State Innovation – Property Tax and Trust Fund
The idea of a dedicated funding source for children began in 1945 in Pinellas County. A local attorney Leonard Cooperman, tired of seeing troubled youth go to jail so early in their life, thought there must be a better way for communities to offer services for children in need. Cooperman created legislation to establish an independent body of community leaders and citizens that would focus exclusively on the welfare of children in Pinellas County.
The Florida Legislature passed a local bill allowing Pinellas County to establish a special district for children called a “juvenile welfare board,” and levy property tax, subject to voter approval. The measure was approved in 1946 by an 80 to 20 margin. In 1986 the state passed Chapter 125 of Florida Statutes, which allows for the work in Pinellas County to be replicated through the creation and operation of a Children’s Services Council.
Today there are eight counties that have a Children’s Services Council, including one in Miami-Dade that is profiled in the toolkit. These eight counties (out of 67 total) include many of the largest urban areas of the state and more than half of Florida’s children. The average property owner pays between $50 and $120 in additional tax per year to support these Children’s Services Councils. Through this mechanism, the money that is raised through the tax goes directly back into serving the needs of that community. Combined, these counties generate over $350 million dollars annually.
Number of Counties with a Children's Services Council
Average Additional Tax per Year for Children's Services Council
Amount All 8 Counties Generate Annually (in millions)
Think of each county’s Children’s Services Council like a “trust fund.” Each council is an independent legislative body that manages and distributes the funds that are generated through the new property tax. The funds are used for specific priority areas such as arriving to kindergarten ready to learn, being raised in a safe and supportive community, and having access to quality after school programs.
Strategy to Pass Local Legislation
It takes a large, coordinated effort to successfully pass a local ballot initiative to create a Children’s Services Council in a county where one does not currently exist. The Miami-Dade case study chronicles what it took to win the ballot initiative.
Recent Ballot Measures
In 2010, the state legislature gave voters an opportunity to extend Chapter 125, the statute that allows for the creation of Children’s Services Councils. Voters in five of the eight counties had the opportunity to eliminate their Children’s Services Councils if the reauthorization vote failed to pass. Community leaders organized and built their own 501(c)4 organizations and created campaigns to advocate for continuing to support Children’s Services Councils. These groups highlighted the work that local service providers were doing and showed the benefits to at-risk families. The reauthorization passed in all five counties by large margins of victory ranging from 75% to 86%.