By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
VOLUSIA COUNTY - A dollar is a dollar - but not at the Florida Education Finance Program. There, a dollar is 96 cents. At least for the Volusia County Schools it is. For other school districts, a dollar is upwards to $1.03.
District officials say Volusia's students are getting shortchanged by the District Cost Differential, or DCD, a formula used in allocating state education money to counties.
By the end of the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the cumulative affect of changes made to the state's education-finance formula in 2004 will be a $100-million loss, the largest in the state.
"I call it vampire budgeting," said Dr. Robert Moll, deputy school superintendent for financial and business, referring to taking money from one district to feed another. "From my perspective, a dollar should be worth a dollar. If you're going to have a Base Student Allocation, it should be the same for every one."
The state has a variety of formulas that go into divvying up allocated money among school districts. Likely the most familiar is the Base Student Allocation - what the state gives districts according to their student counts. This fiscal year, that allocation was $3,479 a student. However, the cost-differential formula increases or decreases what districts get from the student allocation depending on cost-of-living and average wages.
In Volusia, $3,479 a student turned into about $3,356, because the county has comparatively low wages. The district lost about $7.8 million in state education funding this fiscal year, because of the cost-differential formula. The state's student allocation for the schools' next budget year is $3,583. The district, Dr. Moll estimates, will lose about $8 million through the District Cost Differential.
Those dollars flow to districts such as Hillsborough County, where prices and average wages are higher. Last year, Hillsborough received an additional $9.7 million through the cost-differential formula. The $3,479 a student allocation turned into about $3,523 for that county.
"When the DCD first came into existence, the (state) senate did indicate they wanted periodic reviews," Dr. Moll said. "There hasn't been a review of this formula in 10 years. We need a study. That's all we're asking for at this time."
State Sen. Evelyn Lynn, Daytona Beach, said that isn't likely to happen soon.
"I think it's time we have a study," she said. "The problem is the counties that benefit (from the cost-differential formula) resist studies."
The District Cost Differential used to be based primarily on cost-of-living differences among school districts. For example, if average rent was slightly more in one place than another, the state would adjust the student allocations according to cost-of-living formulas. That never sat well with the late Sen. Jim King, Jacksonville. The cost-of-living formula cost Duval schools some of their student allocations.
When Mr. King was elected president of the Florida Senate in 2003, he pushed to have the formula evaluated and changed. The result was average wages was included in the District Cost Differential formula. Since the formula change, Duval has gotten an additional $34.5 million through the cost differential formula.
Dr. Moll said the school district is seeking ways to make more people aware that Volusia is the biggest loser in the current District Cost Differential formula.
"We're going to do a major push on the DCD issue," he said. "We really have to go all out."