AFT’s Lorretta Johnson Turns Spotlight on Slashed School Funding During
TAMPA—Florida legislators and Gov. Rick Scott failed to put children first in the state budget deal that is scheduled for a final vote on Friday, a top American Federation of Teachers official said today during a visit here that included stops at two Hillsborough County schools.
“Cutting state support for Florida’s public schools at the same time they are extending corporate tax breaks shows that the education of Florida’s children is not a priority for Gov. Scott and his allies in the Legislature,” AFT Executive Vice President Lorretta Johnson said. “When something is a priority, you find a way to fund it.”
The tentative state budget agreement for the fiscal year beginning in July slashes $1.35 billion from public education. That translates to a loss of $540 per student for school districts across Florida.
Johnson was in Tampa to help shine a light on the long-term impact such cuts could have on the Hillsborough County Public Schools. Because of the district’s large enrollment—more than 190,000 students—the reduction in per-pupil state funding will mean a loss of just over $105 million for the Hillsborough district.
At a news conference today, Johnson noted that this is the fourth year in a row that state support for public schools has been reduced. “The education cuts make no sense, no matter what your politics or perspective, and actually could harm the state’s business outlook,” she said. “If we don’t provide adequate funding for education now, how can we expect to have a well-prepared workforce down the road?”
Others at the news conference included three members of the Hillsborough County School Board, Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association President Jean Clements, Hillsborough School Employees Federation President Josephine Gonzalez and Hillsborough PTA/PTSA President Melissa Erickson.
Clements, whose union represents classroom teachers, support staff and paraprofessionals, said her members and school administrators have worked together to try to minimize the impact on students. “But after years of reductions in state support, there are no easy cuts left,” she said. “If Florida’s children are to have a bright future, our elected leaders in the governor’s office and the Legislature are going to have to step up and provide adequate funding for our public schools.”
Johnson, the local union leaders and the PTA president visited two Hillsborough schools on Thursday. Accompanied by Hillsborough School Board Chair Doretha Edgecomb, and Board members April Griffin and Carol Kurdell, they first took in the Space Day Program at Blake High School, a combined production of Blake fine arts students and Stewart Middle School science students. They also visited Sulphur Springs Elementary School.
“These and other Hillsborough schools have helped drive the steady improvement in quality and achievement that Florida has seen in its public schools over the last several years,” Johnson said. “But despite those advances, funding has been a constant challenge for Florida’s schools, and this budget worked out by Gov. Scott and his allies only makes that situation worse.”
In a meeting earlier in the day with leaders of community, civic and faith groups, Johnson, Clements and Gonzalez all stressed the importance of community partnerships to building and maintaining strong public schools in Hillsborough and across Florida.