Education in the Legislature: Charter Schools Are Next

By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida
By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 28, 2011 --

With teacher merit pay reforms out of the way, the Florida Legislature has turned toward charter school expansion, considering two bills this week that would make it easier for highly-rated charter schools to expand enrollment, add grade levels and grant preferential admittance.

And just like the swiftly-approved teacher merit pay reforms, the push to expand charter schools has the strong backing of Gov. Rick Scott.

“The next thing we’ve got to do (is get) our charter schools expanded,” Scott said Friday at a ceremonial signing of the teacher merit pay bill. “It gives our public schools the opportunity to be run by third parties and be way more innovative.”

The push for charter school expansion is part of a decades-long broader effort by Florida Republicans to offer more school choices beyond traditional public schools. Charter schools are public schools, but they can be run by a third-party, such as a university or non-profit, and are exempt from regulations that apply to traditional public schools.

Charter schools operate with approval and general oversight from the county school districts and are funded through taxpayer dollars.

They are different from private schools, which are totally autonomous and supported primarily by tuition.

“Charter schools give parents a choice,” said Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who is a supporter of a House bill to expand charter schools. “When you have options, that brings everybody to a higher level.”

The bills in committee next week offer two different takes on charter school expansion.

One bill (SB 1546) sponsored by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, emphasizes the ability of universities and community colleges to add new grades or open new charter schools.

It also removes a requirement that charter schools provide transportation.

This is a big change from current law, which limits the number of charter schools eligible for state funding to one per university, with a few exceptions. It also allows community colleges to go from just being allowed to develop secondary charter schools that serve middle and high school students to all grades, K-12.

Thrasher’s bill shares with a House proposed committee bill (KINS 11-03) an effort to label charter schools that have received two “A” grades in three years as “high-performing.” That would open the door to benefits such as the ability to more easily tack on new grades, or increase enrollment by 25 percent. High-performing schools are also assured 15-year contracts. Both bills also strengthen a charter school’s ability to appeal a district’s decision to revoke a charter.

Both measures expand the ability of certain charter schools to grant preferential admittance based on where the parent is employed or where the student lives.

Rather than just granting the preferential status to children of charter school employees, for instance, the bill now allows the children of the charter school’s business partners admittance over others. The House bill also would allow preferential admission based on whether the child attends a pre-kindergarten program at that school.

Charter schools are growing in popularity in Florida. There are currently 458 charter schools in the state serving 154,758 students. That’s up from 411 that were in operation the year before.

Thrasher hinted on Thursday that changes to his bill are likely.

He said he would support an effort to “narrow” his wide-ranging bill. “I’m of the opinion it was too broad,” Thrasher said. “We will try to move forward and see what our friends in the House do, too.”

Stargel said she wasn’t a big supporter of the concept in Thrasher’s bill of letting universities and community colleges open more charter schools.

“They should stick to their mission of higher education,” Stargel said.

The push to expand charter schools is on the legislative agenda of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, which also was a big supporter of teacher merit pay reforms.

Executive Director Patricia Levesque was on hand when the teacher merit pay bill was signed. The Foundation for Florida’s Future has seen much success this session, with another bill the organization supports that expands public school vouchers moving through committees in both chambers at a fast clip.


