Diane Kornegay

Diane Kornegay

Educating students in our schools is a collaborative effort. Everyone has a role to play, and we all have to do our part. That includes legislators, who have the ability to pass laws and provide funding that support our efforts.

Every year, we talk with our legislative representatives to let them know what changes they could make to benefit schools in Lake County. Our wish list is long, but we have narrowed it down to a few priorities – those things that would make the biggest impact on our efforts to meet the needs of our students and staff.

Primarily, we are asking the Florida Legislature to provide sufficient and sustainable funding in a few specific ways.

First, we are asking lawmakers to increase the Funding Compression Allocation for school districts like ours that are funded below the statewide average. We want them to bring Lake County’s funding up to 100% of the statewide average and to make the appropriation a permanent part of the Florida Education Finance Program. That’s the funding formula adopted by the Legislature to allocate funds to school districts. As it stands now, funding compression benefits some counties at the expense of others. Out of 67 school districts in Florida, Lake County ranks 60th in per-student funding.

We also need adequate Base Student Allocation funding, not just in Lake but in all school districts, to help account for minimum wage increasing to $10 an hour in 2021 and by $1 an hour per year through 2026 as required under the 2020 Amendment to the Florida Constitution.

This additional funding would also help us offset underfunded categoricals, such as the increased contributions to the Florida Retirement System.

Those two changes alone would give us access to more unrestricted funding to address the needs of our district.

But it’s also important for lawmakers to invest in teachers by adding more money to the Teacher Salary Increase Allocation so we can maintain salary increases and address the impact of salary compression on school districts and veteran teachers.

Additionally, we are asking legislators to support our efforts to recruit and retain certified teachers. We are in the middle of a statewide teacher shortage, and that has a ripple effect on our district. We lose funding any time a student has a non-certified, long-term substitute as the teacher of record, and there is a corresponding negative impact on student performance. We strongly encourage our new teachers to get fully certified as soon as they can, but the requirements can be burdensome. So, we are asking lawmakers to let temporary teaching certificates be effective for five years instead of three. We are also asking that they provide incentives or training development funds for content experts and current paraprofessionals who want to change careers and become teachers, which would help us get more teachers in classrooms in light of the current shortage.

In Lake, we have emphasized the importance of preparing students for high-wage and high-demand jobs through our Career and Technical Education programs, and we want the Legislature to help us make new and exciting opportunities available to our students.

Specifically, we are asking our representatives to support an education appropriation in the amount of $300,000 for the establishment and expansion of aviation programs at East Ridge, Eustis, Lake Minneola, Leesburg and South Lake high schools.

You can partner with us, too. Contact your representatives and ask them to support our schools on these issues. Together, we can make positive changes that will better equip us to meet the needs of our students, teachers and staff.

Guest columns are the opinion of the writer, not necessarily that of the Triangle News Leader.

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