Fla. schools slide in national ranking

Florida’s public schools no longer land among the top 10 education systems in the country in a ranking by a national publication released Thursday.

The state’s school system dropped from No. 5 to No. 11 in the annual “Quality Counts” report card issued by Education Week, a national publication. School budget cuts paired with stagnant performance on national tests kept Florida off the publication’s top 10 list for the first time in four years.

Florida earned a C+, down from a B- last year.

“We know that our educational system has been strained by the economic downturn,” said state Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson.

The rankings are based on statistics from 2009 -- before last year, when $1.3 billion was cut from the state’s education budget. Florida students’ performance on national test scores has not improved much since then, either.

“We fell the most of any state,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the state teachers union. “We anticipate we’re going to fall even further.”

In 2009, state lawmakers cut $466 million in education funding. In 2011, they cut $1.3 billion.

While Gov. Rick Scott has pledged to add $1 billion for schools in this year’s proposed budget, some say that is not enough.

“It’s not all about money, but at some point it does take money to run a school system and a high-quality one,” said Colleen Wood, founder of 50th No More, a state group dedicated to increased spending for public schools.

The group’s name refers to Florida’s last-place rank among states for how much of an individual’s income goes to public schools.

In Florida, $35.89 per $1,000 of a person’s income goes toward public education, compared to the national average of $47.74, according to a U.S. Census report released last May, using numbers from the 2008-09 school year.

That is not to be confused with per-pupil spending, where Florida ranks 41st in the same report: $10,098 for every student. Maryland, ranked first in the Education Week analysis, spent $13,449 for every student. (Education Week put Florida at No. 39 in per-pupil spending, a D+.)

State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who sits on the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, called Florida’s slide in the rankings “a wake-up call for legislators and policymakers.”

“It goes to show that we still have a long way to go,” she said.

Flores said Scott’s proposal to boost education funding would “help somewhat.” She also said recent changes to statewide education policy, such as performance pay for teachers, would soon bear fruit.

Calls for comment to Sen. Mike Bennett and Rep. Greg Steube, Republican lawmakers from Manatee County, were not immediately returned Thursday night.

Getting F’s from Education Week: Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Education Week measures academic achievement by tabulating such factors as graduation rates, enrollment in Advanced Placement classes and scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The NAEP math and reading exams, administered to a sample of state students every two years, are regarded as the national standard for comparing student achievement from state to state.

Education Week gives Florida an A for its “standards, assessments and accountability.” For K-12 student achievement, the state dropped six spots from last year to No. 12, with a C-.

Robinson said that while statewide participation in AP classes and graduation rates have grown, the gains were not enough to offset stagnant NAEP scores from the previous two testing cycles.

Last year’s scores did not improve, either: Fourth-grade math scores remained at 240, the same as 2009, and eighth-grade scores decreased a point to 278.

“There are some areas where we have success and some challenges,” Robinson said.

Locally, school district leaders pointed to the report as further proof that cash-strapped districts need more state funding.

“You can’t automatically guarantee excellence in schools by just putting out standards. You need to be more thoughtful to bring about change,” said Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie. “We need more resources.”

At a Miami-Dade School Board workshop meeting Thursday, Enid Weisman, assistant superintendent for human resources and labor relations, said: “There’s still lots of work to do.”