A battle that started in South Florida is now brewing in Tallahassee. The battle is over the funding of charter schools based on tax increases passed in the tri-county area as well as nine other school districts in the state last year. Yesterday, while addressing the new proposed legislation that would mandate school districts to share revenue for the tax increases with charter schools, a question popped up. How are charter schools being funded in Florida now?
It’s easy to confuse traditional public schools with charter and private schools but it’s pretty straightforward. Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of the school district’s curriculum. The name “charter” is specific to each school’s mission statement or area of focus. However, they still must meet the traditional minimum standards for academic achievement while maintaining integrity to their charter purpose and stable financials. They’re also schools of choice for the parents who send their children to the schools. In Florida, we currently have approximately 650 schools with just under 300,000 students enrolled.
Because they’re public schools, they’re funded with public money, though there are some major differences. Mainly, they don’t receive equitable funding on a per-pupil basis. Nationally charter schools only receive about 61% of what a traditional public school receives per pupil. In Florida, it’s a bit better but there’s still a significant disparity. The average charter school in Florida only receives 79% of what a traditional public school receives. It’s also fair to say that they’re often treated like the red-headed stepchildren of many school districts. We’ve commonly seen school districts attempt to provide little funding to charters and this has especially been on display in South Florida. Now, with the tax increases that passed last fall, that takes us back to the proposed legislation that would mandate equitable treatment. Again, this is currently being debated in Tallahassee.