Local school district faces $11.5 million deficit

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Leon County has seen an increase in the number of grade school students taking advantage of new state laws to transfer from local public schools to charter and private schools. This trend will result in an $11.5 million deficit in funding for Leon County Schools.

The district announced its net loss at the March 22 monthly budget meeting. The March meeting concluded the 2021-2022 school district budget calendar year.

According to members associated with the district’s general fund budget, the deficit was expected due to the increase in students enrolling in the Family Empowerment Scholarships and McKay Scholarships.

The Family Empowerment Scholarships are based on family income while the McKay Scholarships are offered to students with special needs. The acceptance into these scholarship programs makes it more accessible for K-12 students to transfer from a Leon County public school to a charter or private school.

In the 2020-2021 school year the Family Empowerment Scholarship was worth $1.6 million while McKay was $1.5 million. In 2021-2022 both scholarships increased their funding levels, especially the Family Empowerment Scholarship which grew exponentially by nearly nine times totaling a $10.9 million budget. The McKay scholarship came out to just over $2 million in the 2021-2022 school year.

“There’s just not enough money to continue to fund all these kids going to private schools,” Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna told the Tallahassee Democrat.

Hanna said that this could “potentially lead to the dismantling of the current public-school system as we know it.”

Kaycee Reese, a Tallahassee resident and parent of a child who attends Leon County Schools, believes parents simply want to do what’s best for their child.

“First thing that came to mind was resources,” Reese said. “I want my child to have access to the most recent textbooks or anything that can help further his education. Leon County Schools is similar to most school districts in the United States. It is suffering a monetary loss due to unforeseen events such as the pandemic.  But in this situation, it seems like the state is favoring private schools.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that public schools need more funding than private schools, especially in Leon County,” Reese added.

Will Brown, a recent graduate of Rickards High School and now a student at Florida A&M University, is concerned about the $11.5 million deficit Leon County Schools is facing.

“I feel as if Leon County Schools should be funded more than private schools,” Brown said. “If more money is dispersed to local schools relative to private schools, it will help grow the community and give students more access to resources and networking. The playing field has to be leveled.”