Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

First-grade students participate in class at Classical Prep, a charter school in Spring Hill. (Tampa Bay Times file photo, 2014) First-grade students participate in class at Classical Prep, a charter school in Spring Hill. (Tampa Bay Times file photo, 2014)

First-grade students participate in class at Classical Prep, a charter school in Spring Hill. (Tampa Bay Times file photo, 2014)

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin February 22, 2016

Traditional schools get much more capital funding than charter schools, state Rep. Adkins says

A Florida House bill that would make school districts share capital funding with charter schools has sparked a debate over how much money the privately run institutions should get.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, would in part require that charter schools have access to local school board levies that are normally reserved for traditional public schools’ capital improvements. 

Charter schools are financed with taxpayer money but managed by private companies. Initially touted as an option for students attending low-performing public schools, charters have grown in popularity. Critics have complained that too many taxpayer dollars have subsequently been shifted to the private companies that run charters, while traditional schools suffer from a lack of resources.

In a House Appropriations Committee hearing for Fresen's HB 873, Republicans supported equal access to capital improvement funds by charter schools.

"I think it is time that we recognize that there is great disparity, tremendous disparity, in the funding on a per-student basis between our traditional public schools and our charter public schools," said Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, at the Feb. 9 hearing.

The bill has drawn some extra scrutiny because Fresen works for an architecture firm that builds charter schools and his sister and brother-in-law are executives for the state's largest charter-school operator. The bill passed Appropriations 19-5 and on Feb. 17 passed the Education Committee, 13-4, both times along party lines. These votes move the bill to the House floor.

The Legislature has argued about charter-school funding for years, and the subject is confusing, to say the least. We wanted to run the numbers to see if Adkins, a candidate for Nassau County Schools superintendent, is correct to say there’s a "tremendous disparity" between charter and traditional schools.

It turns out that while the figures aren’t so easy to decipher, it seems Adkins has a point.

School funding 101

Florida has 4,270 public schools with around 2.7 million children enrolled and more coming every month. Those figures include some 650 charter schools across the state, with about 250,000 students. Charter-school enrollment has grown at least fivefold in the last decade.

That means statewide, there are more than six traditional schools for every charter school. But since charter schools often have much smaller enrollments than their counterparts, traditional schools have almost 11 students for every one in a charter.

Calculating school funding is confusing alchemy that mixes money from the state and local governments, including several kinds of tax revenues, grants and awards. Many of these sources are earmarked for specific things, like vocational-technical career centers and money to even out class sizes.

For this fact-check, we’ll focus on capital outlay costs, which are dollars set aside largely for construction and maintenance.

Adkins confirmed to PolitiFact Florida she was referring specifically to those capital dollars, not operating funds. State money for operations is allocated annually by the Legislature on a per-pupil basis — around $7,100 per student — and given to school districts, which divide the money among charter and traditional public schools. (This is the cash Gov. Rick Scott likes to mention when he talks about school funding.)

Capital funding is a different story. Districts have been under pressure to build schools as Florida’s population grows, and a good chunk of the capital funding the state sets aside for schools is to pay down debts on projects they’ve already completed.

Many charter schools, however, lease the property they occupy instead of erect new buildings, so much of their capital funding goes to paying rent. That’s a controversial practice on its own, since districts are often left without assets if a charter school closes.  

There are several sources for these capital dollars, but we’re going to look at the two most relevant sources: state Public Education Capital Outlay money and local school board levies.

Split access

As charter schools grew more popular, the Legislature gave them more of the state capital money, known as PECO, than it gave traditional schools — which received nothing from that fund in some years. The totals have been in flux recently, but charter schools get vastly more PECO money than traditional schools on a per-student basis.

Last year lawmakers gave $50 million to those 650 charter schools and $50 million to the other 3,600 traditional schools. That gives charter schools a bit more than $200 per student in PECO funding, while traditional schools get roughly $20 per student. The Legislature is currently debating how much to allocate for 2016-17.

(As lawmakers head into budget negotiations, the House has proposed $90 million in capital funding for charter schools. The Senate has offered charters zero capital dollars. Both chambers would keep traditional schools’ capital outlay at $50 million.)

But school boards have the power to add to their capital budgets in the form of levies. These levies can be up to 1.5 mills (that’s $1.50 per $1,000 in taxable property values) on an annual property tax bill.

Money from those local levies, however, is largely off limits to charters. State statute allows districts to share this money with charter schools, but only five districts do. Fresen’s bill would require school districts to share a portion of this money with charters.

Districts argue these local levies are needed to keep up with ever-growing communities. A common argument is that the districts have needed this money as the state has cut other sources of funding.

It’s important to remember that not every district levies these taxes at the same rate or brings in the same amount. But there’s no denying it’s a huge pot of money to which charter schools don’t have ready access.

Featured Fact-check

According to the Florida Department of Revenue, these levies created an annual pool of about $2.3 billion statewide in 2015. Traditional schools also receive an additional $850 million or so in dedicated capital funding along with their PECO money, a House comparison says.


