School district earns historic increase

After decades of being at or near the bottom in per pupil funding from the state, the Santa Rosa County School District will receive historic funding increases in 2016, according to Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville).

The district will receive $8,239,180 in additional revenues next year for a total of $181,014,246 to support the 26,000 students in kindergarten through grade 12.

Gaetz made the announcement at Thursday night’s school board meeting.

While education funding statewide increased by 3 percent over the current year, Santa Rosa schools will get 4.77 percent more than in 2015. That’s an increase of $273 per student or average revenues of $6,961 per student districtwide. Last year’s year-over-year increase was $151 per student.

“For a long time Santa Rosa schools and teachers have done more with less,” Gaetz said. “Even though the county’s per student funding historically has been among the lowest in Florida, Santa Rosa is the best performing school system in Northwest Florida and in the top tier in the state by every academic measurement. I’m pleased to report that next year we will begin to even the scales with more money matching better performance.”

As chairman of the Education Appropriations Committee in the Senate, Gaetz championed a significant change in the state’s funding formula that benefits coastal Panhandle counties. The “federally-connected student supplement” provides additional state money to school districts like Santa Rosa that have a high number of students from military families.

Santa Rosa schools will receive $1,179,653 in extra revenue to provide services to the 3,595 students whose parents are uniformed military or who work on military bases in critical defense jobs. As a former Okaloosa superintendent, Gaetz said he knows that military families make unique sacrifices including the stress children are under when mom or dad are deployed. A significant portion of otherwise taxable land is off the tax rolls because of federal ownership of bases in Northwest Florida.

“Our military students are among the most cherished and valuable, but also the most mobile in our school systems,” Gaetz stated in a press release. “By hosting bases and missions we gain the opportunity and obligation to provide them services that meet their particular needs – everything from screening last-minute military transfer students to match them with the best courses to being there as counselors and supporters when someone in the family is posted thousands of miles away in a war zone.”

Gaetz’s proposal for changing the funding formula to recognize those needs got a strong assist from Santa Rosa Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick. The superintendent testified before Gaetz’s committee in Tallahassee and helped convince other legislators to allocate an extra $12.4 million to the 14 school districts with disproportionate numbers of military students and military land off the tax rolls.

The county will also share in a 50 percent increase in technology funding compared to the current year as well as a 45 percent increase in funds for career-technical education, a major priority of Gaetz.
“The rest of Florida – and certainly all of Northwest Florida – has long looked up to Santa Rosa schools and learned from your continuing academic successes,” Gaetz told the school board. “It’s time and past time for the state to recognize and reward that remarkable performance.”

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