Florida Senate Will Be the Key Battleground on Charter School Legislation


Two news reports on yesterday’s Senate Education meeting yesterday provided tidbits which revealed the Senate’s cautious nature on charter school legislation. Lynn Hatters report in WFSU indicates the biggest fights will be over amendments as the committee wants to merge two “competing” bill. It appears that Parent Trigger will remain separate. Writes Hatters:

Florida Senator David Simmons (R-Maitland) wants to strengthen state laws governing financial transparency and accountability for charter schools. He says high-profile closures of charter schools due to failing grades and financial instability have hurt the charter school movement, “and if it keeps going on, I think the charter school movement will be significantly injured.”

Some proposals require local school districts share a portion of their building fund with charters or turn over unused facilities.  Others place caps on payouts after a school closes. Both provisions are in a similar House charter school overhaul bill.

But the Senate proposals also work the other way around.  For example, under a bill by Senator Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee), some school districts may soon be able to gain many of the exemptions that exist for charters under state law.

The Senate education committee is trying to narrow the varying proposals into two main bills: one dealing with finances and accountability, and the other to deal with school districts becoming charter-like “innovation centers.”

The influential Montford had more to say. Reports Kathleen McGrory for the Times-Herald Tallahassee Bureau:

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said the committee should “take a close look at the financial underpinnings of the public-school system, and that includes charter schools.”

But Montford wasn’t ready to say where he stood on the issue of facilities funding. “I need to know what charter schools’ true capital needs are,” he said.

Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools cannot to levy taxes to support maintenance and construction. In the past, charter schools have received a one-time allocation in the budget. (This year, Gov. Rick Scott is recommending $100 million.) But charter schools, which now enroll about 200,000 children, want a steady source of funding to support their capital needs.

Montford, who is also the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, was clear on one thing Monday evening: “The time for finger-pointing between charter schools and regular public schools is over. We have to have the maturity to sit down and go over the data and discuss it.”

Montford is held in high regard by Senate President Don Gaetz. His position will matter to some republicans senators.

McGrory has this from Committee chairman Jeff Legg:

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Lutz, said he and staff would use the discussion to craft a single Senate charter-school proposal. He expects to unveil the bill in two weeks.

After the meeting, Legg said the committee was “80 percent in agreement” on what to include in the legislation. He also suggested he might want to consider a system for grading charter schools based on management.

When asked about facilities funding, Legg said: “That’s a part that I don’t think we’re in agreement on yet.”

McGrory’s report confirms that charter school lobbyist like Jim Horne have Andy Bean’s ear as the Fernandina Beach republican pitched a “recurring revenue stream for charter-school construction and maintenance.” As it little play with senators, it’s a non-starter this year. But Horne and his client, Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage have been pushing for a separate charter school board of which Bean’s proposal would be part.

I’m not sure if the extremely vile charter school land grab amendment that’s part of Carlos Trujillo’s House bill is included in Legg’s “single proposal.” Hopefully a reader can provide that information in comments below.

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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