Charter schools

Traditional schools

PECO funding

$50 million

$50 million

School board levies


$2.3 billion

Other state and local revenues


$850 million

Total capital outlay funding

$50 million

$3.2 billion

Full-time students


2.4 million

Capital funding per student




Sources: Florida Department of Education, Florida Department of Revenue, Florida House Appropriations Committee, Office of the Speaker of the House

* Five counties share some levy funds with charters

These figures are rounded estimates, of course, and we need to remember that traditional schools and charter schools face different challenges. It also doesn’t include money from bonds that school districts can ask voters to approve.

But using these estimates, we found that traditional schools have a more than 6 to 1 ratio of capital dollars than do charters. We’d consider that a pretty big disparity, regardless of the reasons behind the policies.

Our ruling

Adkins said, "There is great disparity, tremendous disparity, in the (capital) funding on a per-student basis between our traditional public schools and our charter public schools."

While charter schools do get a larger per-student share of one kind of state capital funding, traditional schools can bring in much more by taking advantage of school board levies and other sources that charters can’t access.  

There are many fine details that can get lost in discussions about the subject. But we found that currently, traditional schools potentially can get six times the capital funding per pupil than charter schools can.

The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information. We rate it Mostly True.

Our Sources

Rep. Janet Adkins, House Appropriations Committee meeting, Feb. 9, 2016

Florida Department of Education, "Charter School Report," Jan. 1, 2012

Florida Department of Education, "2013-14 Funding for Florida School Districts," July 16, 2013

Tampa Bay Times, "Public and charter schools compete for shrinking building funds," March 29, 2014

Florida Department of Education, "2014-15 Funding for Florida School Districts," July 14, 2014

PolitiFact Florida, "Does Rick Scott hold the record on education funding, as Republicans say?," Oct. 6, 2014

Tampa Bay Times, "Scott recommends $100 million for Florida charter schools," Jan. 15, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "Florida House approves controversial bill to divert district funds to charter schools," March 27, 2015

Florida Department of Education, "2015-16 Funding for Florida School Districts," July 16, 2015

Florida Times-Union, "State Rep. Janet Adkins announces run for Nassau County schools superintendent," July 18, 2015

PolitiFact Florida, "Rick Scott says K-12 education funding is highest in Florida's history," Oct. 15, 2015

Florida Times-Union, "Northeast Florida school districts seek funds for new facilities, other capital improvements," Oct. 30, 2015

Miami Herald, "Florida gave about $70 million to charter schools that later closed; state recouped little," Dec. 13, 2015

Associated Press, "Florida gave charter schools millions before they closed," Dec. 14, 2015

Florida Department of Education, "Florida Education Finance Program 2015-16, Third Calculation," Dec. 21, 2015

PolitiFact Florida, "Scott's latest budget proposes funding boost," Dec. 28, 2015

Miami Herald, "Charter school funding still a hot debate for Florida Legislature," Jan. 11, 2016

Tampa Bay Times, "Florida House Republicans take aim at public school construction dollars," Jan. 25, 2016

Tampa Bay Times Buzz blog, "Charter school alliance poll shows support for ... charter schools," Jan. 27, 2016

Florida House of Representatives, "PCS for HB 873, Special Facility Construction Account," Feb. 5, 2016

Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog, "Florida House moves to curb school construction costs, support charter school capital projects," Feb. 8, 2016

Associated Press, "Despite problems charter schools could get more state money," Feb. 9, 2016

Tampa Tribune, "Charters need to prove their worth," Feb. 11, 2016

Tampa Bay Times, "Rep. Erik Fresen's close ties to charter schools continue to raise questions of conflict," Feb. 12, 2016

Florida House of Representatives, HB 873, accessed Feb. 11, 2016

Online Sunshine, 2015 Florida Statutes: 1013.62, Charter schools capital outlay funding, accessed Feb. 11, 2016

Online Sunshine, 2015 Florida Statutes: 1011.71 District school tax, accessed Feb. 16, 2016

Florida Department of Education, 2015-16 education budget, accessed Feb. 16, 2016

Florida House of Representatives, Florida House Appropriations capital outlay comparison, accessed Feb. 17, 2016

Florida House of Representatives, School Districts Fixed Capital Outlay Funding 2015-16, accessed Feb. 17, 2016

Florida Department of Revenue, 2015 School Districts Levying Capital Outlay Tax, accessed Feb. 19, 2016

Interview with Cheryl Etters, Florida Department of Education spokeswoman, Feb. 15-22, 2016

Interview with Michael Williams, Speaker of the House spokesman, Feb. 17 & 19, 2016

Interview with state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, Feb. 17, 2016

Interview with state Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, Feb. 18, 2016

Interview with Renee Watters, Florida Department of Revenue spokeswoman, Feb. 19, 2016

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Joshua Gillin

Traditional schools get much more capital funding than charter schools, state Rep. Adkins says

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up