Charter school group pushes for equal funding

Feb 22, 2012

Florida’s charter schools are looking for some extra money this year, and they’ve set their sights on traditional public schools to get it. Lynn Hatter reports the charter groups held a rally in Tallahassee Wednesday to urge the legislature to pass bills that would give them both enrollment and financial boosts.

Cheri Shannon with the Florida Charter School Alliance has a specific list of demands:

 “Encourage the regular traditional districts to implement the high performing law passed last year and the virtual law that was passed last year because there have been a lot of denials for the expansion of virtual and high performing. And, that the new legislation for equitable funding is passed.” 

Last year the legislature passed bills creating “high-performing” charter schools which allow them to add grade levels and open up additional schools. It also passed a bill that expanded the state’s virtual school option down to elementary grades. But Shannon says her group’s top priority is securing more funding.

 “They are all public school children and should be funded at the same level as district children. All deserve the same kind of support from the state of Florida.”  

The Alliance is backing a proposal making its way through the Senate that calls on public school districts to share some of its school maintenance and construction money with charter schools. Last week a House education committee tried and failed to attach similar language onto a charter bill working its way through the chamber. The proposal to split those tax dollars has been met with resistance from school districts.

 “I happened to have been around several years ago when the charter school bill was passed. In fact, I was representing one of the first charter schools that was awarded a charter.” 

Longtime lobbyist Joy Frank now represents the Florida Association of District School Superintendent’s. And she says the charter schools’ demands are back-tracking on their original promise not to ask for any construction money.

 “At that time, there were several promises that were made when the bill was passed. One, that those who provided charter schools could do it less expensively than the public school setting and also, that they would not come and ask for capital outlay.” 

Frank made those comments before a Senate panel discussing the property tax revenue share bill. Today, charter schools receive an equal amount of money per student as traditional schools do, and for the last two years, have received the bulk of school maintenance and construction money allocated by the legislature. Governor Rick Scott says he likes the Senate proposal.

 “It makes all the sense in the world that we have choice for our parents. All of us have children. We want the best for our kids. We have to fund it fairly, and it takes capital, it takes new buildings, it takes refurbishing classrooms. And we have to be fair in how we allocate those dollars.”  

The fight over funding comes as state support for public school capital projects has dwindled to almost nothing. It’s been nearly two years since public schools received any school construction money. Under budget proposals in the House and Senate, charter schools would get $55 million for capital projects in the upcoming fiscal year.

A recent study done by a state spending watch group, Florida Tax Watch, says charter schools receive about 30-percent less money than traditional public schools.