David Dunn-Rankin

David Dunn-Rankin

Last year, the Florida Republican-led state government passed 210 new bills. How many old laws did they eliminate? I can think of only one.

This is normal. The natural order, whether Republican or Democrat, is to keep adding more and more rules that the rest of us must follow. Ever-increasing government mandates is the natural order because it is not a winning reelection campaign slogan to say, “I went to Tallahassee and we did nothing all year long.”

The rules just keep piling up until it feels like the rules are more important than the task at hand. Like educating Florida’s children, for instance.

One reason Florida has so many complex rules around education is that we never stop demanding our elected officials to do something to improve the education of our children. These ever-increasing mandates mean far more money is spent on non-classroom instruction in our school budgets than on actual classroom instruction.

How much money is spent on classroom instruction versus solving all the other “needs” of the education system we have created?

In 2019, Highlands County spent a total of $8,329 per student, Lake County $8,231 per student, Sumter County $9,607 per student and Polk $8,339 per student, compared to the state-wide average of $8,859 per student. If there are 24 kids in each classroom, that’s about $204,000 per classroom in student spending.

How much of that $204,000 per classroom does the teacher get? On average, about one-third goes to the teachers. Where does the rest go?

Understand that school systems are a big business. Polk County’s school system has a 2021–2022 budget at close to $2 billion. The public explanation of Polk county’s budget is 226 pages. About $670 million of Polk’s $2 billion school budget is for Instructional Services, or about 34% spent on teaching in the classroom.

The other 66% represents other costs, much of which has been increasingly mandated by the state and federal government. Even if the school board wanted to reallocate money from the other 66% to additional instructors or instruction time, they can’t. The state and the federal government have tied their hands.

That’s why Gov. Ron DeSantis’ coming out in favor of eliminating the current annual standardized test is such a big deal. He hopes to reduce time studying for and taking tests by 75%.

The replacement would be a new but easier mandate of three tests a year to double-check a student’s progress. The devil, as always, will be in the details. What will a state-designed and state-mandated test three times a year tell a student, parents, teachers and administrators that the report card doesn’t already demonstrate?

Assuming Florida follows DeSantis’s recommendation, it would be the first state in the nation to make the transition from annual high stakes testing to three-times-per-year progress monitoring. The current annual high-stakes test might have been a good idea when it was started, but the increasing number of rules and mandates have made it a burden rather than a benefit to education.

The new proposed testing process is not mandate-free. It’s based on yet another new mandate created by our politicians: the Florida B.E.S.T. standards. But any reduction in mandates is a positive.

The natural order for politicians is to create more rules. DeSantis deserves credit for trying to roll back some mandates regarding education. 

Share your thoughts: David@D-R.Media.

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