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Funding education

December 23, 2013
Pine Island Eagle

To the editor:

American teenagers scored below the international average in math and roughly average otherwise in the latest report. The U.S. Secretary of Education had this comment, "We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators." Investment in public education is the single most effective tool in maintaining our international economic standing and essential in order to have an informed electorate. These truths, the way education is funded, and the workings of local politics have escaped the author of a recent letter that criticizes the district for proposing a modest sales tax to make up for capital shortfalls.

Districts must maintain separate accounting categories or "buckets" for instructional expenses (teachers, books, etc.) and capital expenses (buildings, equipment, etc.). The way that money comes in to these buckets is different. State and federal funds to be used for instructional purposes cannot be used for capital purposes. When a district's capital funding falls short, it cannot divert monies from instruction. It has to find the money elsewhere or raise it.

The good news is that Lee County Schools are growing and that our economy is growing. That means the district needs include infrastructure, technology (computers and connectivity), maintenance and safety/upgrades to existing buildings and additional space for new students.

While it would be great if the County Commissioners would reinstate the 80 percent of the impact fees that were cut, it is unlikely that four new commissioners who would support this will be elected in time. This action cut funding for capital expenses from $3,776,456 in 2013 to an estimated $800,000 in 2014. In addition, annual capital funds that used to come from the state have been completely eliminated. That funding source provided over $165 million to the district over a 5-year period, and that loss was devastating. Try running your household with an 80 percent decrease in income.

Lee County is a large geographic area, and gasoline expensive. The cost of bussing students is partially offset by the state as outlined in section 1011.68, F.S. which provides base funding times factors that include rural population density. Daily transportation of children is mostly an operating expense, not to be confused with the additional need for capital funds that a sales tax would provide.

The proposed sales tax offers the best solution as about a quarter of it would be paid for by tourism, not Lee County residents. It is not an additional property tax and does not carry debt. It cannot, however, be used for wage increases. That is an instructional expense and comes from a completely different revenue stream. It's just for buildings and technology. I would be glad to pay a few pennies here and there to support the needs of the schools. Really, how much does that hurt?

Isabel Francis




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