TALLAHASSEE — Charter schools will receive $91 million for their construction and maintenance needs, state lawmakers agreed late Sunday.
The figure represents a $36 million increase over last year's allocation. But it falls just short of the $100 million proposed by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida House.
The deal was struck during budget negotiations that lasted late into the night. It is almost certain to pass the two chambers and win approval by the governor.
"We're very pleased that the Legislature worked to get specific capital outlay dollars to charter schools," said Larry Williams, who represents the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools.
The one-time allocation will come out of the Public Education Capital Outlay fund. PECO dollars are generated from the state's gross receipts tax on cable, electric and land-line telephone bills.
Charter school advocates had hoped to secure a recurring source of funding for capital outlay projects this year. On Sunday, they acknowledged that the goal was unlikely to become reality before the end of session. That doesn't mean the fight is over for good. "We need to move forward with a permanent mechanism that automatically funds charter schools' capital outlay needs," said former state Rep. Ralph Arza, who represents the Florida Charter School Alliance. "The parents of those children deserve a recurring source."
Charter schools enroll more than 200,000 students statewide and are run by nonprofit governing boards that function independently of local school districts. Some are managed by for-profit companies.
Like traditional public schools, charter schools receive state money for operating expenses, including teacher salaries and instructional materials. But while traditional school systems can levy property taxes to fund construction and maintenance, charter schools cannot.
For the past several years, the Legislature has given charter schools an extra boost through the PECO fund. Those dollars used to go to traditional public schools, too. But because fewer people are using land-line phones, the fund has been slowly dwindling. State economists predict it will eventually dry up.
Opponents argue that charter schools should not receive taxpayer dollars for capital projects because their facilities are not public assets. They also make the case that charter schools were allowed in Florida because they promised to do more with less.
Advocates, however, say children statewide should receive the same amount of money, regardless of whether they attend traditional or charter schools. A steady stream of facilities funding, they say, would help level the playing field.