For years, some legislators have tried to get part of the local districts’ school facility money. Now, they are trying again. In an effort led by Representative Erik Fresen, HB 873 has a new substitute version that would:
- limit the amount of money public schools can use for facility related expenses.
- force public schools to share locally derived facility funding with charter schools.
It is not irrelevant, in spite of Rep. Fresen’s claims, that his wife and brother-in-law run the largest for-profit charter management firm in Florida. We have reported in earlier posts, that some of their charters pay more than $1 million per year in lease payments.
For many years, the legislature has allocated most of the school facility funds derived from state sources to charter schools. In this year’s budget, the AP news service reports that $90 million has been targeted for charter school facilities, and if HB 873 were to pass, they would receive another $63 million out of local public school district funds.
For districts, less capital outlay money not only means less school maintenance and construction, it could also mean fewer school busses. Critics charge that according to Florida Department of Education records, charter schools have received $760 million in facility funding since 2000. Moreover, the high rate of charter school closures has cost taxpayers $70 million dollars.
Most of the charter school funds are lost when schools close because these schools are privately owned. The owners, which often are companies associated with for-profit educational management firms, can use the money to improve the buildings and then, if schools close, retain the buildings paid for by the taxpayers.
There are states that control facility lease and purchase costs. Florida is not one of them. This bill is working its way through the Florida House now. Senator Gaetz has said that he will work on a Senate version. While he is pondering, we need to remind our legislators that Florida ranks near the bottom in public school spending. Diverting already minimal funding for our schools to privately owned charters is a disservice to local school districts.