K:12 DIGEST: The economics of COVID in Florida K-12 schools

One of the more remarkable elements of Florida’s positioning on COVID-19 response and the fight against mitigation mandates is that the state is fully willing to starve other elements of support for K-12 education to emphasize the point of personal freedoms.

CNN reports on revelations from the U.S. Department of Education which report that the Sunshine State is one out of 50 in terms of submitting a plan for how federal COVID relief funds will be used.

"The U.S. Department of Education (Department) has now received an ARP ESSER State plan from 51 of 52 State educational agencies (SEAs), with the exception of the Florida Department of Education," wrote Ian Rosenblum, the acting assistant secretary for the agency's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The Florida Education Department's "failure to meet its responsibilities is delaying the release of essential ARP ESSER resources that are needed by school districts and schools to address the needs of students most impacted by the pandemic," Rosenblum noted in the letter.

Understandably, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is willing to bet that a majority of the state’s conservative constituency will only see the headlines on rejecting the Biden Administration as a bold move in a David vs. Goliath battle of wills over coronavirus recovery policy.

But in that battle of wills, how soon will it take districts statewide to feel the pressure of financial losses, and to translate those losses into political angst? Two weeks ago, Florida’s rejection of federal support for food assistance in state schools led to a reversal in policy to the tune of $820 million.

Florida’s education budget, passed earlier this summer and touted as one of the biggest ever, will likely fall short of its goals on per-student spending and district investments due to decreased enrollment in public school systems. From the Tampa Bay Times:

During fiscal 2021, districts received funding for the number of students they projected to have before the pandemic occurred, regardless of whether they all showed up. Statewide, enrollment decreased by tens of thousands of children.

For the coming year, districts will not get per-student money for students who do not attend. The state will revert to its usual funding model based on actual student counts.

In growing districts like Pasco, officials expressed worry that this return to pre-pandemic funding, plus not knowing whether they will receive full funding for added students, could leave them in a bind.

Chances are good that Florida will not allow children to starve or districts to die out in the name of revolution against federal pandemic policy. But in a partisan game of chicken, how much havoc will be wrought in a waiting game and how long will that recovery take to reconcile in years to come?