Florida Bill Would Equalize Charter School Funding

Published March 7, 2012

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, taxpayer funding, upwards of $6,000 per student, will transfer with them.  

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 highest funding disparities between traditional and charter schools in the nation.

“It’s an attempt to close the funding gap,” said Cheri Shannon, CEO of the Florida Charter School Alliance. “In Missouri, there is a 2 percent gap. Here there’s a 30-40 percent gap.”

Many people view charter and traditional schools as divided, said Stephanie Grisham, a National Alliance for Public Charter Schools spokesman.

“Charter schools are public schools,” Grisham 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 to upkeep them.”

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.

Progress Florida has created an online petition against the bill, calling it “privatization” of public schools.

“Our concern with this bill is about taking money away from traditional public schools,” said Damien Filer, political director for Progress Florida. “Not against adequate funding for charters.” He said Progress Florida wants more funding for all schools rather than taking from traditional public schools to pay for charters.

“It’s a war on public education,” Filer said.

The students impacted by the bill all attend public schools, and “their parents pay the same taxes whether they are in a traditional school or a charter school,” Shannon said.

“I don’t see it as money being taken away from traditional districts,” she said. “The money should follow the child. They don’t need the money for a student who isn’t there.”

50,000 on Charter Wait Lists
Although charters have garnered attention for improving Florida’s student test scores, traditional public schools still make up the majority of education institutions in the state.

Shannon said the bill is likely to lead to more charter schools, which can help address the state’s charter school wait list containing more than 50,00 names.

 “Parents are choosing to send their children to charter schools in droves and those children deserve to be in a decent facility,” Grisham said.”A charter school does not want to be in a strip mall.”

Image by A.J. Kandy.