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Students lobby lawmakers to support charter schools

GaetzThe charter school movement has former Sens. Jim Horne and Al Lawson making the rounds in the Capitol.

But its most effective lobbyists may be the 300 or so students in Tallahassee on Tuesday.

"We are here because we want equitable funding," said Sallie Haney, 17, who attends North Bay Haven Charter Academy in Panama City. "Charter schools are technically public schools. The fact that some public schools get more money than others isn't fair."

Charter schools, which are run by private governing boards, do get public dollars for things like teacher salaries and educational materials. But unlike traditional public schools, they cannot levy tax dollars for building and maintenance.

In the past, charter schools have gotten one-time allocations from the Public Education Capital Outlay fund. Advocates, however, are hoping to secure recurring revenue from the state general fund that can support charter schools' capital needs.

The idea has met resistance from school districts, teachers' unions and parent organizations, who say the money should be left for traditional public schools. They take issue with public dollars being used to build and enhance private facilities. They also point out that charter schools were first allowed in Florida because they promised to do more with less.

But Sallie has a different take. "We should have the same opportunities that other students have," she said, after a morning meeting with Senate President Don Gaetz.

The students are scheduled to meet with Reps. David Richardson, Shevrin Jones, Jake Raburn, Erik Fresen and Jose Javier Rodriguez, among others.

They'll be there "to spread the word about successful charter schools and to urge legislators to continue funding high-quality public charter school programs," Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools spokeswoman Lynn Norman-Teck said.