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Senate Education Committee offers little insight on charter-school funding

The Senate Education Committee on Monday devoted an hour to discussing the 12 charter-school proposals floating through upper chamber.

But perhaps most telling was that which went unsaid.

Senators hardly spoke about a pitch from Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, to create a recurring revenue stream for charter-school construction and maintenance. Advocates for Florida's charter schools consider that bill their top priority this session.

The ideas that were discussed -- holding charter schools more accountable for their finances, enabling high-performing charters to expand, and allowing charter schools to move into under-enrolled traditional schools -- found wide support.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Lutz, said he and staff would use the discussion to craft a single Senate charter-school proposal. He expects to unveil the bill in two weeks.

After the meeting, Legg said the committee was "80 percent in agreement" on what to include in the legislation. He also suggested he might want to consider a system for grading charter schools based on how well they are managed. 

When asked about facilities funding, Legg said: "That's a part that I don't think we're in agreement on yet."

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said the committee should "take a close look at the financial underpinnings of the public-school system, and that includes charter schools." 

But Montford wasn't ready to say where he stood on the issue of facilities funding. "I need to know what charter schools' true capital needs are," he said.

Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools cannot to levy taxes to support maintenance and construction. In the past, charter schools have received a one-time allocation in the budget. This year, Gov. Rick Scott is recommending $100 million. But charter schools, which now enroll about 200,000 children, want a steady source of funding.

Montford, who is also the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, was clear on one thing Monday evening: "The time for finger pointing between charter schools and regular public schools is over. We have to have the maturity to sit down and go over the data and discuss it."