Florida superintendents fear threat to capital outlay tax revenue
Florida superintendents are going on defense to protect their locally generated tax revenue that's dedicated to school maintenance, construction and other capital projects.
The district leaders, who have met the past three days in Tallahassee, are growing increasingly concerned that state lawmakers will target the tax as a source of regular revenue for charter schools. Driving their fear is a recent presentation by Rep. Erik Fresen, chairman of House Education Appropriations, in which he suggested that districts are misspending their construction funds.
Fresen pushed to divert the capital outlay tax to charter schools in 2015, but got nowhere. There's no bill in play right now proposing the same, but that's not stopping superintendents from lobbying their local delegations to try to stop any forward motion on the idea.
"We are pretty confident there will be some language somewhere," said Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning, who sits on the state superintendents association board of directors. "If I were a betting man, I would bet it's going to happen."
Browning contended that Fresen's recent Power Point was filled with misrepresentations of school district spending, and suspected it was to lay the groundwork for justifying a shift in the money flow. He said superintendents have begun talking to lawmakers to educate them "what the truth is."
"It's all about taking part of the 1.5 mills for fixed capital outlay and diverting it to charter schools," he said. "If they're going to take part, just take it. Don't throw school districts under the bus doing it."
Officials from Pasco and other districts around Florida indicated they plan to bring detailed information to their delegations, explaining how their construction funds are spent. They also plan to explain how cutting the local revenue stream, which lawmakers reduced from 2 mills to 1.5 mills about a decade ago, would have negative financial effects on districts.
The time to file bills is about past, meaning this issue could find its way into the more complicated budgeting process if it emerges at all. Some observers have questioned whether lawmakers would try a controversial move in an election year, while others suggested the timing might be just right. Stay tuned.