Next steps logo

Florida lawmakers look to streamline charter application process

In an ongoing effort to make it easier to open charter schools in Florida, some lawmakers want the state – not school districts – to get the first crack at reviewing charter applications.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.
Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Members of the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee discussed the idea Thursday during a workshop that introduced the proposed legislation. It calls for the Florida Department of Education to ensure applications meet statutory requirements before they go before school boards for a vote.

In Florida, school boards authorize charter schools, which are public schools that use tax dollars but operate independently from districts.

The idea, said Rep. Manny Diaz, the Hialeah Republican who introduced the draft bill, is to prevent a stalemate between charter applicants and districts on the minimum requirements.

“The districts in certain cases have rehashed some of those requirements during the contract process,’’ dragging out negotiations and resulting in additional costs, Diaz told redefinED. “This bill puts that back-and-forth back to where it belongs with the application. We’re trying to give applicants some clarity and guidance. If the application is not statutorily ready, it shouldn’t be submitted.’’

If the state finds the application does comply with the law, a letter goes to the school board, which still is expected to provide a rigorous review. If the board approves the application and grants a standard charter, then both parties can negotiate additional terms “but it will not stop the charter school from going forward and opening,’’ Diaz said.

The subcommittee as a whole offered positive feedback, but a few members expressed concern about how the measure might restrict districts. For instance, Orlando Democrat Randolph Bracy wondered how negotiations could be carried out once the school is up and running and a contract is signed.

The bulk of negotiations would happen during the application process, not at the contract point, Diaz said. Afterward, there would still be room for negotiations, but both parties would have to agree to the additional items.

The draft bill isn’t intended to take away authority from the districts, he said, but “it evens the playing field when it comes to the contract.’’

If the proposal makes it through the House and Senate, and is approved by the governor, it would not affect existing charter school contracts, subcommittee Chairman Michael Bileca said.

Avatar photo

BY Sherri Ackerman

Sherri Ackerman is the former associate editor of redefinED. She is a former correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times and reporter for The Tampa Tribune, writing about everything from cops and courts to social services and education. She grew up in Indiana and moved to Tampa as a teenager, graduating from Brandon High School and, later, from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications/news editing. Sherri passed away in March 2016.