House facilities funding proposal concerns charter school advocate

For years, Florida lawmakers have floated proposals to steer school district property taxes to charter schools. Those measures have never reached the governor’s desk. They tend to get bogged down in lobbying slugfests between charters, which clamor for equitable funding, and districts, which argue they can’t afford to share limited local revenue.

At first, this year’s debate in the Florida House seemed no different. That changed this morning in the Appropriations Committee.

The only person who addressed HB 5103 was charter school advocate who had concerns.

The measure requiring districts to share property taxes would nearly double funding for charter school facilities statewide, from $75 million to an estimated $147.9 million. But Chris Moya, a lobbyist representing Charter Schools USA, said some charter schools might actually receive less funding under the proposal. That’s because district property tax revenue that’s committed to debt service would be exempt from the sharing requirement. In some districts (Moya specifically cited Polk County), all or most of the property tax revenue earmarked for capital expenses is tied up paying off construction bonds, leaving little or none for charters.

He also had concerns about a change made last year, which changed the formula for charter school facilities funding. The law shifts more funding to charter schools where more than 75 percent of students are low-income, or more than 25 percent have special needs. The new House bill would keep that policy intact.

Moya argued funding shouldn’t be based on the concentration of students with certain characteristics who attend a particular school. Instead, he said, funding should follow individual children, based on each child’s needs.

“Stop thinking about funding institutions or districts or even schools, and really think about funding the student,” he told lawmakers.

The measure cleared the committee, and is set for a vote on the House floor. Details will still need to be hashed out in talks with the Senate.

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