Putting Education Reform To The Test

Should Florida Charter Schools Receive Equal Funding?

Andrew Magill / Flickr

A new study finds charter schools receive 70 cents for every dollar budgeted to district schools.

Charter schools receive about 70 cents for every dollar budgeted to a traditional district schools, per student, according to a new analysis from Florida TaxWatch.

Florida TaxWatch argues a handful of changes could eliminate the disparity, including requiring school districts to share local money for buildings and repairs and allowing charter schools to be their own school districts — eliminating the middle man (school districts) for access to federal and state money.

A bill that would require equal funding for charter schools and district schools is a top priority of the Florida Charter School Alliance and the Foundation for Florida’s Future.

Critics argue the money could pay for private facilities, and that charter schools do not have the same requirements — and therefore costs — as district schools.

The group looked at funding for district and charter schools for select Florida counties, arguing those results were representative of other Florida districts.

The report provides only as bar graph of its data, and does not include dollar amounts for the funding differences. In Broward and Miami-Dade counties, charter schools receive about $3,500 less per student than district schools. The gap is about $4,000 in Lee County, and about $3,000 in St. Lucie County.

A big chunk of the difference is due to local funding for construction, maintenance and capital costs.

Lee and Palm Beach County schools get about $700 per student in local capital funds — money to which charter schools do not have access. In Hillsborough and Polk counties, the local capital money is about $250 per student.

Just three districts — Franklin, Sarasota and Sumter — give local construction and maintenance money to charter schools.

The report is similar to a 2010 Ball State University study of charter schools funding. That report concluded Florida charter schools received about $2,700 less per student than district schools. Most of that difference — $2,000 worth — was local money.

Florida TaxWatch’s analysis depends on a central idea that district schools and charter schools should be funded equally. But should they?

Some education advocates dispute that notion, arguing that local money for construction should go toward publicly-owned facilities. Charter school facilities and land are sometimes owned by private charter school boards or a for-profit management company.

In addition, charter schools are not required to meet the same building codes or provide the same programs — such as reading requirements — as traditional district schools. School officials have asked the state legislature to apply the same requirements to district schools as charter schools.

Likewise, the Florida TaxWatch analysis notes that their funding comparison does not filter out money for programs such as free and reduced lunch, which district schools must provide but not all charter schools do.

StateImpact Florida has reported extensively on the differences in service that district schools and charter schools are required to provide. Our investigation found 86 percent of Florida charter schools do not enroll any students with profound disabilities — the most expensive students to educate.


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