Florida lawmaker revives push for dedicated capital funding source for charter schools
The debate over whether to provide a steady revenue stream for charter school construction and maintenance projects is returning to the Florida Legislature.
And Senate Education Appropriations chairman David Simmons says he's found a win-win scenario to get money to the state's more than 600 charter schools without hurting the more than 3,000 traditional public schools.
"We continue to use about $75 million of general revenue money to pay for capital funding for charter schools," Simmons said, referring to the Legislature's allocation of Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) funds, which has shrunk for districts. "I am looking for ways to get the dedicated funding source, but also to help our traditional schools at the same time."
Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican, has filed two complementary bills to tackle the situation.
With SB 604, he proposes increasing the maximum tax property rate districts may impose for capital projects, from $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value to $1.70 per $1,000. Superintendents have long advocated for such an move, which many consider a restoration of the rate that was slashed almost a decade ago. Leaders of fast-growing districts have been most passionate about getting added funding, as they struggle to afford new schools.
In SB 376, Simmons would give some of the added tax revenue to charter schools. He would, however, place some caveats on eligibility.
On one hand, he would prioritize those charter schools that have at least 75 percent of low-income students or at least 25 percent of students with disabilities. On the other, he would disqualify charter schools whose ownership would receive "personal financial enrichment" through the arrangement.
For instance, a school that is owned and leased from a party or entity that is affiliated with the school, such as a corporate partner of the charter entity, would not be eligible. Questions of such arrangements have been raised for years, and Simmons deemed such a requirement a "rational provision" to protect the public's interest.
Some House members fought a similar recommendation in the past. Simmons said he would be open to modifications, if the explanations make sense.
In recent years, school district officials have both pushed for added capital funding and tried to protect what they have from being sent to charters. Simmons figured his two bills could achieve both goals.
The initiative could face pushback in the House, though, where leaders have signaled a desire to cut spending along with the priority of reducing -- not raising -- tax rates. Simmons sounded hopeful that the longtime House effort to put more money into charter schools might land everyone at the place he's put forward.
"We are trying to cooperate on a lot of fronts," Simmons said, mentioning his House counterparts. "I look forward to seeing what proposals they have."