Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Should successful Florida school districts get same flexibility as charter schools?

Aiming to foster innovation and competition, Florida lawmakers exempted charter schools from the bulk of state statutes governing public education.

Miami-Dade lawyer Roberto Martinez, who sits on the state Constitution Revision Commission, contends that successful traditional districts should get the same consideration.

"I'm a big believer in choice," said Martinez, a former Florida Board of Education chairman and two-term member. "And choice works both ways."

He has proposed an amendment that would grant all the freedoms given to charter schools, to any county district that earns "high performing" status in the state grading and accountability system. (Whether you think the system is the right way to gauge success is not part of his debate: He's a supporter.)

Districts could keep the charter designation as long as they maintain a B or better in two years of a rolling three-year period, their state grade does not drop below C, and their reserves remain above a state-required minimum.

"What this does is give districts the ability to choose how they want to govern themselves at the local level," Martinez said. "The districts really know better than the people in Tallahassee or Washington what is best for their students."

He called for the eligibility criteria to approach the level of oversight that charter schools are supposed to get when they apply for permission to open. Once in operation, he noted, charters face closure for poor performance in the state grading system.

Districts would simply lose their charter status.

Martinez said he is not seeking to change the rules for charters.

"This is to give districts the same flexibility that charter schools get, assuming they meet a set of criteria," he explained. "The beneficiary of the competition is the students. … I want to give public schools options. Let public schools innovate."

The Constitution Revision Commission has until May to place amendment referenda on the 2018 ballot. It currently has 16 education-related member proposals to consider.

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