David Simmons has an idea that may take wings. To ease the facility backlog for renovations and maintenance, Simmons proposes SB 604 to increase the 1.5 mills that districts can assess from l.5 to 1.7 mills. This is still less than it used to be, but it would help generate income to remodel outdated science labs or replace dying air conditioning units. There is a catch. In a companion bill, SB 376, Simmons would allocate some of this money to charter schools. Districts do not have to share this funding now.
Currently, charters which have privately owned schools, are not eligible to receive this public tax funding. In order to protect the public interest, only charters that enroll at least 75 percent from low income families and also enroll at least 25 percent of students with disabilities would be eligible for funding.
These bills are a variation on the Senate’s attempt to rein in the self dealing real estate practices of charter school management companies. Some of the more egregious examples are for-profit chains like Academica and CSUSA which have their own real estate companies that lease facilities to the charters at exorbitant rates. The House killed a similar proposal last year, and House Speaker Corcoran has already announced that he will oppose any tax increase even at the local district level. Corcoran, however, is both a charter school and tax credit voucher advocate. Maybe there will be room for negotiation.
There are some unanswered questions about this bill. For the last several years, charters have been received a disproportionate amount of facility funding from another source. About $75 million in State PECO funds were given only to the 600+ charters. Last year the charters and the over 3,000 public schools shared PECO money evenly. PECO revenue comes from licensing fees etc., and it is running out. In the interim, which sector-corporate charter or public- will receive the PECO dollars? This bill could end up giving an unfair advantage once again to charters.
The hard realities of low funding for public schools necessitates compromise. Targeting charters that served a high percentage of low income students is one approach. There is always unintended consequences. Are we encouraging even more racial and economic segregation by providing this incentive? Are these schools that are so segregated able to overcome the concentrated trauma that these children so often bring with them? Are we creating a new version of concentrating struggling children in one school so other schools do not have to meet these challenges?
Spreading around the same amount of money for education basically ensures that no sector, private, public, or charter is adequately funded. The long run view is that struggling children can learn through computer based instruction. It is purported to be cheaper, require fewer teachers, and does not need expensive school buildings. Common sense tells us that children who struggle to learn in school will have even more difficulty doing it on their own. A subject for another day.