Mark me down as skeptical anytime I hear one of Florida’s republican legislators say are they are worried about friction between school boards and charter schools. And then some new enlightened piece of legislation will take care of all that. Let’s consider a bill under consideration in Rep. Michael Bileca’s (R-Miami) education subcommittee for Choice and Innovation. Sun Sentinel reporter Scott Travis reports:
The proposal to standardize charter school contracts has gained some traction, with most members of the House of Representative’s Education Choice and Innovation subcommittee speaking favorably of the idea in a workshop last week.
The state Department of Education recently adopted a “model contract” to guide districts and charter schools in negotiating terms. It would require the schools to teach to state standards, administer state tests and remain in good financial standing.
Under the House proposal, this model contract would be the standard contract. School districts and charter schools could negotiate additional requirements, but they wouldn’t prevent new charter schools from opening.
In the past, school districts would sometimes add onerous or unnecessary provisions into the contracts, such as requiring charter school students to use district-issued textbooks, said Lynn Norman-Teck, spokeswoman for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools.
“A large percent of charter schools are mom-and-pop operations, and they have to spend a lot of money to hire a lawyer,” she said. “A standard contract would save everyone a lot of time and money.”
It’s hard not to be reflexively against anything a for-profit charter school spokesperson supports. I doubt that Norman-Teck is really concerned about “mom and pop” charter schools. She’s paid by powerful for-profit charter school bosses who can afford sending Rick Scott’s PAC a $50,000 check. Looks like Florida’s school districts don’t like the idea either.
But many school districts, including Broward and Palm Beach County, are fighting the proposal.
“Charter schools are supposed to be about innovation and creating new models,” said Leslie Brown, a Broward County school administrator. “When you try to standardize that into one boilerplate kind of template, that seems counter to the charter movement.”
A “standardized,” “one-size-fits-all” contract make it a lot easier to cut corners and make mischief. There may be another reason why Norman-Teck likes the proposed legislation so much. It appears to tweek the language that establishes “high-performing charters.”
An applicant is considered to be replicating a high-performing charter school if the proposed school is substantially similar to at least one of the applicant’s high-performing charter schools and the organization or individuals involved in the establishment and operation of the proposed school are significantly involved
A standardized contract coupled with the aforementioned loophole make it easier for big for-profit charter schools to circumvent local control. That’s what Bileca and his vice chairman, Rep. George Moraitis (R-Fort Lauderdale) really have in mind. The later’s HB 377 was kicked to two other committees last week and is scheduled to be heard in Choice and Innovation on Tuesday. Moraitis’ “stealth charter school bonanza bill” would make the “standardized contract” proposal moot as it would establish permanent independence for charter schools with its own funding mechanism and separate authorization board.
No part of HB 377 was taken up last week, and it’s quiet move to the agenda’s of two other House subcommittees indicates that Bileca and Moraitis want it to stay under the radar for as long as possible. Perhaps they may even seek to merge the two bills as this year’s big charter school, um, reform.