As we consider renewing the 1-mill tax referendum to support the Sarasota County School District, it’s important to realize it serves more than just the students and parents enrolled in the system.
Our A-rated district boosts our economy through training programs that enhance our workforce. Our A-rated district enhances the area’s appeal to businesses looking to relocate. Our A-rated district promotes innovation and ingenuity on our college campuses by properly preparing students. Really, our A-rated district sustains a foundation of education that elevates our entire community ecosystem.
Now, our community has the power to sustain the fuel that’s enabled the district’s success and ensure that our county continues to provide every community member the freedom to rise through education. Sarasota and St. Johns are the only two A-rated districts in the state, and we want to keep it that way.
The 1-mill tax referendum has delivered needed dollars to the district for 20 years. The funding will support a variety of initiatives, including school security and safety, Summer Learning Programs, and Pre-K and early learning opportunities. It’ll also solidify salaries for teachers and guidance counselors who have shepherded so many students over the years. The referendum will maintain an added 30 minutes of instruction per school day. Over a K-12 span, those additional 30 minutes total to an added year of instruction.
As an organization that works every day at the intersection of early learning, youth success and financial stability, we can’t fathom crippling the district at such a pivotal time in our nation’s history.
The first several years of a child’s life are one of the most powerful predictors of lifetime success. Knowing this, investing in these early years has long been an objective of the United Way Suncoast. Quality early-childhood education and literacy by the third grade have long-term implications for academic achievement and financial stability. Childcare access and early literacy — already issues of concern in the Suncoast region prior to COVID-19 — encountered significant new barriers due to the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic.
In 2020, only 50% of our children tested as ready for school and reading on grade level in the five counties we serve. In our attendance zones of focus, those percentages drop to 34% and 28% respectively. Children who attend a high-quality early learning environment are 80% more likely to graduate from high school on time. Children who read on grade-level by the time they leave fourth grade are not only prepared for reading to learn, but they are also four times more likely to graduate from high school.
We aren’t the only ones who understand the importance of investing in education. Businesses, and organizations – including both political parties – have endorsed the referendum.
The pandemic had every public institution striving to solve daily problems while searching for long-term solutions. As the fog of the virus begins to lift, it’s time to rally behind our teachers and administrators because our students deserve no less than our full support. Supporting our schools doesn’t end with the referendum, but it certainly starts with its passage. That is why United Way Suncoast supports the Sarasota County Schools Referendum Renewal.