Plans for state loan program to finance charter schools’ buildings advances

charter schools
The First Senate committee stop for the bill encountered some Democratic resistance.

Plans to give charter schools access to $10 million in state money to finance their school buildings received a nod from the Senate Education Committee Tuesday.

Republican Sen. Manny Diaz’s legislation (SB 1690) survived its first committee stop. The bill proposes a third-party administrator to dole out the money from the state’s general fund. The interest paid would be used to defray the cost of the program’s administration.

“The thrust behind this is to be able to leverage philanthropic donations to startup charters, especially those independent charters that don’t currently have the startup capital for buildings and such,” Diaz said, explaining that the money would act as seed money to attract donors.

The bill encountered Democratic opposition, however. Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones wanted to know who would pay the debt if the school closed.

Diaz assured the committee the full faith and credit of the state was not on the line.

“The third-party administrator would be responsible for going through the default process and recovering the money,” he said. “The state is not on the hook through the third party.”

There are 687 charter schools in Florida. Since the charter school law was first approved in 1996, the state Department of Education counts 389 closed. Other reports, however, have put that closure number higher.

Republican Rep. John Snyder has introduced companion legislation (HB 1347), but the bill has not made a committee stop.

Democratic Sen. Lori Berman said she didn’t think charter schools need more state money.

“(Charter) schools are opening,” she said. “There’s a plethora of charter schools opening, and I don’t see a need or a reason why we should put another $10 million of our state money into an expansion of charter schools. They are already growing on their own.”

Diaz emphasized that the money would be for loans to be paid back.

“They’re not given the money; they’re lent the money,” he said. “We’re actually saving taxpayer dollars because of the lower interest rate that can be produced by this.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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