Frequently Asked Questions
The half-penny sales tax is estimated to raise approximately $121-131 million per year for ten years. Tourists will pay a portion of the sales tax, but all of it will benefit students in Hillsborough County.
Here are some common questions about the half-penny sales tax.
Why should I support this tax, especially if I don’t have children or grandchildren attending public schools?
Education has a direct impact on everyone, regardless of their level of involvement in schools. It results in higher incomes, better jobs, rising property values and a healthy economy. The children who sit in our classrooms today are the people who will soon handle your medications and repair your car. Our parents, grandparents, and neighbors paid for education for each of us — we have a lifetime obligation to invest in the next generation.
How will I know if the school district is doing what it says it will do with the money?
A seven-member Citizen Oversight Committee reviews the spending, progress and completion of all projects. They have access to all records to make sure money is spent as promised. The committee includes: Chair Betty Castor, Former USF President; Vice Chair Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister; Bonnie Carr, Former HCC Chief Financial Officer; Rick Lott, Mayor of Plant City; Ed Narain, Former State Representative; Past Tampa Chamber of Commerce Chair Jose Valiente; and a school district leader. The six citizens cannot be employed by our district or benefit financially from the projects.
How much will does this tax cost me?
A typical family in Hillsborough County pays $63 a year. The amount is based on IRS sales tax tables for a typical household with the county's median annual income of $51,681.
Will this tax last forever?
No, it will last ten years, beginning Jan. 1, 2019.
Does any of this money go to School Board or administrative salaries?
No, the money can only be spent on repairs, maintenance, technology, security, and new schools.
Doesn’t the school district already receive a portion of our sales tax?
Yes, our district receives 1/8 of a penny from the Hillsborough County sales tax—resulting in less local support than all our neighboring counties. It was passed in 1996 as part of the Community Investment Tax and is woefully inadequate to cover current needs and growth.
What about the money from the Florida Lottery, doesn’t that fund schools?
Our school district does receive some money from the lottery program to help meet the constitutional requirements for maximum class sizes, and funds go to the School Recognition and School Improvement programs. This year, the school district will receive approximately $9.1 million in School Recognition and School Improvement funds. This amounts to a small fraction of our district’s annual budget; with more than 14,000 teachers and more than 230 schools, $9.1 million is not even enough money to run our district for one day.
What would have happened if voters did not approve the half-penny sales tax for education?
Failure to get a new funding source through the sales surtax would mean our students would face a future in aging, crowded schools. It would also mean increasing the amount spent on debt as we borrow money to deal with basic needs such as urgent air conditioning and roof repairs, reducing the amount available over the long term for maintenance at existing schools.
Needed maintenance and renovations on existing buildings would continue to be deferred due to lack of revenue, eventually costing more money in the future due to building and equipment failures.
Are there alternatives to the sales tax?
Yes, with limiting factors:
- Borrow more money. This adds to the cost because of interest payments. And borrowed money isn’t free—it needs to be repaid.
- Impact fees on newly built homes. Developers pay a one-time impact fee when a new home is built, but the amount is not enough to keep up with growth and the number of new schools needed in our district. The Board of County Commissioners sets the impact fee rate. By law, a study must be completed before increasing rates. The county has started the process. These dollars can only be used to pay for growth, not repairs, maintenance, technology or security for existing schools.
- Property tax increase. The Legislature controls the property tax rate, also called the millage rate. The Legislature lowered the local school millage rate in 2008-2009 and has not increased it in the past decade, costing our district an estimated $400 million. To raise property taxes, the Legislature would have to increase its cap on property taxes, or voters would need to approve a local property tax increase with a ballot referendum. In either case, only property owners would pay, whereas a sales tax is shared by all residents and tourists.
- Reduce spending. Our district has done that by creating a plan to reduce spending and identify new sustainable revenue streams. We have already cut more than 400 vacant positions, eliminated or reassigned 150 district positions, and reduced travel, district budgets, and overtime. Florida is ranked 45th out of 51 in educational spending (Washington, D.C. included). Education Week released a report in June giving Florida an "F" grade in spending. We will continue to work with our legislative partners to advocate for increased education spending, which is especially needed now in light of the most recent pandemic.
There are no other options.
How would the additional funds raised through a sales tax be used?
Funding from the half-penny sales tax Education Referendum would be spent on specific projects to improve our public schools:
- Replacing or overhauling 203 air conditioners.
- Fixing 63 leaky roofs and many more needed maintenance projects that protect taxpayer investment, such as exterior and interior painting.
- Investing $23 million in upgrading safety and security systems and providing state-of-the-art equipment and facilities designed to create safe environments for our children.
- Dedicating $25 million to new classroom technology — preparing students for college and tomorrow's careers in the workforce.
Why can’t all our schools’ air conditioning issues be handled right away, in the first year or two?
There are a few reasons. First, we will only be spending the referendum money as we receive it. The half-penny sales tax is expected to bring our district $121-131 million each year, but that money doesn’t come “up front”—it comes to us as sales taxes are spent across the county throughout the year. So we need to schedule projects as we collect the money to pay for them.
Also, whole-school A/C replacements are massive projects that often involve tearing out classroom ceilings to replace ductwork, using cranes to lift chiller units, and have more than 50 workers on site at one time. Because of that, the work can only be done during the summer, when schools are closed. There are only a limited number of contractors, skilled trade workers, and engineers in our area that can complete the work—which limits the number of air conditioner overhauls that can be done each year.
How do facility needs impact student achievement and our community?
- Research shows that cooling hot schools leads to more effective learning by students.
- Increased safety brings a level of comfort to students, staff, and community, increasing the likelihood of an environment that fosters high quality education.
- Today’s students need modern technology to prepare for tomorrow’s workforce.
- Excellent schools raise property values and make our county more attractive to businesses, creating high quality jobs.
- Stronger, well-maintained and properly built schools provide our community with better shelters during natural disasters.
- New schools improve efficiency in transportation and prevent overcrowding of current schools, which has a direct impact on student learning.
What’s the difference between capital and operational money?
Capital dollars are for buildings, maintenance, technology, security, and repaying money borrowed to make capital improvements in the past. Revenue from a half-penny sales tax can only be used on capital expenses.
Operational is largely for salaries, along with overhead expenses, such as utilities, materials, and classroom supplies.
Both types of money are regularly audited and our district has produced consistent, clean audit reports along with a district credit rating that is above average compared to school districts across the U.S.
Are the projects on the referendum list the only maintenance and repairs that will be done at these schools over the next ten years?
No. The school-by-school list is made up of additional projects that will be completed on top of the normal repair and maintenance projects that are typically funded through our existing property tax millage. Our district will continue to receive this millage money and will direct it to regular repairs and upgrades. The referendum funding provides a new source of revenue, accelerating projects that otherwise would not have been tackled for many years into the future or may not have been able to be completed at all.
Are charter schools eligible for funding from the referendum?
Charter schools are only eligible for funding through the half-penny sales surtax by meeting three criteria that parallel the needs and situation of district-operated schools:
- The facility must be owned, and not leased, by the charter school
- The facility must demonstrate a need due to deferred maintenance and inadequate funding
- The Citizen Oversight Committee must review the proposed project and validate that the facility meets the eligibility criteria