Public, charter schools should not be totally equal when it comes to state funding

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says he’ll fight Tallahassee’s effort to give more public school money to charters.
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says he’ll fight Tallahassee’s effort to give more public school money to charters. el Nuevo Herald

The biggest threat looming over the Miami-Dade public school system during this legislative session is not a cut in funding, but a proposal to split construction funding with charter schools — a move that would make for-profit charter schools equal recipients of taxpayer money in the state. That’s a troubling encroachment.The measure being considered by the Senate forces school districts to share their local tax revenue for capital projects with charter schools. Charter schools already get public money for students, but not for construction, which assures any district’s future.

For Miami-Dade, that means a whopping, unanticipated loss of $83 million the district stands to pay to charter schools. That would be a severe blow to our public schools that must not be allowed. Why? Because public school systems are the only ones in which all students, regardless of race, nationality, gender, special needs, financial standing — are federally-mandated to be created equal. Charter schools are free to select only the cream of the crop for attendance.

In short, if this education reform by the GOP-backed Senate passes, it represents a further dismantling of the traditional public school system, which new U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been tasked with overhauling.

Obviously, the Legislature will tackle other educational issues this session — overall funding levels, the future of Bright Futures and over-testing — but no measure is more threatening than Senate Bill 376. Introduced by David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, the controversial measure to change how Florida’s 4,300 public schools get taxpayer money for construction and maintenance projects is currently sitting in the Appropriations Committee. It needs to be stopped.

Agreeing to share taxpayer money with charters comes with a perk for the public school districts. Senators want to give school boards across the state the freedom to raise local tax rates back to pre-recession levels. That means they can collect more revenue to address the backlog of maintenance needs in traditional public schools.

Smartly, Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who heads the state’s largest school district, is not biting. He recently expressed his concerns to the Editorial Board about SB 376 and has sent a letter to the Senate committee chairman. Although Carvalho agrees that the state ought to provide capital funding support to charters, it should not come at the expense of publicly owned schools, he told the board. We agree.

Carvalho said the Legislature’s plan has the potential to bankrupt his school system, resulting in a credit-rating agency downgrade and a halting of ongoing maintenance projects.

And the revised two-pronged plan, permitting districts to get more taxpayer money, has only increased the district’s concerns. “Now the school boards would increase taxes to basically subsidize what is, by and large, privately owned real estate,” Carvalho told the Herald. That makes no sense and should not be allowed.

At least 10 school districts support letting districts restore their tax rates. But most oppose sharing the pot with charter schools and we agree they should fight this measure.

“We are aggressively, aggressively fighting the proposal,” Carvalho told the board. And chairman Simmons told the Herald the bill needs fine tuning: “We have got to come up with a solution that will not put some of our school districts in default.”

We think the Senate should not make public schools share their construction money with charter schools, which are for-profit endeavors.