Gov. signs HB 7069; School bill draws mixed reaction
Charter schools in Cape Coral and countywide will now receive a portion of the local property tax revenue collected by the Lee County School District thanks to the governor’s signing of a bill.
On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 7069 into law at a private Catholic school in Orlando.
The education bill provides nearly $419 million to the K-12 education system, expands teacher bonuses, increases funding for the Gardiner Scholarship for students with unique abilities and ensures Florida’s students can get a great education at the school of their choice, according to his office.
During a recent Special Legislative Session called by Scott, the Legislature also allocated the highest per student K-12 funding in state history, raising funding by $100 per student, his office added.
“Today, I am proud to sign legislation that expands the Gardiner Scholarship program to help support even more students with unique abilities and provides nearly $234 million in bonuses for Florida’s incredible public school teachers,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “This legislation, combined with the historic $100 per student increase in funding I called for during the special session, will put all of Florida’s students on a pathway toward success.”
In addition, HB 7069 requires school districts to share their local capital funding with district charter schools. The bill, however, does allow for deductions prior to the sharing of property tax revenue.
Officials in Cape Coral were pleased on Thursday with the signing of the bill.
“I’m very happy for the municipal charter schools,” said Cape Coral City Councilmember Jessica Cosden, who serves as the chair for the city’s charter school system, the Cape Coral Charter School Authority.
“This should have happened many years ago,” she added. “Our schools have been providing an excellent comparable education with less money than the district schools have to work with.”
Interim Superintendent Jacquelin Collins, for the Cape charter system, echoed that.
“All of Florida’s students should be provided equitable funding for their education,” she said. “Local tax dollars that our families pay should follow their children – it is only fair, and it’s about time.”
Cosden, however, added that the new law is “bittersweet.”
“There are also many other components of this bill that I disagree with philosophically,” she said. “I think the charter school provision should have only been for municipal and non-profit charters.”
Rep. Dane Eagle, who represents District 77 and the Cape, had voiced support for the bill. He previously explained that the existing law enabled school districts to decide if and how much of their funding to share. Lee County was one of the school districts that chose not to share its funding.
The new law requires districts to share their discretionary millage, which is up to 1.5 mills.
According to the Lee County School District’s FY 2016-17 budget, property taxes were projected to generate approximately $109 million this year. Last fiscal year, about $100 million was brought in.
For the FY 2017-18, property taxes are projected to generate approximately $114 million.
“While I was on the (Cape Coral) Charter School governing board, trying to get the school district to share the ad valorum capital dollars didn’t work out,” City Councilmember Marilyn Stout said.
She acknowledged that the school district will have to make changes on its part.
“It will be hard on the district since there are over 20 charter schools, I believe,” Stout said of the county. “But they will have to learn how to tighten their budget to make it work now that it’s the law.”
While some groups voiced support for Scott signing the bill, such as the Florida Charter School Alliance, Florida Coalition of School Board Members and Foundation for Florida’s Future, many also voiced opposition to it, including the Lee County School Board and Superintendent Greg Adkins.
Last month, Adkins joined critics around the state – teachers unions and school districts, along with the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and the Florida School Boards Association – in writing to Scott, urging the governor to veto HB 7069 or the K-12 Education Conforming Bill.
On June 7, Adkins held a press conference, surrounded by other critics of the bill. He again urged the governor to veto the bill and asked the local community to contact Scott’s office and relay the same.
Following the signing of HB 7069 on Thursday, Adkins expressed disappointment.
“It is legislation that has major impact on our public education system, yet neither educators, nor the public, were ever given the opportunity for input,” he said in a prepared statement. “With that said, I am proud of how our employees, parents and members of this community rallied around us.”
“I want to thank each and every one of you who stood up for public education. Our advocacy will not stop here,” Adkins continued. “With your help, we will continue to fight to give our students what they deserve – a world class educational system. It is what they are entitled to, and we will not fail them.”