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Charter-school advocates ask for recurring facilities dollars

The House Choice and Innovation in Education Subcommittee held a workshop on Wednesday to take up the controversial issue of charter-school funding.

Charter schools receive public dollars for teacher salaries and educational materials. But unlike traditional public schools, which can levy property taxes for construction and maintenence, charter schools do not have a recurring revenue stream for capital needs.

For the past several years, Florida's charter schools have received dollars from the Public Education Capital Outlay fund. But supporters say the funding is spotty.

“If we do not resolve this issue immediately, then school choice will cease to exist in Florida,” said Rep. Janet Adkins, a Fernandina Beach Republican, who is sponsoring legislation that would provide a recurring stream of general revenue for charter-school construction and maintenence. 

The workshop included emotional testimony from charter-school parents, students and principals.

Doug Rodriguez, the principal at Doral Academy in Miami-Dade, pointed out that the waiting list for his 3,000-student school includes more than 2,000 names.

“We have to have legislation in this state that allows charter schools to operate in a way that is fair and makes sense, but in a way that doesn't inhibit their ability to operate in this state and serve children,” said Rodriguez, a former principal at Miami Central Senior High.

The idea of providing public funds for charter-school facilities has long been contentious. Parent groups, school districts and the teachers' union point out that some charter schools are run by for-profit managment companies. What's more, in many instances, the public funds would be supporting private buildings.

After the meeting, Adkins told The Herald/Times that she doesn't expect her charter-school funding bill to pass this year. "We're going to focus on securing funding in this year's budget," she said.

But don't count the powerful charter-school lobby out just yet. Insiders say charter school advocates might make a run at the dollars later this session.