Taxpayers and charter schools

Florida Legislature is considering a bill for taxpayers to fund construction of charter schools, like Doral Academy shown here while under construction.
Florida Legislature is considering a bill for taxpayers to fund construction of charter schools, like Doral Academy shown here while under construction. MIAMI HERALD

School choice in the form of charter schools offers parents good options for their children's education.

But corporate welfare in the form of taxpayer-funded construction of private facilities is another matter entirely.

Once again, the Legislature is on track to favor charters over public schools, with the House considering diverting tens of millions of dollars out of school districts into the construction and maintenance of such private enterprises.

The Florida House is moving swiftly on a proposal to create a statewide institute to assist with the opening of new charter schools. Already, the GOP-controlled House approved HB 7037 on a party-line vote with every Democrat in opposition.

One favorable part of the bill: It would require the immediate termination of any charter school that receives back-to-back F grades from the state.

But that’s the only good we see in this bill.

The Senate version of the proposal, SB 1448, goes a step further, allowing students to attend any traditional or charter school that has not reached capacity.

Privately managed charter schools are more popular than ever in Florida. In Miami-Dade alone, there are 125 charter schools. The state is now home to more than 600 such schools, which collectively enroll about 250,000 students. At the same time, some charter schools have come under scrutiny for questionable business practices.

Miami-Dade is among the districts “that embraces public school choice, including charter schools,” but is adamantly opposed to HB 7037 — and we understand why.

The district says this bill is not good for all public school students nor does it demonstrate a responsible use of taxpayer dollars, Tiffanie Pauline, who oversees charter schools for the district, told the Editorial Board.

This new measure compounds past charter construction favoritism by dedicating 40 percent of the tax money public school districts can raise for charter construction and maintenance.

The Miami-Dade school district believes the proposed bill would have an adverse financial impact to the estimated tune of $80 million to $144 million, or the 40 percent of millage revenue, which will immediately and directly impact the public, Pauline said. said.

Additionally, the bill supports redirecting taxpayer dollars to private entities, real estate owners and developers, mostly for construction or renovation of school facilities that will never be owned by the public.

In other words, the landlord can utilize rents paid from a charter school and use that pot of funds to pay the mortgage and fund improvements, the district said.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed, often paying tax dollars to for-profit enterprises.

The problem here is many operate out of privately-owned facilities built with public money, but should a charter close, the property does not revert back to the public.

The Legislature should adopt a claw-back policy that does not allow taxpayer money to be lost in these cases.

If the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott favor charter schools so strongly, then construction and maintenance money should come from a different revenue stream than picking school district pockets and shortchanging traditional public schools.

This editorial was adapted from a version originally published by the Bradenton Herald, a McClatchy newspaper.