Hurricanes leave lawmakers in lurch on school enrollment
TALLAHASSEE — The effects of hurricanes may be a complicating factor as lawmakers try to figure out how many students are in Florida’s public schools this year and how many might show up next year.
An enrollment estimate will be critical as the Legislature creates a roughly $24 billion public-school budget for the 2018-2019 academic year. If more students show up than estimated next year, it will result in a reduction in per-student funding, as money will have to be prorated among the 67 school districts to account for the population increase.
“If you have more students, you spread it thinner,” Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said about the public-school funding formula, which is known as the Florida Education Finance Program. “If you have less students, you don't get the money.”
Lawmakers are working under an estimate that an additional 26,764 students will enroll in 2018-2019 in the kindergartenthrough-high-school system, for a total of 2.86 million students. The estimate would require an additional $197 million in the next budget, according to legislative analysts. But that estimate, which was done in the summer, did not account for the effects on schools from Hurricane Irma, which struck Florida last month, and Hurricane Maria, which ravaged Puerto Rico. State and local education leaders are expecting an influx of students from Puerto Rico who may have connections to the nearly 1 million Puerto Ricans living in Florida.
House PreK-12 Appropriations Chairman Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said there are no firm estimates on how many Puerto Rican students will show up, but state officials are preparing for more students on top of the normal growth in the system.
“We have been showing growth as a state which naturally means more public-school students regardless,” he told his panel Wednesday. “This could accelerate that. We don’t know how much or the timing of it. But everybody is well aware of the issue, and we will have to deal with it.”