From Palm Beach Post reporter John Kennedy:
An effort backed by Gov. Rick Scott to expand charter school education in Florida cleared a state House committee Wednesday on a strict, party-line vote.
The legislation offers a host of incentives to the lucrative charter school industry – a move defended by Republicans on the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee, which called charters an important alternative for parents and students unhappy with traditional public schools.
Democrats and school district officials urged lawmakers to recast the legislation – with Flagler County School Board member Colleen Conklin saying the sweeteners went way too far.
“Reform is good,” she told the panel. “It just can’t be reckless.”
The legislation, approved 8-5 by the panel, would require counties with empty or half-empty schools to offer these facilities at no cost to charter operators.
The Palm Beach County School Board has allowed charter schools for several years to use surplus space. But district lobbyist Vern Pickup-Crawford said the bill’s standards would prove a “logistical nightmare,” for the county.
The land grab portion of the bill was reported to have been crafted by Jim Horne of the Florida Charter School Alliance who naturally called it “very good legislation.” Charter School USA lobbyist Chris Moya misdirected in another direction and said the bill would encourage “accountability.”
Some fascinating inside the House work has been going on with the bill. Horne enlisted Rep. George Moreites (R-Broward) do it’s bidding while Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) furiously has been putting in corrective amendments. The bill passed through committee on strict party lines, 8-5.
The changes to the manner which charter schools operate in the state in the bill are overshadowed by such further usurping of the power of local school boards. What if the board has determined the unused property should be sold to raise cash for something else? Charter school operators have been paying well for their access – the Post reports that Charter Schools USA gave $214,500 during the last campaign season – and it’s outrageous their lobbyist would say this bill was about accountability. You can be sure that guys like Horne and Moya will be publicly smearing boards in disputes over property as not following the law just as another did last year.