The Florida legislature is dominated by Republican legislators who don’t like public education. Some of them have direct ties to the for-profit charter industry. Others are active members of ALEC and believe in the privatization of public schools.


The latest move to damage public schools is Rep. Erik Fresen’s insistence that public schools spend too much on construction. He wants to rein those costs in, while increasing the funding of new charter schools. Rep. Fresen is the brother-in-law of Fernando Zulueta, who owns one of the state’s most profitable charter chains, Academica, which has about 100 charter schools and virtual charter schools.


But some Democrats and public school representatives said Fresen’s findings aren’t the whole picture.

They said requiring accountable spending of taxpayers’ dollars is a conversation worth having, but that Fresen’s conclusions over-simplify how school construction projects are funded. In addition to state aid, districts have their own local sources of revenue — such as local sales tax and bond referendums — which they’ve had to rely on more and more as the state has cut funding and shifted dollars to charter schools.

House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, of West Palm Beach, who sits on the budget committee, told the Times/Herald the conversation serves as another attack on Florida’s public education system by a Republican-led Legislature that’s friendly to for-profit charter schools and voucher programs.

“The Legislature commonly uses information and manipulates it to fit its own argument,” Pafford said of Fresen’s presentation last week. “There was a lot not mentioned… They’re purposely breaking the back of the public education system.”


Florida is utopia for for-profit charter schools, such as Academica.


Governor Rick Scott, trying to appear even-handed, allocated equal amounts of money to public schools and charter schools for construction costs, even though the public schools enroll far larger numbers of students.



Officials at traditional public schools want lawmakers this year to restore districts’ taxing ability — which lawmakers chipped away at in recent years — and also to allocate more capital dollars for maintenance and repairs. Much of the capital money in the past several years has gone to charter schools, which are privately managed but publicly funded. District officials and superintendents argue traditional schools are long overdue for a jolt in funding.


Republican Gov. Rick Scott has proposed equal capital funding for 2016-17 for traditional and charter schools: $75.2 million to each. House and Senate budget proposals are expected later this week.


But Fresen doesn’t appear amenable to considering the schools’ requests. He told the Appropriations Committee he’ll seek to reduce the state-imposed cap on per-student-station spending so that schools cut costs. He also wants to broaden what revenue sources and expenses would be subject to that cap and then enact penalties for districts that exceed it.


Those ideas will be met with resistance. Pafford called those proposals “the continued torture of the public school system.”


Fresen told the committee he’d been interested in districts’ construction spending for years “but didn’t want to make it my war” previously. Now he has support from House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, to take it on.


“The expenditures that are taking place are an absolutely horrible stewardship of the taxpayers dollars,” said Corcoran, in line to become House speaker in November. “It is somewhat laughable. It’s taxpayers’ money that is being robbed in areas that are far more crucial.”