Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Taxpayers assume risk, little gain for charter schools

Florida has invested heavily in privately run charter schools for years, and the payoff for taxpayers has been uneven at best. While some successful charter schools fill particular needs in local communities, too many have failed and research shows they have not outperformed traditional public schools in the state. Taxpayers also have lost millions in construction costs and other capital investments when charter schools have closed, and state lawmakers should revisit the oversight and funding for these schools.

The state has lost as much as $70 million in money for construction, rent and other costs when charter schools have closed over the last 15 years, a recent Associated Press analysis found. In Broward County, 19 now-closed charter schools received $16.5 million. In Hillsborough County, 17 now-closed charter schools received more than $5.4 million. In Pasco County, three now-closed charter schools received more than $900,000, and in Pinellas County three received almost $550,000. In Miami-Dade County, the Liberty City Charter that Jeb Bush helped establish before he ran for governor in 1998 received more than $1 million in capital money from the state before it closed with financial problems. Why should taxpayers be shouldering such financial risk and eating these losses for privately run schools?

It would be one thing if traditional public schools were flush with cash with no need for new construction or maintenance. In fact, the state's 67 school districts received no new construction money for three years before finally dividing a modest $50 million last year (a handful of rural counties got another $59.7 million). Those facilities are used by more than 2.7 million students, yet far fewer charter schools that served about 230,000 students split $75 million. This year traditional schools and charter schools each received $50 million, and Gov. Rick Scott recommends public schools and charter schools each get $75 million for construction and maintenance for 2016-17. But a 50-50 split of the money is hardly fair. Pinellas County schools alone have more than $400 million in construction and capital needs over the next five years, yet the district has received just $8.1 million in construction and maintenance money from the state over the last five years.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, overall have received more than $760 million from taxpayers for capital costs since 2000, the AP reported. In 2012 and 2013, they got virtually all of the state money for construction and maintenance. Charter school advocates argue that the money is critical to their success, and they point out they do not have the authority to levy local property taxes to pay for those capital costs like school districts can for traditional public schools. But charters are not always small operations. They are often managed by large, for-profit companies such as Charter Schools USA, which won approval from the Hillsborough School Board this fall to run four new schools with up to 4,650 students. Passing through tax dollars for per student funding, paying public money for construction and maintenance, and allowing for less regulation for charter schools where private management companies make a profit at little risk is a pretty sweet deal.

Florida taxpayers will never get back the $70 million lost on construction costs for failed charter schools. At the very least, the state should require that the school building or other capital assets be handed to taxpayers when that happens so at least some of the public's investment can be recovered.

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Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

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Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18