TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – More than 87,000 students didn’t show up for this school year and lawmakers are working to find out why and where they are.
While some students likely moved to virtual or homeschooling, others simply were not participating at all last year and some lawmakers are pushing for more accountability from parents.
Senate President Wilton Simpson believes a large chunk were so-called ‘redshirt kindergarteners’ who delayed starting school for a year.
“So I’m hoping that we discover that we have 65,000 redshirt freshmen going into kindergarten next year,” said Simpson.
But Representative Randy Fine believes a substantial number of students didn’t receive any education at all.
“I believe it’s a five-figure number,” said Fine.
He said Florida superintendents have done their best to try and get kids back in the system, but they need more tools to hold parents accountable.
“Parents know their kids are supposed to go to school. So if their kids aren’t going to school, they’re abusing them. And so maybe we need this to be a form of child abuse and yeah, maybe we do need to put parents in jail,” said Fine.
Regardless of why the students are unaccounted for, their presence or absence will impact state funding.
The amount of funding received by school districts is directly tied to the number of students who actually show up in classrooms.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls sent a letter to superintendents urging them to do whatever it takes to find the missing students.
“Both from a moral obligation to make sure that those kids have an opportunity to learn, as well as from a budgetary standpoint as we build our K-12 budget, we need to be as accurate as humanly possible about how many kids we can expect to come back,” said Sprowls.
And while most districts saw a decline in enrollment last year, three counties actually saw more students than they’d anticipated.
Florida Virtual School also saw more than 14,000 additional students.