This election year, I want to make you aware of an important referendum that will be included on the August primary ballot. Change 4 Kids is a local campaign, backed by community and business leaders, that supports the extension of the half-penny sales tax to fund construction, renovation, and technology upgrades for Orange County Public Schools (OCPS). If voters do not pass the extension, the initial half-penny tax will expire in December of 2015 leaving OCPS unfunded for necessary repairs and improvements.
The initial measure, enacted in 2002 with 60 percent of the vote, aimed to renovate 136 Orange County schools. If the half-penny tax to fund school improvements expires, 39 of the 136 schools included in the original list will be left unfunded, plus an additional 20 schools added to the list will also be left unfunded. Several factors contributed to the shortfall for renovating the original 136: the economic downturn; implementation of the Class Size Amendment and rising construction costs. Implementation of the Class Size Amendment alone represents approximately $600 million in unanticipated expenditures. By December 2015, the economic downturn is projected to result in approximately $600 million less than originally estimated.
OCPS is the 10th largest public school system in the nation and the 4th largest in Florida, serving over 187,000 students, 36% (over 67,000) of whom are Hispanics. OCPS has achieved an 87% graduation rate among traditional high schools. As it relates to our Hispanic students, in academic year 2010-11 the graduation rate was 68.6%. By the end of the academic year 2012-13, our Hispanic students’ graduation rate rose to 74.55%. This important indicator of success has brought nationwide recognition to our school district recently. Orange County has been named one of two finalists among large urban school districts in the nation for the elite Broad Prize. The Broad Prize is one of the highest honors bestowed to large urban school districts and recognizes outstanding learning gains in minority populations aside several other criteria.
Extending the half-penny tax is crucial to ensure OCPS has the necessary funding for technology needs, major repairs and improvements to our schools which in turn adequately prepare our Orange County students to compete in the global workplace.
Supporting our schools is not only a quality of life issue but also an economic development one. The highly educated young professionals and families that our region aims to attract value communities with high performing and well maintained schools. This August 26th, please help maintain Orange County’s overall advantage and vote YES to extend the half-penny sales tax.