Families picking up free meals at schools has become the new normal in South Florida. Now both the Broward and Miami-Dade school districts have moved to a twice-a-week schedule for food handouts.
The superintendents in each county see an acute need to feed children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no alternative, if we do not provide food to kids and families, kids will go hungry,” said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
“We continue to see the meal count go up every week by 20 to 30,000” added the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, Robert Runcie.
Each school district is getting help to defray the cost of the feedings, from the federal government and from the Miami Dolphins, the United Way, and other agencies. Nonetheless, the food program is still taking a chunk out of their budgets, but it’s pocket change compared to what’s looming down the road.
“Based on what we’re seeing, we’re estimating, depending on what state and school district you might be in, that school systems can see revenue shortfalls in the range of 15 to 20 to 25% unless there’s federal intervention and funds to offset some of those losses,” Runcie said.
In Florida, the picture is especially bleak because our state’s economy relies on sales taxes fueled by tourism.
“With Port Miami shut down, with Disney World shut down, with all those restaurants and private sector entities not generating sales taxes, we’re gonna see a huge, huge hole in the state budget,” Carvalho explained.
Carvalho said in the first two federal relief acts, known as CARES, Florida received about $943 million for education, which includes colleges and universities. The superintendents say that won’t be nearly enough to deal with the issues on their horizon. For example, taking steps to address learning losses kids are experiencing right now.
“And so we want to be able to make that up by extending the school year into the summer and having very robust summer programs, possibly extending time during the school year as well, all of those things are gonna cost us to deliver those services,” Runcie said. “So just to give you some context, in the 2008 recession, in that funding that came out there was over a hundred billion dollars, so far only about $17 billion has been allocated for k-12.”
So the local school districts, joined by many others around the nation, are asking Congress for $200 billion for K-12 education in the next pandemic relief bill. It’s an investment, they say, not a handout.
“To deal with students with disabilities, to deal with the cost of distance learning, to deal with the investments we had to make last minute in terms of buying more hot spots in addition to the general operating expenses associated with paying teachers and paying our work force,” Carvalho said.