Florida charter schools set to receive $91 million for construction

It’s not everything they asked for, but charter school advocates anticipate getting $91 million in state funding next fiscal year for construction and maintenance projects.

House and Senate leaders agreed to the one-time allocation earlier this week and are expected to pass the measure before they vote on the new state budget by Friday – the final day of the legislative session.

The move marks a $36 million increase in funding for charter schools and comes close to the $100 million proposed earlier this year by the Florida House and Gov. Rick Scott, who still has to sign off on the budget.

Ralph Arza
Ralph Arza

“This funding is driven by the demand of the consumer,” said Ralph Arza, a former state legislator who lobbies for the Florida Charter School Alliance.

With more than 203,000 students enrolled in 579 Florida charter schools, parents are making their choice – and that’s creating a need for more charter funding, Arza said. But it’s not a one-time need.

“It’s an every-year need,’’ said Arza, who, along with other charter advocates in Florida, will continue to push for recurring funding in the state budget to help charters with capital outlay projects.

Charter schools are public schools that receive state money, but they operate independently from the districts. That means charters have separate school boards, and can pick their curriculum and teachers. But they can’t levy taxes, like their traditional counterparts, to pay for buildings and facility needs.

Arza called lawmakers “bold and courageous’’ for recognizing the need for more charter school dollars.

Robert Haag, president of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, also praised the move. “We are proud of our Legislators believing in us,’’ he said.

The construction funding follows more good news: charter school teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, principals and other administrators are among the Florida public school workers eligible for the $480 million in raises called for in the 2013-14 budget.

The extra dollars mean at least $2,000 for teachers and other school personnel and as much as $3,500 for instructors rated “highly-effective.’’

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BY Sherri Ackerman

Sherri Ackerman is the former associate editor of redefinED. She is a former correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times and reporter for The Tampa Tribune, writing about everything from cops and courts to social services and education. She grew up in Indiana and moved to Tampa as a teenager, graduating from Brandon High School and, later, from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications/news editing. Sherri passed away in March 2016.