Orange County Public Schools urges voters to renew half-cent sales tax in November election

The largest school district in Central Florida and the eighth largest in the nation is making a public plea for voters to renew the half-cent sales tax for school funding.

The current half-cent sales tax for Orange County residents is set to expire at the end of 2025.

In 2014, Orange County residents voted in favor of the half-cent sales tax, bringing the total sales tax to 6.5%. The money collected funds capital improvements for Orange County Public Schools (OCPS).

Over the past 10 years, billions of dollars have been spent building new schools to relieve overcrowding. School officials said that because of this, the use of portables dropped by about 75%.

For existing schools, the money goes toward big-ticket items.

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"One-hundred percent of the dollars we use to renovate those schools to keep the air conditioning running, to keep the roofs on," Orange County School Board Chair Theresa Jacobs said during Monday's State of the Schools event. "One-hundred percent comes from that half-penny sales tax, and without it, our schools are going to be dilapidated, and that’s just not OK for our kids."

If the half-cent sales tax is not approved by voters, school officials say it would be a huge step backward, and there could be a shortfall of more than $4 billion over the next 10 years.

"Overcrowded classrooms, more portables – we would be going back to what it looked like 20 years ago," OCPS Superintendent Dr. Maria Vazquez said. 

Orange County Public Schools held its State of the Schools event on June 3, 2024. 

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If the half-cent sales tax is not renewed, leaders said it could also impact future raises for teachers and staff.

"Without the renewal of the half-penny, that means we’re going to have to tap into some of those other dollars," Vazquez said. "We really would be facing dire straits. We know how critical our teachers are, and we want to be able to pay them more, so we will continue to look for those dollars to increase salaries."

Times are already tough when it comes to hiring school bus drivers. Last year, OCPS was short more than 100 drivers. 

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"I’m alarmed that we’re not investing enough money in this state in education," Jacobs said. "I’m alarmed that our teachers in spite of 9% raise are not making enough money to live in this community. I’m alarmed that we don’t have enough people entering the field of education.

Voters go to the polls in November to decide on the half-cent sales tax for Orange County.