Florida Board of Education member: Lawsuit threatens public school finances

Travis Pillow

A lawsuit aimed at the country’s largest private school choice program could have effects beyond the tens of thousands of students who receive tax credit scholarships, and the private schools they attend.

In a guest column published last week in the Tampa Bay Times and Florida Times-Union, state Board of Education member Gary Chartrand writes that if the lawsuit challenging the program succeeds, it could also affect public schools’ finances.

After adding 38,469 new students last year, Florida public schools are projected to grow by another 100,000 over the next five. Now, imagine returning 78,000 scholarship students in one fell swoop.

Building new schools to handle all these scholarship children would cost $2.6 billion. Even if school districts had enough spare room to absorb half these students in existing classrooms, the tab would exceed $1.3 billion.

That’s not all. The scholarship is worth only 80 percent of what the state and districts spend per public school student in operating costs, which means they would have to come up with $111-million more every year to make up that difference.

Read more here or here.

Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program.

Students around the state are headed back to school, and the new year is being greeted by newspaper headlines announcing that enrollment is once again on the rise, and buildings in some school districts are already filled to capacity — lending credence to the idea that a sudden influx of tens of thousands of low-income students could cause districts financial pain.

The statewide teachers union and other groups filed the lawsuit in August. Groups representing school boards and school administrators have backed out of the suit, and a Tallahassee judge dismissed the lawsuit in May. The remaining plaintiffs have appealed.

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