our children’s education. Since the national economic recession began in 2008, Miami-Dade County Public Schools has found a way to do better with less. We have operated on a budget that at its lowest point was a full $2 billion less than we had in 2007-08 and still we increased student achievement and graduation rates, won the Broad Prize of Education and achieved systemwide accreditation. We drastically cut central office and eliminated duplication of effort. We adopted guiding principles by which we made all decisions, including protecting classrooms and our high-quality workforce, never terminating a single teacher for purely economic reasons.
When other counties across the state and nation were eliminating the electives, which keep many students engaged and excited about learning, we instead chose not only to keep them but to expand choice options. When others were struggling to keep schoolhouse doors open, we cut costs, becoming more innovative and efficient. Together, we generated our own community-based capital revenue through the 21st Century Schools Bond program to ensure the educational environments available to our teachers and students would dignify the important work that happens each day in the classroom.
The Florida Legislature should find a way to make good on the promise to Florida’s children of a high-quality education by increasing per-pupil funding to at least the amount recommended by the governor. Failure to do so could place in peril educational programming that the School Board and administration have fought so hard to preserve and expand, even during a time of true economic hardship. Those programs, courses or functions that are not state-mandated or funded could face reduction. Choice and magnet programs, advanced placement and IB courses, art, music and physical education, as well as foreign-language and bilingual instruction could all be threatened.
This is not a position that Miami-Dade Schools or any school system in Florida should be facing at a time when the state and national economy has by all accounts rebounded. We must invest in schools and in our children and teachers. Now is the time for the Legislature, led by our committed Miami-Dade delegation, to step up and increase per-pupil funding to record levels. It is our responsibility to ensure that the Class of 2025 will have the same robust, comprehensive, high-quality educational opportunities that the students graduating today have benefited from. To do any less would be to put the very future of our state at risk. We owe our children much better.
Alberto M. Carvalho is superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Perla Tabares Hantman is chair of the Miami-Dade County School Board.