Senator Gaetz is thinking about what is right. He and Rep. Fresen (HB 873) are squaring off over charter school funding for facilities. Both bills would reduce the amount of capital outlay dollars public schools can assess through local property taxes. According to the Miami Herald, Senator Gaetz’s bill would also crack down on ‘private enrichment’ schemes that charter management firms use to build and lease facilities for which they charge exorbitant rates.
Charter board members would have to swear that capital outlay funds would only be used for facilities. Funds would be awarded only to public entities, a 501(c)(3) specifying in its articles of incorporation that all property will return to specified public entities upon dissolution, or is owned by or leased to a person or entity who is not an affiliated party to the charter school.
The Senate proposal has some other very good features. It would reconfigure the funding formula to prioritize those charters that offer quality alternative schools for impoverished students or those with disabilities. Certain charters would receive a base capital outlay allocation from state funds, but those that serve at least 75% of children qualifying for free or reduced lunch or 25% of children with ESE, would receive an additional twenty five percent or fifty percent if both criteria are met. The Miami Herald quotes Senator Gaetz who suggested that ‘…we want to weight it for those charters that have a social conscience’.
It does not take capital outlay money away from traditional public schools for charter schools. It does, however, change the formula for how the money is allocated. There are some ‘gotchas’ in the Senate bill. A former Assistant Superintendent for Facilities raised some concerns:
I still really oppose the language that restricts capital outlay funds that are locally generated from having to meet the cost per student station maximum. For example, if a district has a cooperative agreement with a municipality to construct the high school auditorium so that it could function as a community amenity, there would be a penalty. Some of the hurricane requirements are so onerous that they affect the quality of construction for instructional spaces.
A study of current cost of construction by OPPAGA is appropriate. I would NOT limit local investment to the state cost per student station because that is too restrictive. Also, I would NOT have an oversight committee comprised as proposed. That will be expensive just to feed them data.
The legislature still needs to work with districts to create viable policy. Nevertheless, Senator Gaetz appears to recognize that unregulated school choice benefits some companies more than children.