Florida GOP moving forward with several bills to increase state funding for charter schools

By | 02.28.12 | 11:36 am

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (left) (Pic by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Dawn C. Montgomery)

Florida Republicans are actively pursuing legislation to expand funding for charter schools, as part of a larger push to strengthen school choice in Florida and give more tax payer dollars to privately-run, non-traditional, K-12 public charter schools.

The Miami Herald reports Tuesday that, during the current legislative session, former governor Jeb Bush, “and his nonprofit organization, the Foundation for Florida’s Future, have helped to fast-track a stream of legislation that could reset the education equation in Florida. The bills, moving steadily through both the House and Senate, could gradually shift the financial and competitive advantage away from traditional public schools to private schools and charter schools, which are often managed by for-profit companies. Other proposals push virtual-learning initiatives.”

According to a press release issued Monday by Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville and Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, “Senate Bill 1852, sponsored by Senator Wise, would establish equal funding and equal opportunities for Florida’s public charter school students by requiring traditional school districts to share local millage, proportionally and on a per-student basis, for public charter schools to use to build more schools.”

Georgia Slack, a lobbyist who spoke for Broward County Schools at a Senate committee hearing held earlier this month, said that SB 1852 would be a disaster for Broward county, which has “$85 million in maintenance fees and 237 existing facilities to maintain” adding “this is not a charter school issue, Broward county has 97 charter schools, we are not anti-charter, we are pro- trying to keep our buildings from becoming disreputable parts of neighborhoods.”

Joy Frank, of the Association of District School Superintendents, said at the hearing that, when the bill was created, supporters said charter schools would not come and ask for funds to build more schools. But local millage has dropped, says Frank, and “we [public schools] don’t have any [money] to share.” She added that the bill would give almost $140 million to charter schools.

Supporters of SB 1852 have touted the importance of non-traditional public schools in Florida, the need for equitable funding for public schools and charter schools, many of which are privately run. They also point out that President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan support charter schools, making it a non-partisan issue.

The Herald adds that Foundation for Florida’s Future legislative priorities this year include “a bill that would expand the statewide tax credit cap, enabling more children from low-income families to earn vouchers to attend private schools; a controversial bill known as the ‘parent trigger’ that would allow parents to demand sweeping changes at low-performing schools.”

The parent trigger bill filed by GOP members of the state House and Senate would allow “parents of students assigned to certain underperforming public schools” to petition their school district to implement a “school turnaround option selected by parents.”

The U.S. Department of Education‘s “turnaround” models include replacing the school principal, rehiring no more than 50 percent of the staff and reopening a school as a charter school (i.e. one that is publicly funded, but privately managed).

One opponent of the parent trigger bill, Linda Kobert of Fund Education Now (which represents hundreds of thousands of parents with children in traditional public schools), argued that the bill takes schools away from elected officials, giving them instead to for-profit enterprises. “We see an expanded proliferation of for-profit schools,” Kobert said.

Other initiatives include last weeks’ “School Choice Day” in Tallahassee, organized by the Florida Coalition of Public School Options, where business and political leaders including Gov. Rick Scott and organizations linked to Jeb Bush and the state’s GOP, voiced their support for charter schools.

Follow Marcos Restrepo on Twitter


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