Florida Board of Education proposes $70 million for charter school facilities

On the heels of a brief-but-intense discussion of charter school facilities, the state Board of Education is set to take up a draft spending plan that would restore some funding lost this year.

The state board will take up its legislative budget request today as it meets in Gainesville.

The request seeks to boost charter school facilities funding to $70 million — $20 million more than the current state budget, but less than the previous year’s. It also seeks $70 million for building maintenance at district-run schools.

Funding for charter school buildings has stagnated even as the number of schools has grown, which means many of the state’s oldest charters have seen their funding erode. Over the past two years, the state’s Charter School Capital Outlay shrunk from $100 million to $50 million.

State lawmakers will craft their own spending plans, setting their priorities and updating state revenue estimates before the legislative session begins in January. The budget that emerges early next year could look quite different than the one discussed today.

Still, the request highlights some of the issues lawmakers will face this year, and in the years ahead. Cash available for the Public Education Capital Outlay, which helps pay for building maintenance at state educational institutions, is expected to increase in 2016-17, and then stagnate in the years that follow.

Construction at colleges, universities and rural school districts, coupled with other public school facilities funding it seeks, would exhaust all the available PECO cash in the board’s request. As a result, it proposes dipping into the state’s general fund for charter school facilities.

The uncertainty that comes with relying on money from the state’s general fund has prompted a growing number of charter school advocates to look for a dedicated source of funding. School districts have resisted plans that would require them to give up their own local capital funding, which many say is already stretched thin. Expect this debate to continue.