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Florida House advances Ron DeSantis’ charter school expansion plan

The proposal would make it easier to open charter schools in low-income communities, using a Trump tax law initiative.
Dozens of newly failing schools across Florida applied to receive grant funding through a new “Schools of Hope” program that was enacted through a controversial education bill known as House Bill 7069. Newly proposed legislation would change the program. [Miami Herald file photo]
Dozens of newly failing schools across Florida applied to receive grant funding through a new “Schools of Hope” program that was enacted through a controversial education bill known as House Bill 7069. Newly proposed legislation would change the program. [Miami Herald file photo]
Published Mar. 18, 2019
Updated Mar. 18, 2019

Florida House leadership has unveiled another proposal aimed at enacting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ goal of widely expanding school choice programs.

This time, it would open the door for a broader influx of charter schools into the state’s poorest communities.

A bill from the PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee, filed late Friday, would allow the establishment of “Hope” charter schools in “opportunity zones” — created as part of President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax law aimed at boosting investment in economically struggling areas. It additionally would permit the schools, which gain permission to operate in Florida from the state Department of Education rather than from districts, near schools that have earned grades lower than C in three of the past five years.

The current law does not speak to “opportunity zones,” and it allows the “Hope” schools in areas where the public schools have earned a D or F in three consecutive years.

The proposal closely mirrors language that DeSantis recommended in February shortly after announcing his education priorities for the legislative session.

It differs greatly from a Senate bill that is not nearly as expansive. In announcing their session goals, key education senators spoke at greater lengths about expanding communities in schools grant programs to public schools serving low-income neighborhoods. They made no mention of “opportunity zones” at all.

The House included a proposal to grow the community school model that Senate president pro tem David Simmons has put forth as a critical piece to helping families in need. It also offered a change to Simmons’ program that has granted $2,000 per student to up to 25 public schools in turnaround mode.

The House would lower the grant amount to $500 per student, and grow the program to 75 public schools.

Simmons, who sits on the education and appropriations committees, could prove an influential voice on how the ideas look as the two chambers seek to sync their bills. He could not be reached for comment.

Both the House and Senate bills are scheduled to be heard on Tuesday. The Senate Education Appropriations committee takes up SB 7070 at 10 a.m., while the House PreK-12 Innovation committee convenes at noon.

Related coverage: First Florida ‘Schools of Hope’ charter company operators approvedTwo more charter school groups seek to become Florida ‘Schools of Hope’ providers (2018)

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