JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An influx of students receiving state-funded vouchers to attend private schools has Duval school board members casting doubts on the viability of moving the district’s Southbank headquarters.
The two options currently under consideration have multi-million dollar price tags.
The first proposal, which involves moving into a new pre-existing facility, is estimated to cost around $27.5 million over 20 years.
The second, which calls for the construction of an entirely new building, has a price tag of $239 million over the next 40 years.
During a meeting Tuesday, School Board Chair Dr. Kelly Coker (District 1) said she worries the district could face financial hardships in the coming years.
Her concerns are based on the increasing number of students taking advantage of state-funded private school scholarships, which are now available to all students, regardless of family income.
“At the pace we’re going we would lose 20,000 more students in the next ten years,” said Coker.
Traditional public school enrollment in Duval has dropped by nearly 10,000 students just since 2018.
Meanwhile, the county’s overall number of state-funded students has increased by nearly 13,000 during the same time frame.
Public charter schools and students receiving state-funded private school scholarships account for virtually all that growth.
Funds backing those students can’t be used to cover the cost of a new headquarters.
The new universal private school scholarship law has members worried the exodus from traditional public schools could accelerate.
“When we began this conversation a few years ago it was pre-COVID, it was pre-House Bill 1,” said Duval County School Board Member Lori Hershey (District 7).
During Tuesday’s meeting, board members asked staff to investigate how much it would cost to renovate the current headquarters, rather than moving into or building a new facility.
They also requested information about how much a future school board might have to pay, should it have to terminate one of the proposed leases early due to financial hardships caused by dropping student enrollment.
“I don’t want to obligate a board to something that they can’t get out of,” said Coker.
Board members are planning to hear from both bidders next month.
They’re expecting to get answers to their questions about the cost of a renovation sometime in October.
A vote on next steps could come as early as November.
[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]