How District Administrative Fees Affect Charter Schools In Florida
I would like to express my concern about the 5% administrative fee charged to charter schools in the State of Florida. I am a resident, taxpayer and parent of three children in SW Florida. One of my children attends a district elementary school, one attends a charter middle school and my oldest attends a charter high school, Marco Island Academy Public Charter School(MIA). I am also the founder and chairperson of Marco Island Academy. I have dedicated the past 6 years of my life as a full time volunteer for the school. To say that I have a vested interest in all the schools on Marco Island as well as the Collier County School District, would be an understatement. Plus I am deeply passionate about high quality education for children throughout Florida and across the U.S.
District School Boards are the main authorizer of charter schools in the state. By law, the school districts are entitled to an administrative fee of up to 5%. According to Florida Statute 1002.33(20)(a)2 School Districts are authorized to charge fees as follows:
- A sponsor may withhold up to a 5-percent administrative fee for enrollment up to and including 250 students
- For a high-performing Charter School, a sponsor may withhold a total administrative fee of up to 2 percent for enrollment up to and including 250 students
- A sponsor may withhold up to a 5-percent administrative fee for enrollment up to and including 500 students within a system of Charter Schools or a 2-percent administrative fee for enrollment up to and including 500 students within a high-performing Charter School system
Keep in mind that a charter school is not eligible to be high performing until it has achieved an “A” rating by the Florida Department of Education for 3 years in a row. Basically, it is impossible to be high performing during the start-up of a charter school. Like many other small charter schools, MIA struggles on an annual basis to raise the necessary funds to cover its operating budget. This year alone, the school had to raise $344,000 from local community members and events to cover operating expenses. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools must raise money or borrow funds to cover budget shortfalls.
In addition, charter schools throughout the state are underfunded for facilities. Marco Island Academy will pay $48,000 to lease property and $80,000 to lease modulars on campus this year alone. In comparison, the capital outlay funding the school will receive this year is less than $80,000. In addition, we spend thousands of dollars on technology and IT staff to support the student testing requirements at the school. To make matters worse, there are no funds available for athletics or extracurricular activities for the students. All students must pay to play in sports and fundraise to support their teams. The bottom line is that every penny counts for our kids.
According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (http://www.publiccharters.org/law-database/adequate-authorizer-funding/) the admin fee rates are much lower or nonexistent in other states compared to Florida. The lower admin fees offer a distinct advantage to charter schools by allowing more of the funds to directly benefit the students. Additional funding to the schools can equal more textbooks, computers or additional teachers.
After a full review of the district administrative fees and services provided to charter schools in our district, I feel compelled to share my thoughts. There are several areas where important services are provided to the school, especially assistance with FTE and ESE as well as professional development opportunities. However, many of the services offered to the charter school are not clearly defined nor do they directly apply to Marco Island Academy.
As a small charter school, we operate on a very tight budget and must make critical decisions on a daily basis that affect our students. Perhaps there are services that are made available that are not being used or needed. District school boards should be required to provide charter schools with a full accounting of the cost of services provided to ensure that students are getting the maximum benefit from the funding. To be good stewards of the local tax dollars, we must make sure we are not spending money on services that are not fully utilized.
Please review the history of the past 4 years of the 5% Fee for Marco Island Academy:
School Year #Students #Staff 5% Admin Fee to district
2011-2012 74.5 12.5 $23,009
2012-2013 103.70 13 $32,087
2013-2014 155.75 18 $50,024
2014-2015 204 21 $64,246
Even a slight reduction in the admin fee would have a tremendous positive impact on the school and ultimately the children who attend the school.
School Year 5% Admin Fee 3%Admin Fee Savings
2011-2012 $23,009 $13,805 $9,204
2012-2013 $32,087 $19,253 $12,834
2013-2014 $50,024 $21,424 $28,600
Charter schools provide an important educational option for many parents and students throughout the state. Collaboration between districts and charter schools is critical to the success of our children. State decision makers need to review the law that entitles district schools to collect up to a 5% administrative fee with the goal to keep as much money as close to the kids as possible.