- Orange County voters will decide whether or not to extend a special property tax that provides local schools with additional funding
- The tax structure has been in place for twelve years and was extended in 2014 and again in 2018
- In the last fiscal year, the tax raised more than $800 million
- School District leaders caution that its budget would need to be cut by $177 million should the measure be voted against
Voters in Orange County next month will be asked to vote for or against an extension of a special property tax that helps fund salaries for veteran teachers, as well as art and athletic programs. The measure will appear on ballots as part of the Aug. 23 primary vote.
Earlier this year the Orange County School Board in complete accord voted to put the proposal on the ballot. Active for the past twelve years, an extension would prolong the measure through 2026.
Per the Orlando Sentinel, district leaders estimate that the property tax would raise in excess of $800 million through the four-year span. in 2021, the tax provided nearly $150 million, representing a considerable portion of funding.
At the county’s median property value — $265,030 — the tax amounts to roughly $240 per year, or $20 a month. Without the tax, the school district budget would need to be slashed by $177 million, according to the same Orlando Sentinel report.
“The Orange County School District has received a funding increase from the Florida Legislature for beginning teacher pay and to achieve the $15 per hour minimum wage requirement for our lowest paid staff, but has not received adequate funding to compensate experienced teachers and support staff,” an Orange County School District resolution states. “These inflation-adjusted funding reductions have resulted in reduced funding to address programs and compensation for our most critical employees who serve the needs of our children and schools.”
County residents voted to extend the tax in 2014 and 2018. The district claims that local income accounts for 49 percent of its operating budget. Although it claims that the state contributes 51 percent, it states that this amount is insufficient to keep pace with inflation.
For the past school year, the school district reported that $85 million of the tax revenue was spent on academic programs and staff salaries, $54 million supported art programs including theater and art costs, and $7 million to help subsidize school athletic programs. The funding is not limited to public schools, as charter schools across the district received $12 million.
“The School Board has determined that it is in the best interests of all the students of Orange County, including those attending charter schools, to submit to the voters the question of approving a continuation of the additional ad valorem millage of one mill for four years for essential operating expenses,” the resolution concludes, adding that “Orange County School District needs sufficient revenues to maintain and improve its high-quality schools.”
Counties statewide have implemented similar strategies to provide better funding for schools. Palm Beach County voters in 2018 approved a tax structure similar to that of Orange County that raises property taxes. Palm Beach County’s plan encompasses more than just academic programs, such as mental health initiatives and safety services, which could lead to even more counties asking voters to partially subsidize schools via means of slightly higher taxes.