You passed a half-cent sales tax to help Lee County schools (it was on the ballot in 2018), and now the Cape Coral City Council will discuss asking the Lee County School Board for some of that funding to help the Cape Coral Charter School system.
That half-cent sales tax was designated for all Lee County schools, not including the four Cape Coral charter schools, which operate separately with their own superintendent and school board. But now they want a piece of the $170 million raised so far from the surtax.
Money from the half-cent sales tax increase has bought Lee County public schools state-of-the-art security cameras, giant interactive screens for teachers to use in front of the classroom and even entire new schools.
John Gunter, mayor of Cape Coral, says the charter schools would put its share of the revenue toward:
- Replacement of carpeting ($230,000 per school)
- Replacement of buses ($110,000 ea.)
- New playgrounds ($200,000 ea.)
- Technology upgrades (unspecified)
In past meetings, the superintendent has said all their money goes to the buildings leases, and they are in need of renovations.
“What we’re doing is asking, just like what other municipal charter schools have done in the Cape, where they’ve asked the county to give them a percentage of the house and sales tax,” Gunther said. “We felt we could utilize that money for capital improvement projects in the school, so that’s why we decided to at least request and see if they would entertain that possibility.”
If Lee County refuses this proposal, Cape Coral plans to have a discussion with its city attorney to see what its other options are. Florida law doesn’t initially look like it allows for this kind of money to go to charter schools, because the half-cent tax says that it can only be used on public schools. But according to Florida Statute 1002.23, all charter schools in Florida are public schools, and shall be part of the state’s program of public education.
Florida is one of the only states in the country that considers both public and charter schools under the same legal umbrella. Pamella Seay, professor of justice studies at Florida Gulf Coast University, agrees this can confuse matters.
“Well, sometimes people become confused because the schools are called charter schools,” Seay said. “They are authorized by Florida statute. And Florida statute defines charter school as a public school, so if the school district or the city or what have you wishes to fund them, it is certainly permissible, without any question, because it is a public school.”