BARTOW, Fla. — As Floridians await Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature on the budget, some school districts are already celebrating the projected increase in revenue.

  • District projected to get $32M in new revenue from state budget
  • $7 million of discretionary spending will go to hiring teachers
  • Polk Schools official: We want to expand offering of free classes

Polk County Public Schools is projected to receive $32 million in new revenue, although there are some strings attached.

The district must spend $15 million of it on state-mandated expenses, including the state’s "Best and Brightest" teacher bonus program, as well as extra services for schools undergoing turnaround plans.

According to a district spokesperson, around $7 million of the discretionary spending will be spent on hiring more teachers.

“We have about 1,700 new students. And so, those students are all over the district. So in some areas, we’ll need to add a teacher, and some we won't,” said Mike Perrone, the district’s chief financial officer.

Perrone said $9 million would go toward the district’s health plan.

“We had some high-cost claims over the last couple of years. The health plan is doing fine other than that, but we need to inject some revenue into that,” Perrone said. “We have a five-year plan that we have certified from the state, so we should be fine, but right now, we are running in the red."

The district also plans to use $1.5 million to help elementary school teachers gain their reading endorsement. It wants to expand its offering of free classes.

“We’re going to have to pay people at night to facilitate those classes. We needed to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the students, not only just the statute. So really, it’s a great opportunity for the students and staff to be able to do this,” said Michael Akes, the district’s chief academic officer. 

An estimated 3,000 of the district’s teachers need that reading endorsement, according to Akes.

Besides that, the additional funding will go toward paying for teacher professional development and tutoring for struggling readers, as well as increasing the school board’s contribution to the Florida Retirement System, another state mandate.

“It was greatly needed. We’ve been fighting for this for a number of years, and it was nice to get an increase in the base student allocation,” Perrone said.

The district thanked state Sen. Kelli Stargel and the Polk County legislative delegation in a news release for the increase in funding. Stargel represents Polk County and chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. She said the governor still has line-item veto authority, but it would be unlikely for him to veto the education funding.

"As education appropriations chair my desire has been to substantially increase funding for our schools. Our teachers work hard and I wanted to make sure the base student allocation provided an increase so that school boards could have the funds to negotiate raises for teachers. In addition, I prioritized the Best and Brightest funding and modifications to ensure many teachers get that bonus from State funding as well. These increases will also provide for more school safety, mental health counselors and flexible funding for the priorities of each district," Stargel said in a statement.