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How Florida is Legislating the Complete Elimination of Local Control

I was once advised that when a steamroller is coming, you need to get out of the way. This is the last week of the 2017 legislative session, the steamroller is definitely headed this way and public education is directly in its path.

On 5/1/17, Senator Broxson’s SB1362 was heard before the Senate Appropriations bill. The bill allowed for the establishment of a High Impact Charter Network and provided incentives to attract out-of-state charter corporation to establish chains in Florida. It is one of many bills this session which aim to rapidly advance charter school networks, at the expense of regular public schools and local control of public tax dollars, and was seen as one of the companion bills to House Speaker Ricard Corcoran’s priority “Schools of Hope” bill.

Senator Anitere Flores chaired the Appropriations’ discussion surrounding SB1362. Formerly employed by Academica, Florida’s largest for-profit charter chain, Senator Flores is the current Director of Development for The Ace Foundation, an organization dedicating to advancing the educational opportunities of charter school students. Conflict of interests are commonplace in Tallahassee.

Senator Broxson’s bill was replaced with a strike-all amendment, filed by Senator Stargel, which replaced the bill’s original language with language conforming to House education bills; language that had not previously been heard before Senate Education committees. The amended bill, like many bills this session, is a massive giveaway to charter schools and will be used to establish a separate charter school network, independent of the current public school system and devoid of control from local communities.

The committee room was full of stakeholders opposed to the bill and its strike-all. It quickly became clear, however, that the fate of this bill was certain before the meeting ever began…

Among other things , Senator Stargel strike-all amendment to SB 1362:

  • Lowered Title I eligibility from schools with  75% or more poverty to 48% (the state average), meaning the same amount of Title I funds would be spread across more schools (read more charters), which will result in lower available funds our highest needs schools (In other words, those struggling schools, ripe for takeover by “Schools of Hope” language, will receive less funding, thus hastening their demise). Such language was opposed by the Florida PTA, Florida’s superintendents (FADSS), Florida School Board Association (FSBA) and multiple school districts including: Orange, Lee, Pinellas Schools, Seminole, Pasco, Broward, Polk, Miami-Dade, and others. Read more about Title I concerns here.
  • Bypassed local district control of Title 1 money, allowing it to go directly to charter schools. Again, such funding fits perfectly with the planned “School of Hope” takeover of public schools in Florida this session. Such language was opposed by the Florida PTA, FADSS, Orange and Pasco County schools.
  • Eliminated the current DOE requirement to publish a report comparing charter schools to their district and statewide counterpart and eliminated the requirement that each charter school publish that report own its school website. This language was opposed by Common Ground, a bipartisan coalition of education advocates (of which Accountabaloney is a member), who argued that this lowered charter school accountability requirements just in time for planned rapid expansion. Senator Stargell responded that parents could create their own spread sheets from data found on the FLDOE website so such reporting about charter schools was no longer necessary. Right.
  • Eliminated a school district’s ability to negotiate beyond the standard charter contract. Senator Montford said, with such language, we should not pretend there is any negotiation between local districts and new charter school operators. Such language was opposed by FADSS, Palm Beach County School Board, OCPS, and Lee County School Board.
  • Like many bills this session, this amendment allows unlimited replication of charter schools, particularly out-of-state charter chains which receive a DOE designation of “High Impact.”

At 1:51:20, Rebecca Ohara, from Florida League of Cities, explained the impact Senator Stargel’s strike-all would have on local communities and governments. Currently, local government are required to treat charter schools equitably when it comes to land use siting issues as compared to traditional public schools. If the local government does not do so, the charter school is entitled to immediate injunctive relief and automatic attorney’s fee. If a charter school decides to convert an existing facility (a church, movie theater, community center) to a charter school, “regardless of how much modification is done to the building or sites, regardless of whether the building will go from 100 people to 2,500 K-12 students” there is no requirement to get a rezoning or a land use change. If a museum, say, was slated to be converted to a charter school, currently, there would be no requirement to get a rezoning or a land use change if the facility was changed to charter school use. This is significant because it still allows a local government to issue some sort of review and approval, allowing local government to assess the impact of such a facility change on adjacent property owners, and on traffic patterns.

The Stargel amendment would eliminate a local community’s ability to review or approve new charter school construction or location:

“This amendment before you would completely eliminate any local government review and approval so what that means, no site plan would be required to be submitted or approved, no building permit would be required to be issued, no local government public hearing, no traffic analysis, no nothing. So what will it mean? Well, it means that the charter school will open its doors, parents will pick up kids and drop off kids, twice a day, traffic could get stacked up on adjacent roadways,  businesses next door to the charter school could be impacted and have no recourse, at all. There could be potential blocking of lanes for emergency vehicles, entrances to businesses and so forth. So, what this does is it gives charter schools a property right greater than ANY property right enjoyed by ANYBODY else in this entire state. We oppose this language on line 682 and 683 of the bill.”

Keep in mind that charter schools are primarily funded by locally generated tax dollars yet, if (when?) this bill passes, local control of those tax dollars will be effectively eliminated.

SB1362, which ties the hands of local districts and communities to restrict charter school expansion, passed on to the Senate floor where it stands little chance of being challenged. Word in the halls of the Capitol is that President Negron and Speaker Corcoran, both with personal ties to charter schools, have privately conformed ALL the education policy language heard this session and the result will be presented in a bill tied to the budget, which will receive an up or down vote. We are told individual legislators are being threatened into silence regarding the process (told they will never be assigned to another committee again if they don’t vote yes) and floor amendments will be “frowned upon.”

Things are not looking good for public education… the privatization steamroller is on the move. To try to stop it (and its a long shot), we must insist senators oppose SB1362.

The League of Women Voters of Florida has put out this Action Alert :

ACTION ALERT – EDUCATION
The Florida Senate has exchanged their Higher Education issues for the House’s Schools of Hope. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed SB 1362/HB 7101 on Monday and we believe it could be up on the Senate floor as early as Tuesday. The two chambers have been bargaining back and forth all week. If the House succeeds in privatizing schools, every one of us loses. This affects all schools and all communities. It will affect your child. This is a travesty.
We ask you to call your Senator in your district TODAY. Ask them to oppose SB 1362/HB 7101 because :
  • it creates and expands high-performing charter school networks
  • Lowers the threshold for Title I funding and allows funds to be disbursed among more schools, including charters, meaning cuts to all-day services and Pre-K classes in our neediest communities
  • Allows charter schools to move into any community without approval from the local district or County
  • Eliminates comparison achievement student data with traditional public schools and charter schools, eliminating the opportunity for parents to make an informed decision for their students.
This is a battle over privatizing our schools and ensuring that our public schools have the funds to service our neediest of students. This is not about money; it is about who controls our schools. We do not want private companies to run our schools. We have elected school boards to do that. 
IT IS TIME TO TAKE A STAND. THE LEGISLATURE NEEDS TO HEAR US AND SUPPORT TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT FOR OUR CHILDREN’S FUTURE.

It is definitely time to take a stand.

 

 

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