Charter Bills Update: Florida 2015 Legislative Session

Charter school bills are moving again, at least in the Florida House.  The bills are all beginning to look more alike.  The charter school amendmlegislation1ent to HB 1145, filed this week, dropped the requirement for districts to share public school capital outlay millage with charters.  This is good news for financially strapped public schools.

It added a provision stating that charters have a financial audit that does not reveal any of the financial emergency conditions in 218.503(1) for the most recent year. On the surface, this does not sound like a transparency move.

There are some differences in provisions between the House and Senate relating to charter advisory board conflict of interest rules.  The Senate bill 1552 looks stronger than the other bills.  They just require board members to be identified and two meetings be held in the district.  Advisory boards controlled by their management companies cannot be very independent.  Details follow.

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More Local Property Taxes to Charters? Say No!

school-295210_1280There is a snake in the grass in the Florida legislature.  We need to point it out to our local delegations before it bites us.  This is the amendment to the House charter bill HB 7037.  It was offered by Rep. Erik Fresen who is under investigation by the U.S. DOE for conflict of interest related to his real estate company and the Mater Charter Schools.  We need to contact everyone we can; the legislative session is nearly over, and we do not want this to appear on the last day.

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Florida League of Women Voters Positions on School Choice

lwv florida logoSome of you have been asking about the Florida League positions on school choice.  The positions were formally adopted at the convention last year.  They will be included in Study and Action when it is updated.  The League strongly opposes tax credit scholarships.  The Florida League  supports Florida’s constitution provision for a uniform, efficient, high quality public school system.  While charter schools are legally public schools, the League supports stronger district management and oversight to make them better conform to constitutional requirements.  Specific principles and positions are listed below.

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Charter School Facilities: Your Money, Their Property

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by Sue Legg, Pat Drago, and Ruth Melton

Charter schools are public schools, right?  Well  yes, but they are owned and managed by private companies.  Most of their facilities are privately owned.  If they close, the private company retains the buildings.

Charter schools should receive the same amount of money as district schools, right?  Seems fair until you think about it.

Let’s think about it.  We need to, there is a bill in the legislature.

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Florida Senate Education Committee Workshop on Charters

bill montfordjohn leggIf you want to take the pulse of charter school legislative priorities, watch this video.  It is yesterday’s Florida Senate Education Committee workshop on charters.  They have a long list of proposed bills to consider, and they are looking for ways to combine bills in order to move forward.

The two most comprehensive bills were from Senator Montford and Senator Legg.    Continue reading

Senate Appropriations Hearing: Did They Listen?

sound-159915_640You may not have watched the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing this week.  It was about charter school management reform.  Or was it? The speakers were from the charter sector and from school districts.

It was not until the last minute of a two hour session that you found out what really was at stake.  A major battle is forming.

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New Mexico Proposes Better Charter Management

nm2The New Mexico legislation has strong provisions relating to the charter school management and facilities.  SB 236 Beffort strengthens these provisions.  The proposed bill is instructive because it highlights corrective measures to improve the regulations and oversight of charter facilities and conflict of interest.

These proposals can inform the regulations in other states.

 

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Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness

by Pat Drago and Sue Legg

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This is not an easy walk into the woods, but you need to know where the funding for charter schools comes from and where it goes. It is your money.

There is a lot money to be made and lost with charter schools, and it is public tax dollars. As usual, independent schools tend to lose it, and large charter management chains come out on top.  This is not always to the children’s benefit.  How does this happen? We looked at the audits and found huge disparities in facility and fee expenditures. This meant that instructional parts of the budgets were reduced accordingly.

We wanted to know how these facilities were financed. If State funds were creating opportunities to make real estate venture capitalists wealthy, we wanted to know how this worked. Unfortunately, public dollars that go to private companies are hard to see. The lack of transparency for their financial records provides only vague outlines. We did find some clues by looking at how facilities are financed.

We wondered what other states were doing to ensure that state money was allocated for instruction and not for profit making ventures. We found some answers. As always, different approaches have their share of unintended consequences. As we groped in the darkness, there was a glimmer of light. The brave among you are invited to go down this path with us.

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See: FEATURE OF THE WEEK. It is BOLD.

We have posted a  summary of the new Alachua County, Florida’s Superintendent of Schools 100 Day Report on the FEATURE OF THE WEEK banner of the blog.

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Dr. Owen Roberts was appointed to the superintendent position 3 months ago and has spent the time in an intensive review of the district.  How his vision for the county will be implemented is likely to be another one of those fascinating stories.

 

He addresses testing, funding, school equity, curriculum, early education, brain development, as well as parent and community involvement.  Click on the banner at the top of the Home Page of our blog to track this very bold initiative.  It has  those pieces of colored chalk.   We will update the post as new information becomes available.  Who says public schools cannot be innovative?