Over the past decade, Florida’s proliferating charter schools have seen state funding for their buildings lag enrollment growth and efforts to give them access to other sources of capital funding fizzle.
But they received a boost in the most recent state budget, and school districts facing a decline in their own capital funding have started to notice.
With enrollment increasing and capital funding approaching the symbolic threshold of $100 million, some lawmakers who support capital funding for charter schools say the state should take a closer look at how that money gets spent.
Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, is the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. He’s likely to have a say in how talks over capital funding and charter school legislation shake out in the waning days of the session. But he also says there are some longer-range issues lawmakers should start looking at as the charter sector grows.
Are charter schools spending their money on long-term leases, or are they building up equity in their facilities? And what should happen if they ever leave those buildings behind?
Legg knows the business side of charter schools from personal experience. When he helped start Pasco County’s Dayspring Academy 15 years ago, the new school faced a decision about whether to rent or to buy its facilities.
He said it usually makes financial sense for a school to buy its building and invest in improvements over time – much like a homeowner trying to build up equity. Charter schools can use their capital funding to pay for construction costs or long-term leases. But Legg said the state should try to avoid situations where “we are still paying rent 15 years down that road for a building that that charter school will never own.”
In addition, he said his school has a clause in its contract that stipulates that if it ever closes, the building would be turned over to the school district, which could use it for another public purpose. He said lawmakers should consider efforts to encourage that practice. Continue Reading →