Florida Democrats seek to cushion expected changes to charter school law
Majority Republicans in the Florida House and Senate have made no secret of their desire to expand the reach of charter schools in the state, with legislation filed to give charters more access to construction funds and to allow even more growth of the publicly funded, privately run schools.
Democrats might not have the votes to stop the initiatives. But that isn't preventing them from filing bills of their own to limit the impact of the proposals on the traditional public school system, particularly if the new ideas fail. They've put forth three bills this week to protect districts from financial stresses associated with charter schools closing midyear, something that isn't a fantasy fear as it's happened more than once this year already.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Palm Beach Co., is proposing that if charters are nonrenewed or terminated, their capital funds and federal charter grant funds be distributed to the sponsor — not to the state as has been the case to this point. (SB 1230)
Sen. Geri Thompson, D-Orange Co., meanwhile is seeking to require charter schools to create plans for where their students would go if their charter school fails or if the students withdraw before the end of the school year, and further mandate that the students' prorated state funding follow them to whatever school they transfer to. (SB 1092) Rep. Karen Castor-Dentel, D-Polk Co., has filed a related bill in the House (HB 1001), giving charters shorter time limits to create such plans than the Senate version and also requiring charter schools to file certified lists of students on waiting lists to their district sponsors each year.
These measures aim to give districts a little more time to prepare in the case that charters do shut down, while also offering some added transparency to their operations. GOP leaders have said they back full accountability for the charters they support. Time will tell if they will back these bills, which have yet to be assigned to committees.