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Rural Florida Schools Could Benefit From Gov. Scott's Budget Proposal

By guest blogger Alicia Soller

Rural schools in Florida could see benefits from Gov. Rick Scott's current budget proposal, which seeks to increase funding for public education, according to the Associated Press.

One of Scott's top priorities for Florida's 2015-2016 fiscal year is boosting money for the state's public schools, the Miami Herald reports. He is looking to spend about $50 more per student than in the 2007-2008 year, increasing student funding to a record high of $7,176 per student.

The Panhandle Area Educational Consortium (PAEC), which consists of small and rural school districts in the Florida panhandle, is supportive of the plan. The investment could help these small and rural districts bolster programs and services that ensure students are ready for college or the workforce upon graduation, the group says.

Florida's rural school districts are some of the nation's largest and most diverse, according to the Rural Schools and Community Trust. More than half of all rural students in Florida live in poverty, with a large percentage of those students considered English-language learners or eligible for special education services. More than 40 percent of the rural students are also minorities.

Florida contributes less to public education compared with other states, with instructional spending and salaries in rural schools being comparatively low as well. In 2011, Florida spent $8,887 per primary and secondary school student compared to the national average of $10,560.

Since K-12 schools in Florida lost $1.3 billion in funding in 2011, Scott has been working to make up for the loss. In 2013-2014, $45.3 million went toward K-12 public school funding, and $7.4 million toward assisting K-12 rural schools. Much of the funding for these rural schools have gone towards expanding or establishing wireless networks.

The state is expected to pass a new state budget by the end of the special session on June 20. But the Florida Senate recently passed a bill on health care, and it is uncertain how legislators will balance the rest of the budget and how much will be left for Scott to direct towards public education, let alone rural school education.

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