House Speaker Chris Sprowls sent a letter to school superintendents on Thursday stressing the need to find and re-enroll Florida students who’ve vanished from classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to an October survey cited by Sprowls, full-time student membership has decreased by more than 87,000 students statewide.
That number translates to more than 3% of Florida’s student population, Sprowls said.
He encouraged school districts to utilize social services and law enforcement to locate the students and return them to the classroom.
“The welfare of these children is of paramount importance,” Sprowls wrote. “We have a moral obligation not to allow any of these children to slip through the cracks in the system.”
Sprowls warned the enrollment decrease will impact school budgets as per-pupil funding will continue in the 2021-2022 state budget.
Notably, amid the pandemic, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an executive order last year allowing school districts to keep their estimated per-student funding regardless of actual enrollment.
“This ‘hold harmless’ provision has allowed school districts to retain $700 million of taxpayer funds over and above what would otherwise be permitted under the law,” Sprowls wrote. “However, this accommodation does not reflect a fundamental change in how Florida funds our school system.”
Further, Sprowls cautioned superintendents against using federal aid to finance recurring budget items.
“While these funds are designed to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, this massive windfall also presents very real risks to the sound management of our school districts,” Sprowls wrote.
Instead, he suggested the federal funds should go toward “deferred maintenance projects.”
“With these resources, school districts have the opportunity to replace aging HVAC systems, retrofit older windows and doors, install air purification and cleaning systems, and complete other renovations that improve air quality and reduce the risk of viral and environmental health hazards,” Sprowls wrote.