Florida lawmakers to consider added flexibility for school districts
Not so long ago, Florida allowed school districts to earn "charter district" status that in theory freed them from many of the red tape regulations that occupy so much time and money. Hillsborough and Palm Beach were among those to win the label.
In reality, they didn't have as many freedoms as they had hoped, and over time the designation withered away.
Now, with school district officials loudly complaining about mountains of unfunded mandates at a time of decreasing revenue -- yes, forecasters told lawmakers on Thursday that a midyear "cut scenario" is appearing "much more likely" -- some lawmakers are entertaining the idea of giving districts more flexibility from bureaucracy.
Members of the Senate Pre-K-12 Appropriations subcommittee began taking testimony on what is being called the School District Innovation and Efficiency Act of 2012. The bill, a draft of which appeared in the committee packet, would exempt school districts from most of the state's school statutes "with the intent of continuing significant improvements in student achievement through a variety of means."
Those would include adding more parent choices, expanding virtual education options and redirecting more funding into classrooms.
Consultant Juhan Mixon told the committee that school districts have become bogged down with regulations on top of regulations in an effort to create accountabilty. "We need between now and session ... to look at all the regulations we've got and say which are needed and which are not needed in an era when we're holding teachers right down to the student accountable," he said.
Remove some of the rules, he suggested, and if achievement dips, then put them back. But the time has come to give districts more room to breathe.
St. Lucie superintendent Michael Lannon agreed, calling for more flexibility to let the districts do their jobs well. He said districts can be more efficient when not bound by so many restrictions. He also asked lawmakers to give districts the ability to impose an added .25-mill critical needs operating tax without voter approval, as they could do until this year.
Subcommittee members plan to continue to look into the concept.