Florida moves forward on charter school reform

All students at Woodmont Charter School, one of four schools whose renewal application was denied by the Hillsborough County School Board, are considered economically disadvantaged. The school is managed by Charter Schools USA, based in Fort Lauderdale.

Charter schools in Florida will have a smoother path following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing on Thursday of two bills related to charter school operation.

House Bill 225 requires school boards to make a final decision about the future of charter schools at least 90 days prior to the end of the school year. Had the measure been in place last summer, a last-minute decision on the part of the Hillsborough County School Board to close four charter schools a month before classes were scheduled to resume would have had a different outcome.

The school board ultimately renewed the charters after Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran threatened to withhold funding for the district for what he considered a violation of the state’s 90-day notice rule. Charter schools are automatically renewed if board fail to follow the procedures outlined in the new law.

The new law also includes a provision that would require sponsors to approve or deny charter school mergers within a 60-day period.

The bill received bipartisan support, with Democrats on the House Early Learning and Education subcommittee joining Republicans in a favorable vote.

Senate Bill 758 establishes a statewide approval board for applications and an institute for charter innovation. The new law will:

  • Establish a seven-member Charter School Review Commission with board members appointed by the Florida education commissioner and confirmed by the Senate. Board members would be required to have charter school experience. Board positions would be voluntary, though staff would be paid. The board would have the authority to review and approve applications for charter schools across the state, though sponsors noted that applicants could still apply to local school boards if they chose. Districts would be allowed to comment on applications made to the state board. Once a charter school received approval, oversight would shift to the local school board.
  • Establish the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation at Miami Dade College. The institute would analyze charter applications, identify best practices, provide training, technical assistance, and support to charter school sponsors, conduct research on education choice, charter school authorization and performance and other related topics. The bill did not cite a specific amount for funding.
  • Exempt facilities providing space to house charter schools from having to seek land use changes or rezonings as well as from property taxes for those spaces
  • Analyze methods for providing capital outlay funds to all public schools to ensure equity
  • Prohibit charter schools from being closed “without cause”

According to language in the bill, “It is the intent of the Legislature that charter school students be considered as important as all other students in this state, and to that end, comparable funding levels with existing and future sources should be maintained for charter school students.”

Rep. Alex Rizo, R-Hialeah, who co-sponsored the House version of the bill with Rep. Fred Hawkins, R-St. Cloud, said the bill would put charter school students on equal footing with those who attend traditional district schools and help Florida continue to be the national school choice leader.

The new laws go into effect July 1.

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BY Lisa Buie

Lisa Buie is senior reporter for NextSteps. The daughter of a public school superintendent, she spent more than a dozen years as a reporter and bureau chief at the Tampa Bay Times before joining Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa, where she served for nearly five years as marketing and communications manager. She lives with her husband and their teenage son, who has benefited from education choice.


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