News from Tallahassee - Week of March 16, 2015

Replicating High Performing Charters, Enrollment beyond attendance zone, House & Senate Budgets, and notes from D.C.

FLORIDA – March 20, 2015
– The Florida House Education Committee passed HB 7037 on March 19. HB 7037 creates the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation at Florida State University to provide technical assistance and support to charter school applicants and districts/sponsors, and encourages the replication of high-performing charter schools in high-need areas. An amendent added language that would require school districts to share local construction money /districts’ property tax dollars with charter schools if the Legislature didn’t fund the state’s charter school capital outlay at a certain per student level. On the Senate side, lawmakers are considering several K-12 policy changes including: making it easier for out-of-state charter school operators to work in Florida; and allowing parents to enroll their children in public schools outside their attendance zone. See SB1552 for more details.

House and Senate K-12 Budget Proposals Released

Both House and Senate Appropriators released their initial budget proposals for 2015/2016 this week. The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee proposed a budget of roughly $7,129 per student, an increase of $215 (or 3.1% over the current spending level). The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education proposal would provide an estimated $7,122.85 per student, an increase of about $209 (or 3% over the current year).

Both are less than the $7,176 per student Governor Scott requested. Since the House and Senate budgets bills are different, a series of conference meetings will be held to resolve the differences until a final agreement is reached and both chambers vote to approve identical spending bills.
 Stay tuned for updates.

Where Is the Money Coming From?

With the Medicaid Low Income Pool (LIP) issue not resolved, and the Governor requesting the Legislature to increase education funding while at the same time reducing state taxes, one might wonder where is the money coming from? 

It must be pointed out that in addition to the projected increase in state revenues for 2015/16, much of Governor Scott’s budget is built upon an estimated $452 million increase in local property taxes. K-12 education funding, of course, consists of both a state and local source. The rise in local taxation is based upon increasing property values and new construction, not on a tax increase, but the impact on local taxpayers is the same. Taxpayers will have to pay more in property taxes next year.

According to news reports, the school property base across Florida is approximately $1.6 trillion -- an increase of about $84.5 billion over last year. The larger base means the same local tax rate will recoup more local tax funding for both the required local effort and discretionary millage assessed by school districts. This also means that the state’s share of education funding will be reduced in 2015/16 to about 55.9% of total K-12 funding, and the local share of funding will rise to about 44%. Over the past 10 years, Tax Watch has reported that the state/local ratio of K-12 funding has fluctuated from 58.2/41.8% in 2004/05 to 52.7/47.3% in 2010/11.

Who’s Minding the Store?
There is a lot more to advocacy work than testifying before committees. To be effective, you have to do some hard work behind the scenes. Months before session begins, FCPCS surveys our more than 500 member schools to gather feedback (and a wish list) from school leaders and governing board members. That information is used to craft a comprehensive legislative platform. From a small independent school in Escambia County to a thriving network with multiple campuses in Broward County, our priorities aim to help all charter schools. Next, our advocacy team meets with legislators and their staff to share our priorities and get their input on and/or support of our goals. We continue our meetings during the committee process and through the end of session – always present and part of the conversations. So far, 1,431 general bills have been filed by Representatives and Senators in this session of the Florida Legislature. Additionally, numerous amendments have been filed. Your FCPCS Advocacy Team is carefully tracking these legislative developments, attending House and Senate committee, and subcommittee meetings to voice your views, and is continually meeting with lawmakers to protect your interests and to advance our 2015 Legislative Platform.

News from Washington, DC

FY2016 Federal Budget Process Begins

 The U.S. Congress has begun the FY 2016 appropriations process. Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee last week regarding the president’s education budget request. An additional public witness hearing is scheduled for April 29th. Even though the President’s budget request would increase education spending by about $3.6 billion over the previous year, it is most unlikely the Congress will be so generous with its 2016 appropriations.

Contact your Congressional Representative TODAY
The President’s request for FY 2016 funding for the Charter Schools Program (CSP) includes a 48% increase to $375 million, compared to the $253.1 million approved in the FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations Act.

In support of the higher funding, FCPCS recently sent letters to key members of Congress – including House Committee on Education and the Workforce member Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-26 FL) -- to encourage appropriators to enact to the higher level of funding for FY2016. We encourage you to do the same.

On behalf of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools and the over 500 Florida public charter schools we serve, I am writing to request that Congressman Curbelo sign the letter from Representative Jared Polis to appropriators asking them to increase funding for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) to $375 million.

In Florida’s 26th Congressional District, there were 42 public charter schools serving approximately 16,395 students in the 2013-2014 school year. Statewide, there are 650 charter schools serving over 230,000 students and offering Florida parents a true choice in their child’s public education. We expect these numbers to increase this year. 

Since the Charter School Program (CSP) is the only source of funding to support the opening of new charter schools and expanding high-performing charter schools, we believe the Congressman will share our view of the importance of increasing funding for this vital program. 

We look forward to working with Congressman Curbelo, and all the Members of Congress, to ensure this effective and necessary program continues to receive the support it needs and deserves. 

Best Regards,
 Robert Haag President/CEO, FCPCS

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Lynn Norman-Teck
Director of Communications
(305) 216-6208