Florida House approves bill to change funding for charter schools

by | Apr 26, 2023

  • The Florida House has passed House Bill 1259 to change the allocation of state funds to charter schools and school districts.
  • Under the bill, tax revenue collected through discretionary 1.5-mill local levies will be apportioned in proportion to the enrollment of charter schools relative to that of the districts.
  • The bill enters public school districts into a five-year glide plan to ease into the new revenue-sharing framework. 

The Florida House on Wednesday voted favorably on a piece of legislation seeking to alter the manner in which state funds are allocated and shared between school districts and charter schools.

Passing by an 82 to 31 margin that saw a single Democrat, Rep. Kimberly Daniels, cross party lines, House Bill 1259 revamps the funding process for charter schools’ capital outlay by removing the state funding threshold and revising the calculation methodology used by the Department of Education (DOE) to allocate state funds to eligible charter schools.

Under the bill’s purview, tax revenue collected through discretionary 1.5-mill local levies will be apportioned in proportion to the enrollment of charter schools relative to that of the districts.

These funds are permitted to be used towards the procurement of land and the construction of facilities, among other expenditures.

“This bill is about funding students. It’s about making sure that when families choose a school that is best for their child, they’re not also choosing twenty to thirty percent less in capital funding,” said Rep. Tiffany Esposito.

Charter schools currently receive funding for capital outlay from state funds as appropriated in the General Appropriations Act. However, if the state appropriation falls short of a funding threshold, school districts are required to share local capital outlay revenue from the discretionary 1.5 millage levy with charter schools.

The legislation, however, removes the funding threshold and enters public school districts into a five-year “glide plan” to ease into the new revenue-sharing framework.

Beginning in Fiscal Year (FY) 2023-24 the districts will be required to share a portion of 20 percent of accrued revenue funds, a portion of 40 percent in FY 2024-25, a portion of 60 percent in FY 2025-26; a portion of 80 percent in FY 2026-27, and a portion of 100 percent beginning in FY 2027-28.

“We have charter schools in this state that are outperforming [public schools] and doing an incredible job making sure students — especially minority students — are closing that achievement gap,” said Rep. Alex Andrade, who backed the bill. “I just want to point out that all this bill says those students deserve the same recognition going to a charter school, which is a public school, as every other student in our public school system.”

While engaged in debate, some Democratic lawmakers expressed opposition to the bill, contending that the measure would impose an adverse fiscal impact on school districts, resulting in financial consequences at the local level.

“Passing this bill would prove financially detrimental to Miami-Dade County schools based on the charter schools’ revenue projections,” said Rep. Kevin Chambliss, who represents portions of Miami-Dade. “The fiscal impact over five years on Miami-Dade public schools is estimated to be between $505 million to $812 million. While we understand the need for increased capital outlay funding for charter schools, school districts do not have the financial capacity to absorb … this increase.”

Rep. Felicia Simone Robinson joined in opposition, raising concerns over potential charter school closures, of which she claimed there have been more than 400 since 2019.

“The state, right now, is number two in the country for charter school closures,” said Robinson. “HB 1259 is an effort to throw millions of tax dollars into institutions that may be unpredictable and inconsistent. As of 2019, 409 [charter schools in Florida] had closed. I wonder if we had given them capital funding, where would that money be now? If we allocate a greater share of state funds to these institutions, taxpayers would bear a greater financial burden of their failures.”

In response, Esposito affirmed that state law dictates a repayment of public assets should a charter school go under.

“I can assure you that the law says that those assets must be returned in the event of a charter school closing,” she said.

Though Robinson did not provide a source for her claim, it appears that she referenced a 2020 investigation published by WTSP. A Florida Department of Education list last updated in 2014 shows 282 shuttered charter schools dating back to 1998. An inquiry made with the state agency seeking currently updated closure statistics was not immediately answered.

According to a House analysis, school districts are estimated to collect $4.4 billion from the discretionary 1.5 millage in FY 2023-24. After deducting debt service and special facilities participation requirements, the adjusted millage revenue is estimated to be $3.5 billion.

For FY 2023-24, charter school capital outlay enrollment is expected to total 371,253 or 13.6 percent of total capital outlay enrollment in public schools. Based on the enrollment estimates, House analysts estimate that $490.2 million would be shared with eligible public charter schools.


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