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Senate panel won't budge on watered-down charter-school bill

A Senate panel on Wednesday further watered down a proposal seeking to encourage charter school growth.

The original 39-page bill would have stripped school systems of their power to negotiate contracts with privately managed charter schools by mandating the use of a standard contract.

It would have also required districts to share their unused buildings.

The proposal is now two pages, and does little more than clarify that military commanders can establish charter schools on their bases. (Similar language is included in a bill that Gov. Rick Scott already signed into law.)

The revised charter-school bill (SB 1528) won unanimous support Wednesday in the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

"[It will] hopefully make charter schools even better than they are today," said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

Before the vote, charter school advocates made the case for keeping the original language. In particular, they fought to keep the standard contract.

"Different districts have different rules, and they impose them on the charter school providers," charter school attorney Charles Gibson said. "We really need some protection. We really need to set some boundaries."

But Senate Education Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, said the legislature did not need to act immediately.

"We do not need a charter school bill every year," said Legg, himself the founder of a charter school in Pasco County, after the vote. "We have a school grades bill. We have a digital learning bill. We have a lot of big issues that require our focus this year."

Despite the action in the Senate, charter school advocates vowed to press on. Some noted that the standard contract language is still alive in the House version of the bill (HB 7083).

"We would like the legislature to set some boundaries so non-profit charter school boards can concentrate on educating children - not having food fighs with the school district," said Ralph Arza, a former state legislator who represents the Florida Charter School Alliance.