The Puerto Rican legislature is considering its first cbarter school bills. As part of a national coalition, I was asked to write a letter to the legislature. These are my views. The letter is not from the League.
………………………………………………………………………………………………… To: Members of the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico
From: Sue Legg, Ph.D., University of Florida, emerita
Re Senate Bill 825 and House Bill 14441
I write as an expert in Research, Measurement and Evaluation who has been actively involved in studies of school choice in Florida. For over thirty years, I was a major contractor for the Florida Department of Education in assessment and evaluation. More recently, I headed the statewide study of charter schools for the Florida League of Women Voters.
There are lessons to be learned from the Florida school choice experience. Not only did the U.S. Department of Education officially recognize (in 2014) the increased racial and economic segregation of schools in Florida due to charter expansion policies, the unregulated expansion of the industry also has resulted in unparalleled corruption.
Mismanagement of charters in Florida takes many forms. In the current Florida legislative session, the Senate has issued a proposal (CSB 7055) to prohibit financial enrichment by charter school owners and managers and their associated real estate companies. Charter school buildings that receive state funding for supplemental services must be transferred to a district, governmental entity, college or university if the charter closes. Charter closures due to poor academic achievement and management are the highest in the nation.
This legislation, if it passes, is long overdue. Millions upon millions of public dollars remain in the hands of the owners of privately run charter schools. Equally alarming are the number of legislators on key education committees with personal interests in charter schools e.g. the Speaker of the House.
The impact of unparalleled growth in the charter sector has contributed not only to the deterioration of neighborhoods as schools become more stratified by income and race, but also to the physical deterioration of facilities. Districts have joined together to file lawsuits due to their inability to maintain school buildings as funds are syphoned off. As the State reduces funding to pay the costs of charter and private school expansion, costs are shifted from the State to local communities. Local sales tax and property tax initiatives attempt to pick up the slack. Their ability to do so is dependent upon the wealth of the local community, and the specter of increased inequity increases.
There may be a need to offer school districts some flexibility in school management. The lack of oversight and strategic planning in a free market system based on competition for students, however, fails to serve students. Achievement gains in Florida are largely a myth fostered by well financed school choice advocates. NAEP scores have been flat for a decade. The highly touted growth in fourth grade reading scores reflects the high rate of third grade retention, not teaching and learning strategies.
This is a cautionary tale. There are social, political, and economic costs that must be weighed in this debate. Even the National Alliance for Charter Schools reported in 2016: “Despite consistent growth by charter schools in Florida, the schools have lagged on quality, diversity and innovation”.
I have watched and seen first hand what happens as schools open and close and children are shuffled around. It is not a pretty sight.