Proposal encouraging district-charter school competition moves closer to ballot

Proposal 93 once seemed a radical idea to give school districts more flexibility on state regulations, similar to charter schools. Now it's picking up steam in Florida's Constitution Revision Commission.
Deborah Davis, a gifted teacher at Lakewood Elementary, works on fractions with students.
 [Scott Keeler | Times]
Deborah Davis, a gifted teacher at Lakewood Elementary, works on fractions with students. [Scott Keeler | Times]
Published March 22, 2018|Updated March 23, 2018

A proposal to loosen requirements on the state's highest-performing school districts so they can better compete with charter schools moved forward Wednesday, putting it one step closer to being on the ballot in November.

The measure, Proposal 93, was approved by the obscure yet powerful Constitution Revision Commission, the 37-member body that meets every 20 years in Florida to put constitutional amendments on the ballot. All proposals that have made it this far still have to be officially passed in another vote in April to be on the ballot.

This proposal would allow high-performing districts, graded an "A" or "B" for example, to become designated as an "innovation school district" (changed from its previous name of "charter districts"). Those districts would have more autonomy over their curriculum, facilities and hiring practices, for example, that charter schools already enjoy.

"I believe in choice … it's also a choice to go to a public school," said Roberto Martinez, an influential Miami attorney and a Republican, who sponsored Proposal 93. "What this proposal seeks to do is to provide public school systems that are high-performing the same flexibility we are giving charter schools … to give them the flexibility and innovation to allow them to excel."

This proposal nearly died in committee in January, as some members of the CRC expressed concern that this was too radical a step to put directly into the constitution. But on Wednesday it moved forward with a 24-9 vote, signifying enough support to possibly bring it to the finish line.

One of the proposal's biggest supporters is Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Previously, the Florida Education Association — the statewide teachers' union — said they agreed with the concept but were cautious about the wording and interpretation.

However, the group said they've become increasingly worried about the prospect that loosened hiring regulations could allow district schools to  hire less qualified teachers, or could mean the districts would have the power to circumvent previously negotiated contracts for teachers' salaries and benefits.

"We're really concerned about mainly the quality of the educators they will hire," said Sharon Nesvig, spokesperson for the FEA. "It's cheaper to hire someone that's not a certified teacher and if they're trying to save money like these for-profit schools, they're looking at their bottom line and that's no way to educate kids."