Florida’s Public Schools should not have to raise taxes to pay for charter schools
From the Palm Beach Post, By Jac Versteeg
How much do tax-cutting Republicans in Tallahassee love charter schools? So much that they might be willing to raise property taxes to help charter schools.
Actually, using the Florida Legislature’s signature underhanded tactic, Tallahassee would pressure local school boards to do the dirty work. But the effect would be the same as if the Legislature did it.
About 200,000 public school students in Florida attend charter schools. The number has been growing. Florida’s political leaders love charter schools. They gave charter schools all of the roughly $55 million in the state fund for school construction. That leaves traditional public schools to rely on local property taxes.
With all the hype, attention and preference, it’s easy to forget that charter schools teach just a fraction of the state’s 2.6 million public school students. A good example of charter schools’ outsized clout is the K-12 Public School Facility Funding Task Force, which the last legislature established.
Its mission was to identify stable sources of money for schools, both traditional public schools and charter schools. By statute, the commission had 11 members. Five had to be officials or parents affiliated with charter schools. Another five had to be officials or parents affiliated with traditional public schools. The tie-breaker had to be a bureaucrat from the state Department of Education – meaning the commission was stacked in favor of charter schools.
It didn’t work that way. In part because of a key absence on the day of the final vote, a proposal to let school boards raise local property taxes did not win the panel’s endorsement. After a 5-5 tie, the 292-page proposal went to the Legislature without an up-or-down recommendation.
But the idea is there, and will be tempting to the Legislature’s many charter school fans. It would let school districts raise the maximum property tax for construction 33 percent, provided charter schools get half the revenue from the increase.
Charter schools, remember, were supposed to be innovative enough to run without construction money from taxes. But the charters have been pushing and pushing for that public money. With more for-profit charter school operators moving into Florida, the push is getting more insistent; a bill to give them an equal per-student capital share carved from district budgets barely failed.
The trust fund that pays for school construction, or used to, relies on land-line phone taxes and other utility taxes that have declined rapidly as technology changes. The leislature should find new, sustainable income for that trust fund. Instead, the legislature might push the taxes down to the local level.
Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw — a former charter school principal and a member of the deadlocked task force — voted against the property tax proposal because, “We say it’s the state’s obligation to pay for charter schools” and to provide for traditional public school construction. “There’s got to be a solution for charter schools, but you can’t put that on the back of public schools.”
He means, “you shouldn’t.” That doesn’t mean the Legislature won’t.