From the Tampa Times, by John Romano
Think of yourself as a stockholder in the corporation known as Florida.
You’re not getting a cash dividend from your investment, but your tax dollars theoretically bring returns in other, perhaps less quantifiable, ways.
Which leads to this bit of unfortunate news: Your money is being flushed away.
Routinely. Unapologetically. And with the gleeful assistance of your state leaders.
The problem here is charter schools. Not the hundreds of charters offering wonderful educational alternatives across the state, but the bad-apple charters opening and closing with all the bravado of a Broadway flop.
The new school year has barely begun, and already five schools in South Florida have closed their doors.
Three more have been told by the state to prepare for closure in 90 days due to previous academic issues, another has been put on notice in Jacksonville for not having enough students, and a Pinellas County school had to dis-invite some students just days before the year began because its facility wasn’t ready.
And the worst part of all of this? It’s not an aberration. Not even close.
With state leaders greasing the skids, the past decade has brought an explosion of charters, which are publicly funded but privately run schools. We have gone from roughly 300 charters in 2004 to more than 600 today.
Sounds like a magnificent business model except for one caveat: During that same period, more than 230 charters have closed.
What business in the world would accept that growth model: opening more than 50 sites annually while simultaneously closing more than 20?
The big issue is these closures do not exist in a vacuum. Tax dollars are being wasted, and students’ lives are being upended every time another school bites the dust.
So what is your Legislature’s answer to this crisis?
Hey, let’s make it easier for more charters to open.
Instead of looking at ways to curb this obscene failure rate, the state House went in the opposite direction. It passed a bill last session that would have standardized charter contracts and limited the authority of local school districts to vet applicants.
Thankfully, the Senate didn’t want any part of that nonsense, and the bill died.
As it is, school districts are not allowed to focus on past performance when considering a charter application. That’s how a company that had three charters fail on the opening day of classes this year can still have four new school proposals in South Florida.
Furthermore, the state often overrules local districts when they try to deny applications. Two charter applications that were nixed by Palm Beach County officials won appeals from the state. Neither school survived even a single day. The Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale reports the state reverses about 60 percent of charter appeals.
“These are your tax dollars being wasted,” said Dot Clark, the Pinellas official who coordinates charter applications. “When you have a group with a record of not being successful and you’re not allowed to consider that when they’re asking for more money? When you think of it that way, it’s almost criminal the Legislature allows it.”
This is not meant to be an attack on charter schools.
It is an attack on waste. And bad policies.
It is an attack on stupidity.