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Charter Schools Say They Need More Building, Maintenance Funding

Florida’s charter schools are pushing for a dedicated construction funding source. The state now has nearly 700 charters across the state, but  a major charter school proponent says the schools are struggling to sustain themselves.

When it comes to state school construction dollars there’s been a tug-of-war between traditional public schools, and charters—public schools that can operate free of many of the rules that govern their traditional counterparts. A 2011 study found charters get less public dollars than traditional schools do—a disparity largely due to a gap in how much the schools get in state construction dollars. For the past few years though, charters have gotten the bulk of that funding. But Wednesday, former Education Commissioner Jim Horne, now a charter school lobbyist, says the schools need more:

“Charter school capital has been going in reverse for a long time now.  We’ve now hit the lowest point in per-student funding for charter schools in the history of our state," he told the State Board of Education.

School districts are not obligated to share local maintenance and construction dollars raised through taxes with charter schools. Horne says about five years ago, small charters schools built new schools and entered into long-term leases based on an assumption they’d get state money to keep up their physical costs.

He’s pushing for a dedicated funding source for charter schools, but state board of education member Gary Chartrand says that’s a political hot potato. And board chairman Marva Johnson says it’s something the board needs more information about.

“There’s no geographic demand needs driving charter school funding, its not like you can say, ' we needed a school here because we had a 100 extra students so we need to place a school here so let me place it geographically here'. It’s harder for me to wrap my mind around understanding how a formula should work."

Horne says charter schools need between about $150 million to $225 million to keep up their capital costs. It could be as high as $400 million. The ask comes the state’s PECO fund continues to diminish, and the need to refurbish and construct new schools continues to increase.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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