Florida House plans $200 million for charter schools fund

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, April 03, 2017, 6:24 AM EDT

Florida House Republicans propose spending $200 million on building new charter schools in neighborhoods served by perpetually failing public schools.

  • FL House Republicans propose $200 million for new charter schools
  • Schools would go in neighborhoods with failing public schools
  • Priority for Florida House speaker. Wife runs a charter school
  • CAPITOL CONNECTION: Latest News | Contact your Florida legislators

The plan is part of the education budget package the chamber finalized this week and is being met with vocal opposition from Democrats and the state's teacher union.

Under the so-called "Schools of Hope" program, the state would commit to funding new charter schools in zones where a public school has received a grade of D or F for at least five consecutive years. The strategy is a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O'Lakes).

"It is reprehensible that you would take a child and make them stay in a failure factory not for one year, not for two years, not for three years, not for four years, but five years," Corcoran told reporters this week. "That whole system has to end, and so, we're going to fund it in a way that we think ends that system."

But ending the system, critics argue, could personally benefit Corcoran, whose wife runs a charter school. They're also taking issue with the redistributive effects of the proposal: funding the new charters would mean taking money away from existing public schools. In many cases, failing schools have been placed on turnaround plans that require more funding, not less.

During a Thursday hearing of the House Education Committee, public school administrators also told lawmakers that charter schools can fall far short of being golden bullets, in some cases faring worse than the failing schools they were designed to compete with.

"We love good charter schools," said Pinellas County School Board Chair Peggy O'Shea. "We welcome to them to Pinellas and we have some that are excellent, some of the best in the state, but there are others that just struggle very...the struggles are great, and they're financial struggles as well as academic struggles."

Further compounding the plan's challenges, Senate leaders have declined to put the $200 million in their education budget. Along with other spending disparities between the two chambers, it could represent a point of contention during budget negotiations next month.

"When you can get...the people to come and then educate those students so that they no longer have that generational poverty and they have dignity and they have a future, that's a priority," Corcoran said.