- September 20, 2017
ORANGE COUNTY – Many Florida school district administrators and board members resent the stamp of approval Gov. Rick Scott gave an education bill that several education advocacy groups see as a disaster.
The multiple provisions in the 274-page charter school-friendly bill, known as House Bill 7069, sparked so much controversy in the Senate that it barely survived. While administrators appreciate some of the bill’s provisions — including the elimination of certain tests and the discontinuation of the Value-Added Model performance evaluation for teachers — many believe the $419 million bill mandates a disproportionate share of funding to charter schools.
The provisions that most concern Orange County Public School administrators involve the redistribution of Title I funding and the newly mandated sharing requirement of capital funding with charter schools.
In addition to the capital funding school districts receive from the state, school districts receive money via local property taxes. Currently, state law allows districts to levy up to $1.50 for every $1,000 in local taxable property value to raise money for the construction of new schools and maintenance of existing schools. Before HB7069, districts had the option to share that money from with charter schools.
However, sharing is now mandatory because HB7069 requires school districts to give a portion of that money with eligible charter schools. The amount depends on the number of enrolled students at each school.
For example, because there are 13,750 students enrolled in OCPS’ 44 charter-run schools, assuming all the charter schools met the criteria for eligibility, OCPS would need to transfer about 6.7% of the money collected from property taxes to its charter schools. During the 2016-17 school year, OCPS allocated a total of 0.41% to charter schools from its total capital revenue of $1.68 billion — which includes federal funding.
OCPS Chief Communication Officer Scott Howat calculated that OCPS would need to transfer $3.7 million during the first fiscal year. Both Howat and Orange County School Board member Pamela Gould said they lament the amount, given the construction of new schools it could have been used to fund and the lack of guarantee that charter schools would use the money to construct new schools of their own.
“West Orange is a high-growth area, so we could use that money toward a new school,” Howat said. “OCPS would be addressing the growth issue, charter schools would address whatever issue the charter school wants to address.”
But Chris Moya, a lobbyist and the lead advocate for Charter Schools USA, argued the bill only ensures the money follows the students. Before this bill, charter school students received an average of about 25% to 30% less funding than a student in a district-managed school, he said. Now, that same funding will follow a student whether they choose to go to a charter school or district-managed school.
“The only thing this bill does is ensure that capital money for a child’s education will follow that child,” Moya said. “It does not benefit any district school or charter school — all it does is make sure the dollars follow the student.”
TITLE I FUNDING DISTRIBUTION
What unsettles OCPS most is the new redistribution of Title I funding. A federal program created by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, Title I provides financial assistance to schools with high percentages of children from low-income families.
With the changes made by HB7069, after providing the Title 1 Part A funding to schools with the highest percentages of children in need and deducting anything owed on mortgage payments, districts will be required to provide the remaining Title I funds to all eligible schools in their district, including charter schools, regardless of need.
Orange County School Board member Joie Cadle said not being able to concentrate the leftover Title I money to fund resources in the lowest-performing schools could result in the closing of several programs in those schools meant to boost academic performance, parental involvement and emotional support.
“The Title I funding changes … will dilute the programs that we have started with our neediest students and schools,” said Cadle, who represents District 1. “I am afraid that the strides we have made in academic success with universal gifted screening for all second-grade students, or our parent-involvement activities through the monthly Parent Academy sessions will be diluted — or we will have to look to other funding sources to continue the programs.”
According to OCPS, the district received $57.5 million in Title I Part A funding during the 2016-17 school year and allocated nearly $1.48 million of it to 14 out of the 44 public charter schools.
“You’re taking a set pie of funding for Title I and distributing it and thinning out its effects,” Howat said.
However, Moya said the provision also ensures money stays with the student no matter which type of school they attend.
“None of the arguments the districts put out there center on the student — their argument is that this is bad for the school students as an institution,” Moya said. “And frankly, parents don’t care about a school district, they care about their child’s education. (The money) is meant to fund Orange County students, not the Orange County school district institution.”
Kenneth Haiko, chairman of the Renaissance Charter Foundation, which operates about 35 charters statewide, said the bill creates a more equitable funding ratio.
“HB 7069 is good for students,” Haiko said. “By providing more equitable funding — especially for some of our most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged at-risk students — parents are better able to make the right educational choice for their child.”
LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Howat, Cadle and Gould also concerned about the potential lack of accountability regarding the use of taxpayer money for charter schools.
Although charter schools are given a list of eligible uses for the money they get from capital funding and Title I funding includes restrictions, schools districts believe more should be done to ensure the funds are invested appropriately.
“…Once you give (the money) to a private charter school, we can’t see what’s being done with the tax dollars – that’s my concern,” Gould said, reflecting a sentiment shared by both Howat and Orange County School Board Member Joie Cadle.
Cadle raised the question of ownership regarding charter school facilities paid for with taxpayer dollars generated from state and local property taxes.
“The charter school movement for years has been trying to get their hands on the one mil for school construction,” Cadle said. “When the charter school takes that money who owns those buildings? If the school closes, what happens to that building that has public money in it?”
In parallel to Cadle’s point, Howat said he also fears that the funds might be used for rent, redirected to for-profit management companies or used to purchase property through a third-party – all uses of which are not being invested in taxpayer-owned infrastructure. Howat, Cadle and Gould said they all hope the next legislative session could result in adjustments to the most troubling provisions in the bill.
“I believe that this legislative session will be remembered for years to come as the beginning of the end of public education,” Cadle said. “I am a firm believer in a fair and equal public school for each and every child in this district. We don’t look at the haves and have-nots. It is my sincere hope that next legislative session that many aspects of the bill will be fixed.”
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected]