The fall out from the school funding train wreck bill in the last legislative session continues. The Florida State Board of Education will consider newly drafted rules to make charter facility funding easier.
In Renaissance Academy for Math and Science vs. Imagine Schools, the court ruled there was hidden self dealing. The judge fined Imagine Schools one million dollars. This was just one school in trouble in St. Louis, Missouri at the time. Thirty-five hundred children had to be relocated when all Imagine charters were forced to close in St. Louis.
We all need to know how this can happen. It is not unusual.
Diane Ravitch posted a story from Michigan. It could have happened in Florida. I am reposting it here. When Senator Gaetz said it was time to end the private enrichment schemes in Florida’s charters, he was right. Unfortunately, his version of the choice bill did not make it through the 2016 legislature. It would have tied public money to public ownership of school facilities.
Michigan has a greater percentage of for-profit charters than does Florida. They have little oversight. The same is true here. We really do not want to play the ‘who has the greatest scandal’ game. We need to push our legislators to curb the exploitation of public funds.
The final version of SB 7029, the charter school bill, took awhile to locate. Here it is! There is along list of provisions, some minor and some major. The highlights follow. They are easy to scan. Most do little damage. Some good things happened. Considering what could have been, we can put our energies toward making good things happen next year.
Superintendent Vitti’s testimony was a straight forward account of the demographic makeup of the county schools. The district is 44% African American and 36% white and 11% Hispanic. Nearly half of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch (FRL). About 56% of FRL students were below grade level, and their graduation rate was 67%.
How the needs of students are met was the subject of his testimony. Are districts funded adequately to meet these needs?
HB 7043 relates to performance standards for higher education, and it includes the Best and Brightest program.
The Senate is meeting this morning. 7029 was put on temporary postponement at about 11am.
The LWVF supports the improvement in charter school management in these bills.
The one plus billion dollar surplus Florida was expecting in 2016 is dwindling. The latest estimate of new revenue is down by $400 million. Governor Scott wanted to give the surplus away in corporate tax reduction. He would also authorize more money for education, but it was supposed to come from local property taxes, not state revenue. The legislature has other ideas.
The legislature wants part of the new state revenue for education. The budget agreement that will go to the Governor increases the per student funding by about $50.
To complicate everything even more, money for school buildings comes from two other sources. Districts can raise some from local property taxes. Charter schools want access to that fund, but currently districts do not have to share the money. Since charter schools are privately owned, the district would not own those facilities even if they were to close. As a result, the legislature has been giving most of the state tax revenue on utilities to charters and public universities. This fund, called PECO is drying up.
How then is the state to support school facilities without making property taxes so high that voters complain? The latest idea reported in the News Service of Florida is for the state to issue bonds. This means the state would take on the debt to pay off the bonds while the Governor pursues his quest to minimize corporate taxes and use surplus revenue for his pet projects.
The Governor may veto issuing bonds for school facilities. Will he also veto the K12 per student funding increase? A high quality educational system is key for attracting the new business the Governor seeks. Yet, it is as if he wants something for nothing.
Volusia citizens approved a 5 cent sales tax hike for school construction. The legislature wants to take it away. Why? Cutting taxes, even those citizens want is the theme of this year’s legislature. To justify the cuts, some legislatures claim that too many school facility projects exceeded state caps on spending. They failed to mention that the cost basis for facilities is very out of date. Moreover, some communities want an auditorium or similar feature that is not covered in the facility cost cap. If they exceed the cap, the district is penalized financially.
To add to the problem, the current bill would require districts to share facility funding with charter schools. In Volusia, there are only two charters, but the loss to the district is $300,000. It is no surprise charters want the money. They were supposed to be less expensive than traditional schools, but the lure of more money is always there.
At some point, the legislature will have to face the reality that competition is not saving money. It is just going in different directions. Public schools have many older buildings that need renovation. Shifting money to charters makes a bad problem worse. Think about it, if you have 600 students who could all fit in one school, and you take 300 of them and enroll them in another, you have two buildings to pay for instead of one. Why are we doing this and calling it a good choice?
Senator Gaetz and Representative Fresen are meeting this weekend to hammer out the education budget. I received a list of Representative Fresen’s proposals. It shifts $430 million in projected funding increases from local property taxes to the State. The new per student amount would be $7,178.49 and tops the 2007 level by about $52 per student. This is long overdue.
There are increases in specific areas and as much total funding as reported earlier.