Colorado and Florida pass breakthrough laws to close charter-school funding gap
States’ differing experiences can inform similar efforts nationwide
January 11, 2018—Charter schools have fought for decades to receive their fair share of per-pupil funding. According to a 2011 study, on average charters receive $3,509 less in annual funding per student than district schools. Although charters usually get equal funding from the state, they rarely have access to local supplemental funds collected by districts. But that is starting to change. In a new article for Education Next, Parker Baxter, Toddy Ely, and Paul Teske (University of Colorado Denver) recount how both Colorado and Florida passed breakthrough laws in 2017 mandating equitable access to local tax revenue for charter schools, and what other states can learn from their differing experiences.
Charter schools have been increasingly popular with Colorado families, growing steadily each year to 238 schools serving nearly 115,000 students in 2017. The effort to equalize funding was framed around a student-centered message to both legislators and the public: not sharing local tax revenue with all public school students, charter or otherwise, constituted discrimination. Bipartisan support for the bill culminated in a compromise that both charter advocates and opponents would accept, leading to an overwhelming 77-23 bill passage.
In Florida, although advocates attempted the same approach, they ultimately won through legislative force. Florida has the third-largest charter sector in the nation—with more than 650 schools serving almost 300,000 students—but half of its charters are operated by for-profit companies, fostering negative public perceptions and greater reluctance to share tax dollars. The Republican bill was introduced days before the legislative session ended as an attachment to an annual state budget bill, eliminating time for debate, and ultimately passed by only one vote due to strong partisan opposition. Several of Florida’s largest school districts are now suing the state to block the new law’s implementation.
“Growth doesn’t necessarily lead to acceptance,” the authors warn. Though both states succeeded in passing legislation allocating a more equitable share of local tax revenue to charter schools, the authors note that partisan conflict and legislative force led to a flawed process—as well as potentially jeopardized implementation of the new law—in Florida.
To receive an embargoed copy of “A Bigger Slice of the Money Pie: Charters in Colorado and Florida win share of local tax dollars” or to speak with the authors, please contact Jackie Kerstetter at firstname.lastname@example.org. The article will be available Wednesday, January 17 on www.educationnext.org and will appear in the Spring 2018 issue of Education Next, available in print on February 28, 2018.
About the Authors: Parker Baxter is scholar in residence at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs, where Todd Ely is associate professor and Paul Teske is dean and Distinguished Professor.
About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit www.educationnext.org.