Florida improves in school survey

Published: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:02 p.m.

Florida's educational system has been maligned by some in recent years over everything from budget cuts to the importance assigned to FCAT results.

But one prominent annual nationwide survey says Florida is doing pretty well on K-12 education - and is continuing to improve.

Released Wednesday, Education Week magazine's Quality Counts 2009 report gave Florida a B-minus and ranked the state 10th in the country.

That is up from a C-plus and a ranking of 14th in the 2007 report and a ranking of 36th in the 2006 report.

In a press release, Gov. Charlie Crist said the report "clearly indicates that Florida schools are on the right track and that our students are being prepared to compete with students across the nation."

Reaction to the report was mixed in North Central Florida.

Alachua County School District officials did not share Crist's enthusiasm. They pointed to the C-minus grade and the ranking of 39th on school finance, including an F for school spending.

With state legislators eyeing a potential $467 million cut in K-12 funding during the special session, Alachua County School District spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said she expects the state's grade for education spending to get worse in future years.

"And it's hard to believe you can get worse than an F," Johnson added.

In an e-mail, Marion County School District spokesman Kevin Christian said the emphasis on the FCAT likely contributed to the state's A-minus grade for assessment and accountability.

Christian also believed emphasis on college preparation helped lead to Florida's strong showing - sixth in the nation - for student performance on advanced placement tests.

Christian noted that the low ranking on school funding comes as state government shifts more of the burden for funding schools to local school districts who have "extremely limited" options for raising revenue in a time of recession and lower property values.

Florida did receive high finance marks for equity, which means state spending on K-12 education did not vary much among the state's school districts.

"What that figure shows is that school funding is equally poor across the state," Alachua County Superintendent of Schools Dan Boyd said in a press release.

Alachua County school officials say the district has seen a reduction of $21 million in state funding since the beginning of the 2007-08 school year.

This was the 13th year Education Week has released its Quality Counts report. The magazine's statistical research is done in conjunction with the Pew Center on the States.

The overall grade takes into account dozens of criteria. Some of them are academic standards, student achievement, school accountability, teacher training requirements and school spending.

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