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Jacksonville State Lawmakers Are Lobbying To Get $3 Million For 2 Charter Schools

Bob Mack
The Florida Times-Union
School buses line up outside the KIPP school to take students home.

Funding requests totaling $3 million from two Northwest Jacksonville charter schools are being pushed by state lawmakers.

Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, and Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, are sponsoring a $2 million proposal to help pay for the Knowledge is Power (KIPP) program’s extended school day costs. And Rep. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, is behind a request for $1 million from the Tiger Academy.

Yarborough said Tiger Academy stands out as a high-performing school in an underserved neighborhood.

“This particular appropriation would allow for the Pre-K program to be offered and continue in order to help the students there, so we can try to help them get on a good path as early as possible for success and try to overcome some of the challenges that the community is faced with,” he said.

According to Tiger Academy’s application, $700,000 of the funding would be used to hire more early childhood teachers and $300,000 would go to educational materials and supplies, as well as to maintaining the facilities.

“I am dedicated to seeking funding for KIPP because they have a proven model-nationwide.   KIPP alumni graduate at four times the rate of their lower-income peers,” said Fischer, in an email to WJCT. “KIPP has also operated the highest performing middle school in the North and Westside of Jacksonville for the past five years.”

Fischer’s and Yarborough’s House Bills, HB 3389 and HB 3925, respectively, both unanimously cleared the PreK-13 Appropriations Subcommittees last week.

Critics say giving specific funding to charters potentially diverts money from other public schools that have a host of unmet needs.

“They might have these excuses that these schools are serving a poorer group. Well you know, the public schools serve the same children. How come they’re not standing up and saying public schools need more resources,” asked Duval teacher and outspoken charter school critic Chris Guerrieri. “It’s only their donors’ charter schools that they’re supporting.”

Fischer, a former Duval County School Board Member, introduced similar legislation funding KIPP schools in 2018 (HB251) and in 2017 (HB 2787).

“I’ve introduced this legislation in the past because I am dedicated to our students with the best opportunities for success,” he said. “Every parent should have the ability to decide the educational path that best suits their child.”

Guerrieri said he believes Fischer is sponsoring the bill because KIPP founder Gary Chartrand financially supported Fischer’s campaign.

Related: Some Duval School Board Members Oppose Charter Bill By Jacksonville Representatives

According to the Florida Campaign Finance Database, which collects information on candidates for public office, Chartrand donated $1,000 to Fischer’s campaign and an additional $1,000.00 through the Gary R. Chartrand Trust during the 2018 elections.

According to the data, Chartrand gave Bean - who is sponsoring KIPP’s request in the Senate - $1,000.00 through his trust. That’s the maximum amount a donor can give to a state candidate.

Chartrand, who heads a Jacksonville-based marketing firm and serves the Florida Board of Education, is a philanthropist who gives to many local organizations and causes.  

A founding member of Tiger Academy’s board, Vestcor Companies chairman and former U.S. ambassador John Rood, contributed $1,000.00to Yarborough’s 2018 campaign.

Yarborough said he chose to support Tiger Academy because it’s in a very economically challenged part of the city.

“It just kinda rose up as one we should give priority to and definitely help the students there,” he said. “But it’s not to say there aren’t others that certainly deserve to have an opportunity for funding.”   

Both requests have advanced to the House Appropriations Committee.

Abukar Adan is a former WJCT reporter who left the station for other pursuits in August 2019.