Some of the bills that were shelved in the 2015 legislative session are reappearing in an amended form. The first bill, SB 140 was filed by Senator Ring. It has some good provisions to improve charter school management.
The second bill, HB 287 is a reworking of the pilot principal autonomy bill filed last year. This is one to watch carefully, it is a stealth version of a charter district bill.
SB 140 Charter Schools by Senator Ring
There are some good changes in this bill. The 60 day notification of charter facility location for new schools is much better than the previous 15 days. The requirement for independence of boards from management companies is MUCH better. I am wondering, however, if this applies to management company subsidiaries, their foundations and real estate companies. Financial background checks are required, but this was adopted in the State Board of Education rules a few months ago. The bill requires SACS accreditation for charter schools which is encouraged by the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools. It is not clear how that can be achieved prior to opening, however.
The requirement that school boards automatically approve proposals from high performing charter management companies is really bad. Too many of Academica and CSUSA schools serve college bound, higher income kids. These schools tend to be ‘A’ schools and compete with good public schools. This is the problem in the Palm Beach lawsuit
. Charter proposals should serve an unmet need, not just duplicate a high performing public school.
HB 287 PRINCIPAL AUTONOMY PILOT PROGRAM by Representative Manny Diaz
Three districts would be eligible in this bill to participate in a pilot principal autonomy program. In each district, three middle or high schools with ‘D’ or ‘F’ ratings would be selected for a school turn around program. These schools would run under the same rules as charter schools. Each selected school would receive about $100,000 to train principals and other educators in leadership roles to participate in a University of Virginia program principal training program. Principals must be highly rated and can choose their own teachers. Park Ridge Elementary and Walker Elementary schools currently operate in a similar way in Broward County.
While it appears that the district retains fiscal oversight, the ability of the principal to subcontract to a private management firm is not stated. Each school’s mission and student population must be specified, but again, how this is to be implemented is not clear. Would participating schools be able to require students to apply as do magnet schools? If so, where do currently enrolled students attend schools? Would participating charter schools be required to adhere to district suspension and dismissal regulations?
The premise of charter schools operating within traditional school district management has been adopted in Georgia. These are called charter school districts. There, traditional districts have been converted into charter school districts in which all schools have some degree of individual autonomy to hire staff. Management oversight remains with the district. It is not clear what improvements in student academic achievement are realized.
The Diaz bill would require that selected schools receive at least 90% of their state mandated funding. Now, state mandated funding must average ninety percent across schools. There may be some funding flexibility if schools hire more ‘at will’ teachers. These teachers are exempt from district teacher contract regulations. This might provide funds to hire more tutors etc. Of course, if schools have more ‘at will’ teachers, they are likely to have the same problems with inexperienced teachers and high turnover that other charter schools face.
All of these proposals to provide flexibility have a nice sounding ring to them. The assumption behind them, however, is that reallocating resources to employ more and different instructional staff with the same funding will somehow improve achievement. Again, it is all about saving money, not improving quality. When your state is near the bottom in education funding, finding even more ways to save money becomes destructive.