Breaking down the Florida House’s new charter school funding plan

Travis Pillow

As we noted earlier, the Florida House has a budget proposal that would insulate charter schools from lawsuits challenging the state’s new funding system for their capital needs.

But there’s an extra twist.

The chamber’s budget plan, coupled with a contentious piece of legislation it’s proposed, would also eliminate school districts’ obligation to share local property tax revenue with charter schools — at least in the first year.

It would also help charter schools in districts like Pasco, Polk and Osceola where the new law, last year’s HB 7069, raised little or no money for charter schools.

Here’s how it would work.

The House’s new education legislation, HB 7055, would set a new, statewide funding benchmark for charter school capital outlay. That benchmark would be the amount of state capital funding in next year’s state budget — $120 million under the House’s current spending plan.

The benchmark would rise each year, based on inflation and the growth of charter school enrollment. The idea would be to hold charter school capital funding constant in future years, on a per-student basis, at whatever the level lawmakers set in the 2018-19 budget.

If state charter school capital funding ever fell below that benchmark, then school districts would have to make up the difference with local property tax dollars.

Since lawmakers would fund the entire benchmark amount for the 2018-19 school year, they would eliminate districts’ obligation to share money with charter schools under HB 7069 (at least initially). That obligation plays a starring role in three lawsuits and a related round of funding drama in Orange and Broward Counties.

Under HB 7055, districts’ obligation could return in future years, if the Legislature ever fell short of the new funding benchmark.

The legislation faces heated political opposition. The statewide teachers union, allied labor groups like the AFL-CIO and organizations like the League of Women Voters joined a group of House Democrats at a press conference denouncing the bill before the House went into session.

Democrats have taken a caucus position against the wide-ranging bill and proposed a slew of amendments during a protracted floor debate that dragged into Wednesday evening.

However, the plan might face more formidable obstacles in the Republican-controlled state Senate, where leaders have not proposed a similar funding approach.

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