The Numbers Game

Jul 28, 2008

The Lakeland Ledger

Florida has long ranked at or near the bottom nationally when it comes to high school graduation rates. That's nothing to be proud of - it's simply shameful.

So one would hardly be surprised to find that the educrats in Tallahassee are fudging the numbers to make the graduation rate look better.

According to the Department of Education, Florida has a 72.4 percent graduation rate. The problem is that most national studies put Florida's rate considerably lower. Education Week magazine ranked it at just over 60 percent in 2004-2005 - 44th out of the 50 states. Yet, that same year, Florida insisted the rate was 71.9 percent.

A new study from the LeRoy Collins Institute, at Florida State University, says the state's methodology for calculating graduation rates is difficult to fathom. "We know that Florida's definition of graduation contributes to these differences, but it is not possible to analyze the exact impact."

That's the idea: State officials know that if Floridians can feel good about the numbers, it doesn't really matter if the numbers are right or not.


Here's another shameful number, and one not subject to fudging from Tallahassee. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida ranks 50th out of the 50 states in education spending per $1,000 in income.

That's dead last. And no surprise. Our politicians have been hacking away at education budgets even as they promote tax cuts on top of tax cuts. Having hit rock bottom, one would think there is no way to go but up. But one would be wrong.

On the ballot this fall will be Amendment 5. It would eliminate all school-based property tax. It gives instructions to the Legislature to try to plug the $10 billion hole in education budgets that the amendment's passage would create.

"This proposal takes the school property tax off your local property bill and commands the Legislature to make it up with Tallahassee-based taxes or revenue," says House minority leader Dan Gelber, D-Miami. "It pits taxpayers in desperate need of relief, against public schools in desperate need of resources. So the real question is, do you trust the Legislature to figure this one out? Does anyone really believe anymore that public education will be held harmless?"

What's happening to public education in Florida, from abysmal graduation rates to diminishing funding, is a disgrace. It bespeaks a failure of leadership in the governor's mansion and the Florida Legislature.

Ultimately, it is Florida voters who must shoulder responsibility. We elected politicians who promised us lower taxes, and we are getting exactly what we bargained for.

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