Putting Education Reform To The Test

The Catch-22 Of Florida Charter School Funding

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Tres Whitlock, who tried to enroll in a charter school last fall. Whitlock was told the school could not provide the services he needed.

Earlier this week we wrote about a new study showing charter schools receive about 70 cents, per student, for every dollar district schools receive.

The report included a few policy changes that would help even out the funding. One change was to make charter schools the Local Education Authority — a legal term that equates to charter schools becoming their own school district.

Currently, charter schools are a subset of the county school district and charter school funding passes through the school district. The proposed change would allow charter schools to cut out the middle man and directly access state and federal funds.

However, the change also opens charter schools up to more responsibilities — such as providing services for students with disabilities.

As we reported last year, most Florida charter schools enroll no students with profound disabilities — which can include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or autism.

The reasons under the law are complicated and a point of dispute, but it stems from charter schools being a subset of the larger local school districts. The school districts are responsible for making sure services for students with disabilities are provided within the district, but not necessarily at each school.

Most charter schools do not provide services for students with severe disabilities. Therefore, the team of parents, educators and therapists designing a student’s education plan are likely to recommend another school within the district over a charter school that does not already provide those services.

That’s what Tres Whitlock was facing when he tried to enroll at a Tampa charter school.

But if charter schools became the legal equivalent of their own school district, special education experts, such as Harvard University’s Thomas Hehir, they would have to plan for students with disabilities.

Students with severe disabilities are the most expensive to educate. In Miami-Dade schools, for instance, state funding only covers 58 percent of the cost of educating students with disabilities. The district must make up the rest.

So in an effort to make it easier to receive equal funding, if charter schools were to become their own school district they could be increasing their costs as well.

Florida lawmakers have proposed a bill that would require charter schools and district schools receive equal per-student funding. The proposed legislation would not make this change, but does require school districts to pass along all federal funds owed to charter schools within 60 days.


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