The State of Florida spends more on education than on any other program. Yet, the experience of recent decades indicates that, without structural change, additional spending is unlikely to improve the quality of education.
Comparing inputs in education with outcomes is an effective method of assessing the impact of current spending and thelikely impact of proposed future spending increases.
K-12 schooling expenditures per pupil in Florida have increased faster than the national average. In school year 1993-94, the latest year for which comparative statistics are available, Florida spent an average of $5,305 per pupil (not including capital outlay for buildings, buses, etc.). That year, Florida ranked second among the 10 Southeastern states in spending per pupil, and was second when cost-of-living differences were taken into account; only Virginia spent more. In the same comparison among populous states, Florida spent more per pupil than both California and Texas.
The average annual salary of public elementary and secondary teachers in Florida, adjusted for cost-of-living differences, was $30,348 in 1990. That year Florida ranked second only to Tennessee among the 10 Southeastern states in teachers’ salaries, but lagged behind the other populous states by an average of 6 percent. By 1995 Florida’s average annual adjusted salary was $35,598, which put it behind Georgia, Kentucky, and Virginia and all other populous states except Texas.
If educational inputs in Florida are relatively high, what about outcomes? Graduation rates, one measure of performance, show that Florida has major problems. Florida’s high school graduation rate in 1993, the latest year for which comparative statistics are available, was 67.8 percent, compared to a national average of 76.5 percent. Florida ranked behind all other Southeastern states except Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina, and ranked behind all other populous states except Texas.
Among the 21 states that generally require prospective college students to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), Florida ranked 16th in SAT scores in 1993. When Florida’s relatively low test performance is combined with its low graduation rate, the picture of schooling in the state is not complimentary.
Public higher education in Florida, by contrast with elementary and secondary schools, is a story of somewhat better performance and lower expenditures. In 1992, Florida spent $6,219 per student or 71.6 percent of the national average. Part of the explanation for Florida’s low college expenditures is that a substantially larger percentage of Florida’s students attend a community college before enrollment in a four-year institution. When considering only public four-year colleges, Florida ranks 13th among the 50 states in expenditures per pupil.
While Florida grants fewer academic degrees per 1,000 population than most other states, this figure is largely a result of a lower percetnage of 18- to 34-year olds in the state. Public higher education in Florida enjoys a relatively strong reputation, especially for its community college system.
Comparing spending and performance in Florida’s public schools and colleges leads to a general conclusion: rather than simply spend more on education, Florida should experiment with structural changes in its schools and colleges. These changes would include:
educational choice, allowing parents to choose the schools their children attend and to have their tax dollars “follow” the child to these schools (including private and religious schools);
decentralization, breaking up large districts into smaller decision-making units and promoting more school-based management;
measuring school performance by outcomes rather than inputs;
encouraging more use of alternative teacher certification processes so that competent retirees and professionals can enter the classroom; and
encouraging teachers’ unions to cooperate with reform efforts through adopting more flexible union contracts that allow for staffing changes and merit pay that administrators believe will result in higher productivity.