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House bill could invalidate school tax referendums

If passed, voter-approved school taxes could head to charters.

A tax package moving through the Florida House could force traditional public schools to share more money with charter schools, or even invalidate county tax referendum language approved by voters.

Current law allows for four types of millage levies to fund schools.

Taxes collected through three of those avenues — the required local effort (RLE) levy, the current operating discretionary millage levy and the ad valorem millage for capital outlay — must be shared with charter schools.

Florida school districts may also raise funds via voter-approved tax referendums, which cannot last for more than four years and must detail how the money will be spent. Per the state Department of Education’s Florida Standard Charter Contract, school districts can choose whether to split that money with charters.

Among the changes in the Ways and Means Committee’s bill, HB 7123, is a requirement that those funds be split with charters. The bill’s requirement would be retroactive.

“For the purpose of distributing taxes collected pursuant to this subsection, the term “school operational purposes” includes charter schools sponsored by a school district,” the bill reads.

The change could throw a wrench into voter-approved referendums even if the language placed on the ballot specified the funds were to be used specifically for traditional public schools.

Palm Beach County voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum last year that explicitly excludes charters. It’s expected to bring PBC’s traditional public schools an additional $200 million a year.

The language on the ballot: “Shall the School Board of Palm Beach County have authority to levy 1.00 mills of ad valorem millage dedicated for operational needs of non-charter District schools to fund school safety equipment, hire additional school police and mental health professionals, fund arts, music, physical education, career and choice program teachers, and improve teacher pay beginning July 1, 2019 and automatically ending June 30, 2023, with oversight by the independent committee of citizens and experts?”

If HB 7123 were to pass, funds collected through that tax would need to be split with the county’s 48 charter schools on a per-student basis.

Pinellas County also has a referendum in effect, passed in 2016, with an additional requirement that expenditures be looked over by an “independent citizens review committee.” That board has never discussed sharing the tax revenues with charters.

The House bill would strip that committee of decision-making power. Additionally, it wouldn’t require charters to itemize how they spent the referendum tax money dispersed to them, which is a common condition among counties that choose to share referendum collections with charters.

It is unclear whether HB 7123 would invalidate referendums, such as the one in Palm Beach County, that specifically exclude charters.

The bill was passed out of the Ways & Means Committee last week and is pending a hearing in the Appropriations Committee, its only stop before the chamber floor.

Written By

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Edward Freeman

    April 15, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    Another of the myriad examples of radical Republican legislators subverting the expressed will of voters in order to force their extreme ideology on Floridians. Disgusting!

  2. Able

    April 16, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Mr. Wilson, thank you for the article. I feel that ALL public schools deserve better funding, full stop. However, your analysis conveys a slight bias towards the topic that, although probably shared by many Floridians, can be leavened with the inclusion of a few more facts. First, the majority of students attending charter schools in Florida attend tuition-free, public charter schools which are organized as non-profit companies. Second, charter schools may only serve students who would otherwise attend schools within their local district (often, their county.) Parents of children attending non-profit public charter schools within their county pay property taxes, a large portion of which serves to fund the local capital outlay accounts for public schools. However, until passage of HB 7055 last year, school districts were not required to share these funds with local charter schools. Additionally consider that, per the Florida Department of Education’s Charter School guidelines, Charter Schools are required to pay a portion of their state FEFP revenue to their host district, between 2.5% – 5%, depending on school performance. This means that since 1996 when Florida Charter schools were authorized, they have been operating with a greatly reduced fraction of the operating and capital funds provided to traditional public schools while still managing to outperform them academically. While I disagree with Mr. Freeman’s comment above, I sense that he implies that decisions such as these should remain in the hands of local governments, a sentiment with which I agree. Consider my testimony and whether or not you can sympathize: both of my sons attended a non-profit local charter school for the majority of their schooling. Non-profit Charter Schools in my county represent almost 25% of the total school district enrollment. As a resident since 2001, in reviewing my annual property tax statements since my children have been enrolled, I have paid more than $4800 in millage for school capital outlay funding and not one, single, penny made its way to the school my children attended.

  3. Jan

    April 16, 2019 at 11:24 am

    The entire charter school movement is a blatant attempt to privatize education, just like the movement for private school vouchers. It has been said many times over that charter schools take money away from public schools. This bill makes that even more possible and goes expressly against the will of the voters in a referendum like Palm Beach County; thus taking away local control of schools.
    Charter schools are not required to hire certificated teachers, or offer state retirement plans or state health benefits for teachers. For the most part, they are not unionized or bound by a union contract. Many charters have business managers instead of principals and some send a portion of the revenue they receive from the state to the so called “home office.” In addition, students with disciplinary problems in charters can be returned to the local public school.
    Having worked in the Florida public schools for 35 years, I have seldom ever met a charter school teacher that did not want a job in the public schools.
    I am sure some students thrive in charter schools, but in my experience, most have difficulty transferring to a public high school if the charter is K-8th grade only.

  4. Able

    April 16, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    Jan, I take strong issue with that statement as well. The charter school movement isn’t a blatant attempt at anything. It is a law that was passed by legislators we elected in order to allow citizens to band together and form a public school that is subject to nearly all of the same oversight and accountability as traditional public schools. It’s unfortunate so many people incorrectly generalize private schools and public charter schools into the same category. I will agree with you though that charter schools do in fact take money away from public schools. Money that goes straight to the very same students who would have benefited from it in the traditional public school. Charter schools form because people think they can teach students better and be more fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars. Most do, as evidenced by FL DOE data. Those which don’t are dissolved (and in some cases prosecuted). In my view, the Charter School program benefits the students and the teachers who teach there, with sufficient checks and balances.

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