Another Pro-Charter School Bill “Rammed Through” Florida Senate Committee


Reports Matt Dixon in the Florida-Times Union:

TALLAHASSEE – Legislation that would, among other things, require county school districts to share a pot of construction money with charter schools was rammed through a Senate committee Monday, leaving 12 hostile amendments on the table

At issue is about $1.9 billion that 40 school districts — including Duval and St. Johns — raise from taxpayers mostly for construction projects. Current law allows districts to share some of that money with charter schools, but most don’t.

Under the bill sponsored by state Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, that sharing would be mandatory. It would mean $140 million would be sliced from the construction pot and sent to charter schools. In Duval and St. Johns counties it would equate to $3.4 million.

With budget cuts in recent years, opponents say traditional public schools simply can’t afford the loss.

“We are not OK with this form of corporate welfare, especially when our traditional publicly owned schools are suffering,” said St. Johns County resident Colleen Wood, who helps lead nonprofit education group Save Duval Schools.

Supporters said that because charter schools are public, money they pay for public education should not be cut off from the schools where they send their children.

“Many like me have made a false assumption that their local tax effort follows their child or grandchild,” said Richard Swier, whose grandchildren attend charter schools.

He said he was representing his grandchildren Emma and Ethan. Supporters of the legislation inserted names of their children and grandchildren into testimony throughout the hearing.

Before debate began, Wise, the committee chairman, got a vote to allow consideration of the bill to be cut off after one hour, mindful that members still had two other bills to review before their three hours of allotted time was up. The move did not leave nearly enough time for the 80 public speakers to testify, or to consider the 13 amendments filed by state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.

Wise said he thought that the two bills considered after his charter school bill would take longer. The committee adjourned with 30 minutes remaining, and Wise called the move “a mistake.”

Montford, the member to vote against the bill, said he did not think the move was part of larger strategy to force the bill through the committee without considering his amendments.

“I trust my colleagues,” he said.

Wise called Montford a friend, and said that his amendments would probably be heard in one of the bill’s remaining committee stops.

An Orlando Sentinel story can be found here.

Wise apparently scheduled three long-winded proponents of the bill and then asked for  amendments and called for a time certain vote scheduled an hour later. Opponents were forced to come up during amendment discussion. Acting chair, Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff scolded Save Duval Schools’ Deb Gianoulis – and opponent of the bill –  for not speaking to the amendment knowing full-well that scheduled opponents were being muscled out by Wise.

Small wonder an exceptional reporter like Dixon was comfortable in characterizing the pro-charter bill as being rammed through. Wise’s “this Senate does not strong-arm people,” is laughable. Especially considering the litany of coercive pro-charter school legislation Wise has helped ram through. Or in Wise’s attempt last session to effectively dissolve school boards by ending their salaries.

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About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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