From the Miami Herald
By Kathleen McGrory, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau
TALLAHASSEE — While education isn’t likely to take center stage in Tallahassee this year, one message is clear: Florida lawmakers want to continue growing charter schools.
At least two proposals are poised to help the state’s charter school movement in a big way.
One would require local school districts to share their construction and maintenance dollars with their charter schools. Another would allow charters to offer programming for parents.
“The legislation you are seeing is a reflection of some of the core values and beliefs we have,” said Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, vice chair of the House Education Committee. “Any time you have choice, it encourages everyone to excel.”
There is, however, pushback from the other side of the aisle.
Some Democrats want the Legislature to slow down when it comes to charter school growth — and to hold charter schools more accountable. To that end, two South Florida lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that would require charter schools to disclose more information about their finances on their websites.
The bills were filed after a Miami Herald investigation found that the charter school movement has given rise to a cottage industry of for-profit management companies, some of which have almost total control over the charter schools they run.
Charter schools are funded by tax dollars, but run by independent governing boards. Some are managed by for-profit companies.
Enrollment in charter schools now tops 175,000 students statewide, accounting for one out of every 16 children in Florida’s public schools. The results have been mixed. On average, charter school students and their counterparts in traditional public schools post comparable scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests.
Last year, state lawmakers made it easier for high-performing charter schools to replicate and increase their enrollment.
This year, the focus is funding.
Charter schools receive less state money than traditional public schools – partly because traditional public schools have the power to levy taxes to support maintenance and construction projects.
A proposal currently under consideration would require school districts to share some of those capital dollars with charter schools based on student enrollment numbers.
“Our public resources should be fairly and equitably distributed among all public schools,” said Adkins, who is sponsoring the bill in the House.
Cheri Shannon, president of the Florida Charter School Alliance, said equal funding has long been a priority for charter school advocates.
“Why should one child’s education be worth less because that child is in a charter school?” she said.
But opponents of the bill say tax dollars shouldn’t support charter school facilities, which are often privately owned and not a public asset.
What’s more, school district officials say that revenue is needed to pay down the debt on existing schoolhouses.
“The capital outlay dollars are needed in the public schools,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who is also Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.
Another charter school initiative – this one sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs – would allow charter school operators to establish “family charter academies” where parents could take adult education classes.
“Many charter school parents believe in education – so much so that they themselves want to stay at the schools and take classes,” Simmons said. “This would make charter schools like a one-stop shop.”
Simmons envisions parents taking vocational, language and lifelong learning classes, he said.
But whether the charter schools would be eligible for the state dollars that fund adult education programs remains to be seen. “That would be the next step,” Simmons said.
Shannon, of the Florida Charter School Alliance, said the bill “would make good use of the school buildings.”
The state teachers’ union sees its differently.
“These bills are taking money away from traditional schools and giving them to charter schools that have no accountability,” Florida Education President Andy Ford said. “And we as taxpayers don’t even know if charter schools are a good investment.”
Ford said lawmakers should instead be focusing on providing adequate funding for traditional public schools so they can provide a broader array of class offerings and services for children.
Not every charter school bill is aimed at expansion.
Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, and Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami Beach, have legislation that would require charter schools to post information about their management companies prominently on their websites. Charter school operators would have to disclose if they are managed by for-profit companies, and if so, how much they pay in fees. They would also have to report the management company’s management and administrative personnel.
“People are now profiting from charter schools,” Bullard said. “That was not the intent of the law.”
Kathleen McGrory can be reached at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/28/v-fullstory/2612310/lawmakers-want-charter-schools.html#storylink=cpy