TALLAHASSEE -- (WTVY) School district superintendents from across the state railed against Florida's new 'Schools of Hope' charter school program during a state Board of Education meeting Monday, warning members that classrooms could literally start crumbling as a result of a massive diversion of funding.
Program sets up $140 million fund for charter schools in struggling areas
Also requires school district money for construction, maintenance be shared with charter schools
Charter schools are not-for-profit schools run by companies, organizations
Wife of program's author, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, founded a charter school
The program dictates that a portion of school district property tax revenue earmarked for construction and maintenance be available to privately-run charter schools for maintenance of their own facilities. In Florida's largest school district, Miami-Dade, the diversion will amount to $23 million in the current fiscal year.
"You really could see the potential unraveling of long-term maintenance and construction for public school systems across the state," said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. "It is not a good indicator when one of the two largest credit rating agencies declares a negative condition for school systems on the basis of a policy statement out of Tallahassee."
That credit rating agency, Moody's, has projected the exodus of capital funding will be a "credit negative" event for school districts, potentially impacting their ability to borrow money at competitive rates.
Schools of Hope, which passed by a single vote in the Florida Senate and was signed into law last month by Gov. Rick Scott, is the brainchild of House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O'Lakes).
Corcoran's wife, Anne, founded a Pasco County charter school.
"When you can get those people and those students... the people to come and 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 told reporters during this year's legislative session.
But while House Republicans have billed Schools of Hope as a morally-mandated lifeline for struggling public school students, the program's critics believe it is nothing more than a politically-motivated vehicle to defund public education.
Tellingly, many small county superintendents -- most of whom are committed conservatives -- are expressing disbelief that Gov. Scott would approve a measure they believe will hamstring rural public schools already subsisting on barebones budgets.
Urban districts with large portfolios of aging schools are concerned about making ends meet, too.
"We're the ones deciding on which projects get funded at what level and timeline in our local communities, and sometimes it becomes very difficult to explain to the community that some of the restrictions, some of the shortcomings, are not generated locally; they're in fact collateral impact of decisions at the state level," Carvalho said.
Earlier this month, the Broward County School Board voted to sue the state over Schools of Hope. Given the near-unanimous condemnation of the program by superintendents, it's a near certainty other districts will move to join the suit.