After years of soaring toward the top, Florida fell from fifth to 11th in a nationwide education ranking, a drop driven largely by weaker student performance and spending cuts.
Education Week's annual "Quality Counts" report gave the state a C-plus overall, down from a B-minus the year before. The study grades states based on six indicators, including K-12 achievement, standards, assessment and accountability, and school finance. The nationwide average was a C.
The biggest drops in Florida were seen in elementary and secondary education performance, where the state's score declined in all three areas measured - achievement levels, gains and the poverty gap. Thirty-seven percent of fourth graders scored as proficient in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2011, three points lower than the previous year, bringing the state's ranking from 26 down to 33. Meanwhile, the gap between low-income and more affluent students grew.
Florida's overall academic achievement score fell by more than 5 points, a bigger decline than in other states.
State education spending also got poor marks, going from an A last year to a D-plus in the 2012 report. Nearly 98 percent of students in Florida attend school in districts where per pupil spending is less than the nationwide average. Those numbers are based on 2009 figures, and education spending has only declined in the years since.
"You see a spending picture that is really of concern to those interested in public education in Florida," said Sterling Lloyd, project manager for "Quality Counts."
Lawmakers in Florida cut education spending last year by $1.35 billion, or nearly 8 percent. This year Gov. Rick Scott's recommended budget includes a $1 billion increase.
"Florida's education system ranks among the best in the nation, but we still face some challenges," Scott said in a statement. "I'm confident we will continue to improve."