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  • by Sara Location: Tallahassee on Mar 28, 2011 at 02:08 PM
    I love, love charter schools! My child was in Gilchrist, "A" school right, but he was falling through the cracks! Not one of his teachers went above or beyond what was "expected" of them to help him. We worked hours on end at home with him and had 2 hours of more homework every night. He wasn't a discipline problem, so therefore, the teachers thought he was just lazy. He isn't and we aren't the kind of parents to sit by either! Teachers just love blaming the parents! He now goes to a local charter school and it's been straight A's ever since. He loves waking up to go to school and the teachers are in constant contact with me. Less homework at night too! Our charter school has made everyone happy! Public school was a nightmare!
  • by Public Schools Rock! on Mar 28, 2011 at 02:04 PM
    I work for a public school. The school I work at is far better than any charter school in the area.
    • reply
      by Billy on Mar 29, 2011 at 07:37 AM in reply to Public Schools Rock!
      Of course it is, if you work there it must be better!
  • by Kevin aka Reality Location: Monticello on Mar 28, 2011 at 01:05 PM
    I am a self educated , fairly gifted individual , who struggled in the Public Schools (similar in C.A.). I had the I.Q. and test scores to recieve a Charter Based Education , but unfortunately my Parents didnt have the often Huge Admittance Fee. While Charter schools are in many ways absolutely wonderful tools, I hope EVERYONE gifted enough will have Access to these Institutions. (I.E. A Roofer's son should have the SAME deal a Stockbrokers son gets IF hes smart enough.) Sadly I see EVERYONE paying for these places , and NOT EVERYONE having access. Just another brick in the wall of seperating RICH from Poor.
  • by tlh on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:26 AM
    The fact here is this...public schools stink. Parents are not involved and the children are not challenged. How many of you have elementary kids in public school? How many have permanant TVs in the class rooms? They are not for learning folks! Those kids are watching movies. I know! Charter schools are the only answer to prepping our kids to compete. And lets not even talk about zoning. We lived right next to kate Sullivan and were zoned for Hartsfield! And a neighbor close to Leon, zoned for Rickards! We are in Charter schools and will not go back! Finally we have support from the top!
    • reply
      by i agree on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:38 AM in reply to tlh
      Public schools do stink. That is why we need to fix them. Charter schools are not the answer, you just think that because they have the resources. The more we strip public schools and send money to private schools in the form of vouchers- the more the public schools will "stink".
      • reply
        by DOE on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:57 AM in reply to i agree
        DOE is sucking the resources out of your district school systems. Reduce that overhead and you will be astonished at the amount of resources you will have.
        • reply
          by I agree on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:21 PM in reply to DOE
          DOE- I agree
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:46 PM in reply to DOE
          DOE takes not 1 penny from any local school district! Local school districts get money from local taxes and maybe some funding from the State or Federal tax dollars. But, to the best of my knowledge, local schools do not pay a dime to DOE, which is funded as a State Agency. Local tax cuts are what sucks resources out of your district schools, NOT DOE!
      • reply
        by Billy on Mar 30, 2011 at 04:07 AM in reply to i agree
        More and more money is poured into public schools and they still stink! When you people learn that lack of money is not the problem with public schools?
  • by disgusted on Mar 28, 2011 at 09:25 AM
    No No No No No - this is why it was wrong to pass legislation that will allow transfer of public tax revenue to be "vouchered" to private and charter schools. As you can see now it will be used to pay for preference and segregation instead of ensuring all children in the state get a better chance of equal education. The courts should ban this as being discriminatory and all of the Legislators who voted to support it should be charged for conspiracy to discriminate.
    • reply
      by anonymous on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:49 AM in reply to disgusted
      Why do you automatically come to the conclusion that Charter Schools are not diversified. Do some homework yourself and take note that they are excelling in teaching students of ALL races. A lot of African Americans support the charters school and are getting tired of ohter people telling them what is best, by always using the word discriminatory. That word is all but used up in these modern times.
  • by Edith Location: Florida on Mar 28, 2011 at 07:16 AM
    I think everybody realizes what is going on with the Republican group of underarchievers. They are trying to destroy traditional public school education and create a group of students that will react to their concept of education and not the concept giving them the ability to compete in the world. The only problem is will the students of such education be functional in a society which include a large amount of diversity. I hope that the vendetta against Crist and Obama does not destroy the state of Florida.
    • reply
      by Regan Rebulican on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:07 PM in reply to Edith
      This is not a conspiracy theory... Charter schools are proven to work because they are using creative and imaginative ways to educate a child. Students learn and retain information differently and under Charters schools the teachers get to decide how to teach a child not the Department of Education. Your comments are despicable and bacically naive. Do some research on the diversity of Charter Schools and how they are performing at high levels. Also, start being a part of the solution to fix Florida's educational system not just critizing those who are trying to make a change for the better!
      • reply
        by creativity is out the window on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:23 PM in reply to Regan Rebulican
        with merit pay! Treat them the same and see what happens... public school champions are trying to get public schools the same freedom. Instead they tie their hands and while allowing the charters to have freedom and then say "look how creative they are"
  • by Jane on Mar 28, 2011 at 07:14 AM
    Now that we have gutted public education let's make sure that the wealthy can escape the swamp. Principles, yea right. The only principle conservatives believe in is "I got mine, good luck to you."
  • by surprise? on Mar 28, 2011 at 06:59 AM
    Who didn't see this coming? We might as well have Jeb back...
  • by Anonymous on Mar 28, 2011 at 06:47 AM
    Ahhh... two bills clearly designed to help the rich get preferential treatment, allowing the "rich to become richer, the poor to become poorer" through our next generation. Removing the requirement to provide transportation makes it such that only those that can afford to transport their children their will have the opportunity to send their kids there, while the other bill allowing children of "business partners" preferential enrollment is clear that those who have a business and can contribute or get a contract to provide a service to the school get to send their kids there. Its all smoke and mirrors folks. But this smart Democrat sees right through it to what they really want: Giving children of the wealthy preferential treatment to accessing a possibly better education.
  • by Anonymous on Mar 28, 2011 at 06:46 AM
    Rick Scott is a criminal and a thief, and I'm ASHAMED he is OUR governor! And so should you! He is killing our economy worse than it was and now he wants to do cahrter schools!? whats next? allowing another company to bill fraudulently and charge another 600 million fine?
    • reply
      by anonymous on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:10 PM in reply to
      A lot of Floridians are proud of Rick Scott who is making changes to improve Florida!!!! What do you have against charter schools? Can you talk about the debate instead of the emotional, name calling rant and the same old line.
      • reply
        by @anon on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:24 PM in reply to anonymous
        There is nothing wrong with charter schools AND there would be nothing wrong with public schools if they were allowed the same freedom.
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