Charter schools are going to tap into the pot of money that has so far been dedicated to capital costs at traditional public schools, according to legislation Gov. Ron DeSantis signed.
The bill (HB 1259) was one of a slew of bills the Governor signed Thursday and represents something of a sea change in school funding. It will mean hundreds of millions more in public funding will go toward the capital costs of schools that are part of the public system, yet privately owned and operated.
Another education bill signed Thursday will be more of a piecemeal shift. Democratic Rep. Patricia Williams’ legislation (HB 891) will pilot year-round schooling at five school districts starting in 2024-25.
While the effort to combat what’s known as the “summer slide” in learning did not draw one “nay” along its path to becoming a law, the charter school funding issue drew fierce opposition from Democratic lawmakers. A handful from the blue team voted with the majority, however.
Up until the law takes effect July 1, charter schools have been getting their capital needs met via the state General Appropriations Act. The amount of that state funding is expected to be $213 million for the next school year.
This bill would mean that, over a five-year period, the source of charter schools’ capital funding would shift. Gradually, it would all come from local school districts’ tax revenues, particularly from those counties that levy discretionary taxes to pay for capital funding.
An analysis of the legislation determined that, given the current number of schools, charter school students and the available money, charter schools would be receiving $490 million from public school districts’ local revenues next year if the gradual phase-in were not in force.
The legislation’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Jennifer Canady of Lakeland, said the bill is about fairness.
“Public charter school students have received significantly less capital outlay funding per student, averaging less than half as much as (traditional) public school students,” Canady said.
Supporters say the new law recognizes the bigger role charter schools have taken on and makes it so that the money follows the students.
But Democrats argued the legislation gives private ventures public funding. And distributing money based on pupil enrollment ignores how public schools’ capital needs have always been funded according to building needs, not the number of students.
In addition, school buildings also serve another compelling public interest charter schools don’t: as hurricane shelters.
On the Senate floor, Democratic Sen. Rosalind Osgood, former Chairwoman of the Broward County School Board, panned the bill as a reckless use of precious tax dollars.
“We are literally taking taxpayers’ dollars and giving them to individuals to improve their own real estate property. Taxpayer funding is normally used for public buildings that are owned by all of us,” the Broward County Democrat said.
The analysis of Williams’ bill found no new money will be needed for piloting year-round schooling. She said she filed the legislation inspired by the documented learning loss that happened during the pandemic and research showing that juvenile crime rates increase with the summer temperatures.