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School districts leave $112M on the table despite 18,000 students still missing from classroom

File photo
File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – During a House committee meeting Wednesday, Florida lawmakers continued looking for answers to why students went missing from the school system after the pandemic hit.

They’re displeased with the progress made so far, and they say more than $100 million meant to help find the kids has been left on the table.

Last fall there were 88,000 students missing from the classroom. The number was down to just shy of 19,000 students as of September first.

Of the missing students, 2,432 were identified as truant, while the remaining 16,463 have not yet been tracked down.

“We went from 70,000 down to 16,000 or 19,000, which is a pretty good number,” said Rep. Matt Willhite.

But Rep. Randy Fine argued with the amount of money thrown at the problem the number should be much lower.

“Every student who is not going to school is a life destroyed,” said Fine.

Of the $112 million allocated to find and help missing students, only two districts requested a combined total of $4,000.

“I think that is a disconcerting notion that all of us should have questions about,” said Fine.

Rep. Susan Valdes argued districts may have been hesitant to spend the one-time dollars on reoccurring costs.

“Being able to hire more of these professionals to do this work, I can see why school districts maybe did not go that route,” said Valdes.

It’s not just the money allocated to find missing kids that have been left on the table. There is also $1.2 billion in available federal emergency funds that has yet to be spent by school districts.

“On average school districts have only spent 48 percent of the money they have access to today,” said Fine.

But Rep. Robin Bartleman suggested bureaucracy at the Department of Education could be bottlenecking the flow of funds.

“Ask your personal school districts how many times they go back with the DOE until their plan is accepted,” said Bartleman.

Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee agree, more needs to be done to get to the bottom of why the money isn’t being spent.