House approves more local taxes going to support charter schools’ capital costs

The bill now needs the Senate's OK before it moves to Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk.

House lawmakers have passed legislation that would transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from traditional public schools to charter schools’ capital budgets by 2028. The measure now awaits the Senate’s OK.

Democrats mounted a fierce floor fight against the bill (HB 1259) that distributes capital dollars raised on local taxes to schools that are considered public, but run by private companies.

If the bill becomes law, charter schools would receive the money according to student enrollment, not according to specific needs, such as a new roof or a chair lift for students with disabilities, as happens for traditional public schools

Bill sponsor Rep. Jennifer Canady said the time has come for the Legislature to recognize the increasing role that charter schools play in the state’s public education system.

“This bill is about funding students,” the Lakeland Republican said. “It’s about shifting the paradigm from a funding mechanism that focused on grownups and buildings. … And it’s about making sure that when families choose the school that is best for their child, they’re not also choosing 20%-30% less capital funding” from public sources.

The full force of the bill would not come into effect for five years. Currently charter schools get their public capital funding from the Public Education Capital Outlay, which is derived from a tax collected on the gross receipts from the sale of utility services.

Districts have the option of raising more for their facilities with a discretionary 1.5 millage rate. The bill would require the districts to share money raised from that source; right now, that’s only a suggestion.

For the first year, $55.9 million in taxes raised on local school districts’ property taxes would go to charter schools. Once the full effect of the law hits, $490 million would be distributed to charter schools, using current numbers for charter school students and the amount school districts are collecting on the discretionary income allowed for capital costs.

Democrats in debate stressed they weren’t opposed to helping these schools with their building needs — just not like this.

Not only is the method of distributing the funds without a needs assessment problematic, they said, the bill also ignores how traditional public school buildings are usually older than their charter school counterparts. And unlike charter schools, public schools are required to be built to serve as hurricane shelters, Democrats said.

They pointed out that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission recommended increasing the allowable millage for capital costs to a third more than its current level just to adequately fund traditional public school buildings.

Democratic Rep. Kevin Chambliss read a letter from the Miami Schools Superintendent Jose Dotres estimating that the legislation would cost his system $505 to $812 million over five years — which the system can ill afford.

“School districts do not have the financial capacity to absorb this charter capital outlay increase and continue to meet debt obligations and increased calls for maintaining, renovating and ensuring its aging physical plant where two thirds of the buildings are over 30 years old,” Chambliss quoted Dotres as saying.

Canady later answered Chambliss’ comments, telling him that 27.4% of Miami-Dade’s public school students attend charter schools.

Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson said the bill means less accountability for how public money is spent, once it’s given to a private company.

“We have an upside-down system that is being created by this Legislature and you’re doing it at taxpayer expense,” she said. “That’s the taxpayer who voted you in, the taxpayer who elected you to represent them. It’s the taxpayer you should be representing and not the private charter schools.”

That drew some “reframing” from Republican Reps. Alex Andrade and Chip LaMarca, who cited the $800 million bond that Broward County voters approved to renovate district schools. That bond became the focus of a grand jury investigation that resulted in Gov. Ron DeSantis suspending four School Board members.

There is a massive imbalance in accountability when comparing charter schools with their government-run counterparts, Andrade said.

“I want to point out that of the 99 persistently low-performing schools … all 99 of them are traditional government-run schools,” Andrade said.

The debate also featured a Democratic Representative arguing for the Republican side.

“The power of charter schools is flexibility and accountability,” said Rep. Kim Daniels of Jacksonville. “Charter schools are the fastest growing school of choice option in the state of Florida.”

Similar legislation (SB 1328) is making its way through the Senate moving to the Senate floor for a second reading.

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].


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704