Florida Senate Bill 1852 would require school boards to share federal funding for property costs with charter schools, which often set up shop in churches, empty strip malls, or other alternative locales. The bill passed out of the Senate PreK-12 education committee and awaits a floor vote.
It also mandates that when a student transfers from a traditional public school to a public charter school, state taxpayer funding, upwards of $6,000 per student, will transfer with them.
“Parents are choosing to send their children to charter schools in droves, and those children deserve to be in a decent facility,” said Stephanie Grisham, a spokesperson for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “A charter school does not want to be in a strip mall.”
Another provision in the bill requires federal funding for charters sent to a district school board to be fully disseminated within 60 days of receipt.
Biggest Disparity in Nation
Florida has one of the nation’s highest funding disparities between traditional and charter schools.
“In Missouri, there is a 2 percent gap. Here there’s a 30-40 percent gap,” said Cheri Shannon, CEO of the Florida Charter School Alliance.
Many people view charters and traditional schools as divided, Grisham said.
“Charter schools are public schools,” she said. “That being said, the inequity is really, really glaring. They’re already underfunded, they have no facilities, and they’re certainly not getting any funding for upkeep.”
The bill also gives high-performing charters greater ability to increase enrollment, submit fewer financial statements, and potentially qualify for 15-year charters.
Complaints Over Cuts
Last year, federal cuts to the Public Education Capital Outlay program hit school districts. Sharing property tax funds with charter schools will tighten many traditional school budgets further, but they will have fewer students.
Progress Florida has created an online petition against the bill, calling it “privatization” of public schools.
The students affected by the bill all attend public schools, however, and “their parents pay the same taxes whether they are in a traditional school or a charter school,” Shannon noted.
“The money should follow the child,” she said. [Districts] don’t need the money for a student who isn’t there.”
Shannon said the bill will likely lead to more charter schools opening, which can help address the state’s charter school waiting list, now at more than 5,000 names.
Image by A.J. Kandy.