Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Education

Charter schools should get tax money for maintenance costs, Senate panel says

TALLAHASSEE — The charter school movement flexed its legislative muscle Monday, taking a big step toward winning more funding from the state.

After an hour of intense debate, the Senate Education Committee approved a controversial bill requiring local school districts to share their construction and maintenance money with charter schools.

Under current law, only traditional public schools can levy property taxes for building and maintenance. Charter schools — which receive tax dollars, but are run by independent governing boards — cannot.

Florida school districts fought hard to defeat the bill, saying it would all but kill their ability to pay down debt on existing construction projects. Parent groups chimed in, too, saying public dollars should not go to charter school facilities, which are often owned by private companies and are not part of the public domain.

Broward County schools lobbyist Georgia Slack called the bill "a disaster to our capital outlay program."

"This will cost us $20 million" a year, Slack said. "We don't have it."

Sen. Bill Montford, the lone Democrat on the committee with fellow Democratic Sen. Larcenia Bullard excused, filed 13 amendments to the bill. But only one was heard because committee members limited debate to one hour.

That amendment, which would have allowed traditional public schools to keep the construction and maintenance dollars, failed.

The overall bill passed 5-1.

"If this bill is passed (without amendments), this will result in an increase of financial stress on our school districts' debt burden," said Montford, who is also the chief executive officer of the Florida Associations of District School Superintendents.

Montford noted that charter schools received $55 million from the state's Public Education Capital Outlay fund last year, while traditional public schools received nothing.

Last week, the House removed the provision about sharing construction and maintenance money from its bill.

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