Hur­ri­canes leave law­mak­ers in lurch on school en­roll­ment

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Lloyd Dunkel­berger

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.”

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