Public Education Capital Outlay and Debt Service Trust Fund PECO is a primary source of state capital outlay funding for Florida's school districts, community colleges, and the State University System.
It is the only capital outlay fund source for state universities. PECO funds are generated by a 2.5 percent levy on the gross receipts of utility companies and municipal corporations that provide electricity, natural gas, and telecommunication services and those that transmit co-generated electrical power. PECO funds are used not only for new construction, but also for remodeling, renovation, repair, and site improvement of educational facilities. This definition is from the Office of Facilities Planning of the School District of Escambia County.
So what was our state legislature thinking for several years when it has approved legislation that sent ALL the PECO funds to charter schools? The logic behind this, they would argue, is that charter schools are being used by the public school children to educate our Florida children. But the problem is that we are giving public funds to enhance the facilities owned by private individuals or companies that do not have to continue to use those facilities for charter schools in the future. In addition, there is no public oversight of these funds. There is not even a requirement to prove that the money was actually used for improvements. And what if the private entity stops being a charter school, do they have to give back the money or facility?
Now this year the legislature is considering requiring the bond money that the public approved for public schools to be shared with charter schools. This would would again decimate school district budgets for construction. It's not like the administrators are spending the money on themselves or teacher salaries. They are actually using it for much needed repairs, expansions, and remodeling.
In addition to the previously mentioned objectionable practice of giving public funds to a private organization with absolutely no control or requirement over the money, there are three additional arguments why we should not directly fund private charter school construction:
The construction work is not going to be regulated through the Competitive Negotiation Act, which is a state law which assures some measure of competition for getting the best architect for the design work.
None of the minority and small business ordinances which are in place in Miami-Dade County and Broward County Public Schools would be in effect to assure the participation of small and minority businesses.
The work does not have to be competitively bid as do all school projects, which means all the work could be given to the friends of the charter school’s board of directors and they can pay as much as they want. There are no assurances that the space is efficiently laid out and corridors and support spaces, such as mechanical rooms, are minimized.
In other words, instead of spreading millions of dollars among many architectural firms and construction companies, the business can be given exclusively to one or two companies and the state or county has no control over this at all.
If the Florida legislature will not come to its senses and realize what a mistake it is all the way around to continue to fund private school construction with our money, the public should demand that the bond money used only for the purpose it was approved - only for public school construction.