Bill Requiring Property Tax Revenue to Pay For Charter School Construction Advances
FlaglerLive | February 7, 2012
A sweeping charter school measure passed through the Senate Education Committee on Monday after a heated debate over a provision that would require school districts to give some construction money to public charter schools.
The measure (SB 1852) would not only require charter schools to receive a prorated share of the construction money raised by local property taxes, but would also allow high-performing charter schools to create up to three new charter schools a year and to expand enrollment and grade levels.
The overall bill passed 5-1 along party lines, following an identical vote to shoot down an amendment aimed at stripping the construction provision from the bill.
Supporters of that provision said it would create more parity between charter schools and other public schools. In all, the millage used to support capital costs in 40 school districts raises about $1.9 billion a year.
“The real point is: Is my child worth what every other child is worth in this state?” asked Scotti Haney, a mother of charter school students in Bay County. “And that’s what the Legislature’s going to have to tell us.”
But opponents slammed the measure as a form of “corporate welfare” that would provide tax dollars to the private operators of charter schools — despite the fact that supporters of charter legislation said years ago that they would not ask for capital outlay dollars.
“This legislation is a plan to give public tax dollars away to for-profit corporations to buy assets that the public will never own,” said Kathleen Oropeza of the advocacy group Fund Education Now.
School districts also argued that much of the money had already been dedicated to fund borrowing for existing projects and some of the funds paid for maintenance.
“We are not anti-charter school,” said Georgia Slack, a lobbyist for Broward County schools. “We are pro-trying to keep our buildings and our facilities from becoming disreputable parts of neighborhoods.”
The amendment was one of 13 filed by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, the lone Democrat to attend Monday’s meeting. Because the committee set a cutoff point for debate to hear two additional bills from other members of the committee, 12 of Montford’s amendments were not heard and debate on the bill was constrained. But the two following bills passed quickly, leaving more than a half an hour left in the committee’s meeting time.
The committee spent about an hour on legislation from senators who weren’t on the committee before taking up the charter school bill.
Education Committee Chairman Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, conceded that the committee could have heard more of the amendments and more discussion of the bill and shouldn’t have shut things off so quickly.
“I thought that the last two (bills) were going to last a lot longer than they did,” Wise said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it. It was my mistake on that one.”
Montford said he didn’t view the move as an intentional procedural maneuver, and that the amendments were likely to re-emerge at another one of the bill’s stops. The measure still has to pass the Higher Education and Budget committees before heading to the floor.
“There will be another stop,” Montford said. “We’ll have plenty of time to continue the discussion.”
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida