Sunday, December 06, 2009

How many people are leaving Florida because of the recession?

A lot. Probably even more than the official numbers state. Here's an example from a story in the Orlando Sentinel:

In its early life, Camelot Elementary was Central Florida's poster child for runaway school growth.

At its most crowded, the east Orange school had more than 1,320 students on a campus built for 740 and needed 45 portable classrooms to accommodate everyone.

By 2005, portables had chewed up the basketball court, taken over the lawn and run right up to the pitcher's mound on the field behind the school.

Today, all but two of the portable classrooms are gone. The ball fields and basketball courts are restored, and the student population is below 700.

Camelot is now a school comfortable in its brick skin. The breathing room is nice. But the familiar warning -- to be careful what you wish for -- has never been more appropriate.

Dizzying population growth in past years often left schools scrambling to find places for the continuing crush of new students. But the money their families spent on everything from houses to cars to sneakers also put money in state coffers.

That, in turn, helped finance public education.

But in the past few years, population growth -- the main engine driving the state's economy -- has stalled. And this year, for the first time since World War II, more people are expected to move out of Florida than move in.

At the same time, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression is shredding school-district budgets, forcing some to close campuses, cut school days and curtail services.
But at least the economy is recovering, right?
An infusion of nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus money, credited with saving more than 18,000 education jobs in Florida, has helped stave off a deeper crisis. But the state's public schools, on average, started this school year with $418 less per kid than they had at the start of the 2007-08 school year.

State economists predict Florida's budget pain will continue for at least the next three years, with tanking growth drying up billions of dollars in needed revenue. That will hurt all services, including public education.

Schools also will be hurt by the sluggish housing market, which means fewer dollars in property taxes collected for schools, and by the loss of federal money slated to run out next year.

Finally, though enrollment has been dropping for several years -- public schools lost some 40,000 students between 2005 and 2008 -- it might be ticking upward this year. That's because a lot of recession-strapped parents seem to be pulling their children from private schools and enrolling them in public ones, state forecasters say.
The good news is that there's a reform movement afoot to raise taxes. I'm sure that will help the local economy.