Florida charter school facilities funding ‘at a desperate point’

Travis Pillow

Florida’s charter schools have grown rapidly, but state funding for their facilities has not. As a result, some schools’ budgets have eroded, and concerns about their finances are mounting.

This year, state funding for charter school capital outlay was reduced by 33 percent. On Wednesday, a longtime charter school advocate told the state Board of Education the situation has reached a “desperate point.”

“I think we’re now at a point where you have to make a decision: Re-institute a moratorium on charters, or you bleed them to death,” Jim Horne, the chairman of the Florida Charter School Alliance, said during a legislative workshop in Orlando. “That’s what we’ve come to at this point. You’re going to see charters start to fail, start to go under financially.”

The numbers have changed dramatically in less than a decade.

In the 2006-07 school year:

In the upcoming 2015-16 school year:

The numbers for individual schools look a bit different, but the basic story of funding erosion is the same.

Horne, a former state lawmaker and education commissioner who was present at the creation of Florida’s original charter facility funding model, now represents several charter school groups as a lobbyist. He said charters, especially those built more than a decade ago when they could plan on hundreds more dollars per student in facilities funding, have had to cut money from their classroom budgets to pay for mortgages, building leases and construction costs.

Several state board members agreed it’s a problem.

Chair Marva Johnson said she’s also heard “great concern” from school districts and community colleges about their capital funding needs.

Earlier in the meeting, school district representatives asked the board to restore additional taxing authority that used to help them pay for capital needs. District property tax collections earmarked for capital spending raised more than $2 billion in revenue this year, which only a handful share with charters.

Like colleges, charter schools do not have taxing power, which means many of them rely on state appropriations to pay for their facilities.

Gary Chartrand, another state board member, said charter school facilities funding was a “major problem” the board would likely address at future meetings. He also pointed to a potential sticking point that key lawmakers have brought up in the past.

“When you put capital into a charter system, [their buildings are] not owned by the taxpayer” in many cases, he said.

The exchange was brief but still worth watching. It can be caught at the end of this video clip, starting at about 1:51:30.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the last name of Board of Education Chair Marva Johnson.

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