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Sue Legg: Florida Republican Proposes to Fix Charter Mess

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Well, this is a hopeful sign. A Republican the state senate in Florida has proposed to change the charter law so that it focuses on the neediest children, the ones for whom charters were first created. With the house leadership firmly controlled by Rep. Eric Fresen, whose brother-in-law owns one  of the largest and most profitable charter chains in the state, the two houses of the legislature may be on a collision course. Rep. Fresen always takes care of the charter industry.

 

Sue Legg, who has studied Florida charter schools on behalf of the state League of Women Voters, wrote with the following information:

 

 

A recent Senate President, Don Gaetz, proposed a bill this week to curb ‘private enrichment’ facilities schemes by charter school management firms and their real estate arms. He acknowledged that the legislature has gotten away from the original intent for charters schools. His bill would prioritize charters serving impoverished students and/or those with disabilities.

 

Florida has over 650 charter schools, over a third are run by for-profit firms. The legislature, the Governor, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education are all strong charter supporters.

 

This is the first time that a staunch Republican legislator has publically acknowledged the rampant charter exploitation and abuse and taken meaningful steps to curb it. It even addresses public ownership of facilities. The bill is not perfect; it may not pass. However, Senator Gaetz calls for “Charters with a Conscience”. Sometimes you just have to share the good news. 

 

Senator Gaetz is thinking about what is right. He and Rep. Fresen (HB 873) are squaring off over charter school funding for facilities. Both bills would reduce the amount of capital outlay dollars public schools can assess through local property taxes. According to the Miami Herald, Senator Gaetz’s bill would also crack down on ‘private enrichment’ schemes that charter management firms use to build and lease facilities for which they charge exorbitant rates.
Charter board members would have to swear that capital outlay funds would only be used for facilities. Funds would be awarded only to public entities, a 501(c)(3) specifying in its articles of incorporation that all property will return to specified public entities upon dissolution, or is owned by or leased to a person or entity who is not an affiliated party to the charter school.

 

The Senate proposal has some other very good features. It would reconfigure the funding formula to prioritize those charters that offer quality alternative schools for impoverished students or those with disabilities. Certain charters would receive a base capital outlay allocation from state funds, but those that serve at least 75% of children qualifying for free or reduced lunch or 25% of children with ESE, would receive an additional twenty five percent or fifty percent if both criteria are met. The Miami Herald quotes Senator Gaetz who suggested that ‘…we want to weight it for those charters that have a social conscience’.

 

The bill does not take capital outlay money away from traditional public schools for charter schools. It does, however, change the formula for how the money is allocated.

 

There are some ‘gotchas’ in the Senate bill. The legislature still needs to work with districts to create viable policy. Nevertheless, Senator Gaetz appears to recognize that unregulated school choice benefits some companies more than children.

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