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Scott recommends $100 million for Florida charter schools

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday released a key detail of his proposed education budget: $100 million for charter school construction and maintenance.

His recommendation was welcome news for charter school advocates. If approved by state lawmakers, it would represent a $25 million increase from the current year.

"This is a lifeline for us," said former state Rep. Ralph Arza, who represents the Florida Charter School Alliance. "It helps us provide classroom space and desks for students across the state."

Scott would not say if he planned to recommend construction and maintenance dollars for traditional public schools, too.

Traditional schools received more than $100 million for capital projects in the 2014-15 budget. Nearly $60 million of the total went to seven small counties.

Charter schools and traditional public schools have been battling over facilities funding since the economic downturn, when the state's school construction fund began drying up.

In 2012 and 2013, state lawmakers awarded virtually all of the money to charter schools. Their rationale: Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools cannot levy property taxes to support construction and maintenance.

But local school systems have argued they, too, need the funding because most of their property tax revenues go toward paying down debt.

"We could definitely use more help in the area of facilities and, especially, technology," Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado said Thursday.

Both charter schools and school districts are likely to ask the Legislature to consider new sources of funding for facilities. Charter schools in particular are seeking a steady stream of revenue to help with construction costs.

Scott's announcement Thursday was part of a larger rollout of the governor's proposed budget.

On Monday, Scott said he would like to see lawmakers increase the statewide K-12 education budget from $18.9 billion to $19.75 billion. His recommendation includes $7,716 per student — a record-high figure, not accounting for inflation.

Scott unveiled the charter school plan at the Sports Leadership and Management Academy, or SLAM, charter school the in Little Havana area of Miami.

The announcement was practically drowned out by loud dance music and screaming teenage girls. Standing on stage with Scott was Miami-born recording artist Pitbull, whose real name is Armando Christian Pérez.

Pérez has championed SLAM and was in Miami to celebrate his birthday and announce an expansion of the school.

Plenty of politicians were on hand to proclaim it Pitbull Day in Miami. And in Miami-Dade County. And in Florida. The governor himself placed a blue ribbon over Pérez's head, recognizing him as an arts ambassador.

Scott is expected to release his entire budget proposal later this month. That announcement will likely take place without the dance music.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com. Contact Christina Veiga at cveiga@MiamiHerald.com.

Scott recommends $100 million for Florida charter schools 01/15/15 [Last modified: Thursday, January 15, 2015 10:05pm]
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