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End of Session Florida Legislative Update: Some Good News for Charter Schools

Larry Williams

June 14, 2019


Florida Elections Update

End of Session Florida Legislative Update: Some Good News for Charter Schools

Here’s your Florida legislative update:
The 2019 Regular Legislative Session in Florida ended in overtime as budget negotiations went several hours longer than anticipated in the last week forcing lawmakers to extend the session by one day. But in typical “last minute” fashion they finalized what would end up being some of the most significant education policy in recent years.
In the final weeks of the session, policy and budget negotiations between the House and Senate began to merge, with the final days leading to a tennis-match-like back and forth between the two chambers. Lawmakers would take up bills, add amendments and send them over to the other chamber to be passed. Many times, the members in the other chamber wanted different language, so they would add amendments of their own and send it back to be considered. This “bouncing” of bills back and forth in the waning hours of session can be quite unnerving. It is possible for the session clock to run out before compromises are agreed upon and an identical bill passed by both chambers, which can lead to the bill dying in the process before it can be passed by both chambers.
This happened with one bill in particular that included some significant language pertaining to funding Florida charter schools.
Over the last several years, voter-approved special referendums have become very popular with Florida school districts as a means to collect additional tax revenue to benefit public schools. Most of the districts going this route have in one manner or another excluded public charter schools from benefitting from these tax-payer approved referendums.
Seeing this pattern of exclusion, the House proposed language in its annual tax package (HB 7123) that would compel school districts to share with charter schools tax revenues from special tax referendums approved by voters. This requirement would not only apply to future referendums but those that had already been approved by voters. The House voted this bill out and sent it over to the Senate on April 26.
The Senate took up the bill on the last scheduled day of session (May 3), but some Senate members were not in favor of the House referendum language, particularly applying to levies already in effect. They amended the bill that essentially said nothing prevents districts from sharing revenues but did not compel them to do so and “bounced” the bill back to the House to accept and approve.
The House didn’t approve and was adamant that school districts be mandated to share this revenue with charter schools. However, in the spirit of compromise, they did agree to throw the Senate a bone and make the provision prospective and not retroaction, which meant the mandate would apply only to future referendums and not those that had already been approved by voters.
The House then “bounced” the bill back to the Senate with this compromise language to accept and approve. This time the Senate relented, accepted the new language and approved the bill, just as time was running out.
The Florida Legislature passed a number of major education policy initiatives that expanded Schools of Hope, increased access to school choice scholarships, enhanced career, and workforce education and provided bonus’ for the best and brightest teachers.
But the most significant single policy change for charter schools is the special referendum language passed in HB 7123. This alone could provide significant financial stability to many Florida public charter schools so they can continue to offer quality choice in K-12 education.

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