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The School Board is contemplating building 30 new schools — not because the schools are being flooded with new students but because buildings are aging.

Dollars are growing faster than children in the local public schools.

Since the 2007-08 school year, there has been only a 4 percent increase in the number of students in Jacksonville but a 26 percent increase in general fund spending, according to the Florida Department of Education.

The increase in students is below the population growth rate for the Jacksonville area.

Why is the overall population growing faster than the public school student population?

For the current school year, there are 166 private schools in Duval County, serving 29,483 students.

Minority enrollment is 34% of the student body in those schools.

The student-to-teacher ratio is 11:1.

The private school student-teacher ratio is an interesting figure. Florida has spent billions of dollars to lower classroom sizes, but has produced relatively few classrooms with fewer than 20 students.

Studies have indicated that to have a significant impact on learning, classrooms should have no more than 15 students.

School officials say spending $1.95 billion on new schools and better security is necessary.

But they haven’t explained why spending on operations is growing so much faster than the student population. More people should be asking, especially the media.

Meanwhile, there is a move in Tallahassee to expand school choice, providing more vouchers to help more students who are having difficulty in public schools.

Should that legislation prevail, it will also help the public schools by further reducing the need for new school construction.

Choice also helps taxpayers because it is less expensive to them than public schools, and the public schools will be even more expensive if the new spending for school construction is approved.

The Florida Department of Education calculated an average expenditure per student last year of $10,856, which includes expenditures such as debt service, capital outlay, and other funds, according to Florida Tax Watch. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which allows children from low-income and working class families to attend private schools, had a maximum cost for that year of $6,447 per student, or 40 percent less.

Expanding school choice is good for the taxpayers, good for the students and good for the public schools.

Lloyd Brown
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Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida.  He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union.  He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.

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