The administrator for the Cape Coral Charter School Authority says all the right things and speaks with the right jargon to be believable in this morning’s guest column in the Fort Myers News Press. In an attempt to make the case for more taxpayer money going to charter schools like his, Lew Ford writes:
Here is the issue: A tax of 1.5 mills is levied on all Florida residents for the purposes of capital expenses for public schools. The tax used to be 2.0 mills in prior years. Districts use this money to pay for debt service on their buildings, facilities maintenance, and new construction. Florida Statute 1011.71 gives school districts the “discretion” to share this tax with charter schools. Lee County School District does not share this tax.
Most of our “Oasis” parents don’t even realize their taxes don’t support their children. They pay this tax, but the funds do not follow their children; rather, they go to other Lee County schools. We agree with your editorial that this millage rate should not be raised to support charter schools. But we believe that fairness dictates that the funds our parents pay should follow their children. Just return back to our system the funds that our parents are giving to the Lee County schools under the tax structure.
In a predicatble attempt to appeal to voter’s better angels, Dr. Ford plays the “fairness” card. Ford’s otherwise accurate piece leaves out one crucial piece of information that blows his fairness argument out of the water: Florida’s charter schools do not provide the same services as do public schools. Many do not provide transportation and free and or reduced meals. A comprehensive report published last year revealed that 87 percent of state charter schools do no provide services for special needs kids.
While Ford’s assertion that his school is truly non-profit – unlike state charter school behemoths Academica and Charter Schools USA who get enough taxpayer money to spend on political activities – his focused pleading for capital funding from taxpayers for buildings is still incomplete. Few charter schools – if any – maintain structures such as media centers, cafeterias, athletics and physical education.
Perhaps Ford’s argument is most effectively dismissed by the state’s most influential charter school executive. In a May 2011 interview with Gradebook’s Jeff Solochek, Charter Schools USA boss Jonathan Hage said “we believe that charter schools should not get as much per kid as other schools, because we like the idea that we’re being more efficient, more frugal.” To be fair, Hage was responding to a question about cuts to charter schools. But his acknowledgement that charter schools original intent was to be more cost-effective should serve as a reminder for Rick Scott and state legislators who never seem to get enough charter school Kool-Aid.