Four Northwest Florida school districts serving military-related students will receive millions more in state aid next year, thanks to a budget initiative by Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach). The special funding was included in the budget approved by Gov. Rick Scott.
The “military-connected student supplement” is part of a multi-year initiative by Sen. Gaetz and Rep. Gaetz to make Florida and Florida schools the most military-friendly in the nation. The funds are designed to help schools pay for additional services, counseling and academic help for students whose parents are deployed or who are affected by military moves.
Sen. Gaetz, a former Okaloosa schools superintendent, said in a press release he knows firsthand about the need for educators to provide extra assistance and support to military families, especially when a parent is thousands of miles away.
“Northwest Florida is privileged to host bases and missions that bring us children from all over America and the world,” Sen. Gaetz said. “Military families sometimes arrive new to Florida just a few days before school starts. They may need screening to determine the class or course or grade that’s the best fit. They may need academic coaching. A parent may get orders out of the country the week before Christmas and the school needs to step up and provide counseling.”
“Students brought here by the military are among the very best in our local schools,” Rep. Gaetz explained. “But they face issues unique to the sacrifices and service of their parents.”
Santa Rosa Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick testified before the Senate Education Appropriations Committee, which Sen. Gaetz chairs, that educators want to help and are ready to help but sometimes that comes at a financial cost.
Extra funds from the state will make a positive difference, he said, in ensuring that Northwest Florida school districts can meet the needs of families brought here to work on the bases.
There’s also the phenomenon of military bases and federal land off the tax rolls, which reduces the amount of local taxes going to public schools, the release stated. The federal government used to provide impact funds to local school districts to make up the difference, but those dollars have diminished in recent years.
Under the new state funding formula devised by Sen. Gaetz and Rep. Gaetz, Santa Rosa County schools will receive an extra $1,179,653 per year as a “federally connected student supplement.” Escambia County schools are slated for $1,779,277 in supplemental funding. Bay County is entitled to $794,603 and Okaloosa, with the largest concentration of military students, will benefit from $2,405,227 in extra state support.
In addition to the “military-connected student supplement,” Northwest Florida schools will receive sizable increases in overall funding for 2016.