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House won't give PECO funds to traditional public schools

A proposed amendment to the House spending plan prompted a spirited debate about charter schools Wednesday.

At issue: a provision in the budget that allocates $55 million in Public Education Capital Outlay dollars to charter schools. Traditional public schools, which once relied upon PECO dollars for construction and maintenance projects, wouldn't receive any.

Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Davie, pitched an amendment that would split the funds evenly between traditional public and charter schools.

"It’s really an amendment about fairness," Kiar said.

House Republicans disagreed.

Several noted that traditional public schools can levy property taxes to support construction and maintenance, while charter schools cannot. They argued that the PECO funds would help make up the difference.

"It is a sad thing that after 12 years of education reform, we still have this debate," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, a charter school supporter. "What we have here is a group of schools that are still being treated as stepchildren."

Democrats like Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, pushed hard for the amendment, saying public PECO funds should not benefit privately owned charter-school facilities.

"It was never the intention, when charter schools were established, for capital funds to go to charter schools,” Kriseman said.

But in the end, the amendment failed -- and the House budget proposal will still allocate all $55 million in PECO funds to charter schools.