By Margery Marcus, LWV-Broward
Life has its ironies. Imagine a school district getting complaints from charter schools that there is too much competition from other charter schools! This report from Broward shows how problems evolve. It also reports on district priorities to curb charter school abuse.
Some one asked me recently what gives me hope. District recognition that they must advocate for common sense policies that provide both flexibility and efficiency will change the conversation about school reform. Keep talking!! AND do not let the legislature abolish districts!
Call it “persistence” or “pestering,” my steady stream of questions about Broward’s charter schools resulted in an invitation recently to sit down with two district level administrators who oversee the District’s 104 charters.
Fellow LWV-Broward Education Committee member Jane Koszoru and I met with Jody Perry, Broward’s Director of Charter Schools Management and Support Department and her boss, Leslie Brown, Chief Portfolio Officer, for a “state of the charters” overview.
They outlined the application process for us and shared some of their frustrations with state charter school regulations, or lack of them. The administrators voiced frustration that the District approves the academic component of the charter school application, but has no authority over the facilities component.
Indeed, the School Board’s 2016 Legislative Priorities calls for charters to produce a certificate of occupancy 30 days before the opening of school, a regulation aimed at ensuring that students have a building to go to on opening day. The last legislative session abruptly adjourned before debating a bill that would require just 15 days’ notice.
Other wish list priorities are regulations aimed at requiring charters to produce a surety bond or open an escrow account to cover operational costs their first year. That way, districts will not be on the hook to the State should the school close suddenly, as is the case with two charters that closed last year. The State says Broward owes them the 1.8 million dollars that flowed to the schools before they closed. The school district is appealing.
Aside from stricter facilities requirements, the School Board’s priorities include more autonomy in oversight. They support closing loopholes in Florida Statutes to give districts greater authority in closing charters that fail to perform for either academic or financial reasons.
“We are not against charter schools; we are against ones not serving their children,” Leslie stressed.
Like Paramount Charter School in Sunrise that opened in August with 270 students and $740,000 of taxpayers’ money. Since opening, the school has had three principals, and fired in mass most of their teachers. Those who were not fired were threatened with job loss if they spoke to the media. Most of them are gone too (Local10.com Oct. 5, 2015).
School Board member Laurie Rich Levinson says there is little the School Board can do now because of lax state regulations. “What we need to do is get more stringent regulation where charter schools are treated like traditional public schools,” Levinson said in an interview with a local television station (Local10.com Oct. 6, 2015).
And yet, statewide, the numbers of charter schools continue to climb. Newest figures released by the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools put the number at 651 charters enrolling 250,430 students this year.
Broward has also seen an increase, both in the numbers of charters currently operating, and the numbers of students attending them. Currently, over 43,000 students attend the 104 charter schools here.
While student enrollment at charters in Broward increased by over 3,000 students just since last year, enrollment in traditional public schools increased during the same time period by only 205 students (Preliminary 2015-2016 Benchmark Day Enrollment Report). And that’s out of nearly 226,000 students!
Most District charters are under-enrolled, but the applications for new ones keep coming, said Jody. This year, the District received 20 applications, down from nearly 50 just a few years ago.
“Saturation has set in,” Leslie explained. Of the 20 applicants, the School Board approved seven, due to open in August, 2016. That’s the same number that closed in 2014.
She added in an ironic note that her office has started to receive calls from charter school companies objecting to the competition from each other.