A complicated and controversial measure to change how Florida’s 4,300 public schools get taxpayer money for construction and maintenance projects is limping through the Florida Senate, advancing even as lawmakers agree it needs a lot more work before it might become law.
Senators behind the measure (SB 376) envision the final bill would have two main elements: It would require school districts to share local tax dollars with charter schools — and it would give school boards the freedom to raise local tax rates back to pre-recession levels, so that they could collect more revenue to address the backlog of maintenance needs in traditional public schools.
Senate education leaders say the first part is not possible without the second, but efforts to restore the school districts’ tax-rate cap might not have the votes to pass because it could be construed as a tax increase.
While that debate lingers, it’s not the only issue now. The ideal bill some senators want could also carry another consequence that Republican Senate leaders revealed this week but that lawmakers have not yet discussed in public committee hearings.
Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican who chairs the chamber’s Pre-K-12 education budget committee, told reporters if SB 376 is implemented with both crucial parts, “there won’t be a need” for the state to provide its current share of capital outlay funding — an annual moving target that has dwindled over the years but nonetheless still accounted for $150 million this year for charter and traditional public schools.
Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, talks with reporters in Tallahassee during a media availability on the opening day of the 2017 legislative session on Tuesday, March 7. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau