School choice is intended to give parents better options for their children. The idea is appealing, but after fifteen years, it is clear that not all choices are good choices. The League of Women Voters of Florida charges our legislators to ensure that charters:
Innovate, Not Duplicate. The Problem: Charters were supposed to test innovative instructional strategies. Most, however, duplicate what traditional public schools already do. They siphon off students diluting scarce education resources with no measurable benefit for those students. The Solution: Districts and charter organizers must clearly define how charters fill unmet needs.
Protect Against Civil Rights Violations. The Problem: Too often, charter admission and dismissal policies are selective and exclude children who ‘do not fit their mission’. The Solution: Charters and districts should collaborate and exchange detailed data and policies on the selection, discipline, and retention of students.
Limit Self-Dealing. The Problem: About one-third of charters close, most due to fiscal management issues. Some pay very high administrative salaries. Others have for-profit management contracts requiring exorbitant lease and management fees. Teacher salaries are low and turnover is very high. The Solution: The State of Florida should provide lease and purchase criteria as is done in some other states. Charter governing board members must be approved by districts and be independent of the management company. Management companies must provide detailed records of expenses and be at “arm’s length” in all transactions.
We ask Leaguers to address these problems. Call on their legislative delegations to identify which solutions they will support in the upcoming legislative session. As Senator Gaetz said, “…It is time to end the self-dealing…”