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Senate panel guts charter school bill

The Senate Education Committee on Tuesday gutted a controversial education proposal aimed at creating a more favorable environment for charter schools.

The original bill, filed by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, sought to require school districts and charter schools to use a standard contract developed by the state. SB 1528 also would have required local school districts to make unused facilities available to charter schools, and awarded special privileges to high-performing charter schools.

But Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, filed an amendment removing all of that language, and instead creating a process for administrative law judges to hear disputes over charter school contracts.

Legg also added a provision stating that a charter school cannot remove a student against his or her wishes unless the child has violated the school's code of conduct.

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, had been advocating for a similar measure. Montford said he knew of several charter schools that had withdrawn children for poor academic performance or bad behavior. In November, the Herald/Times reported that an Orlando-area charter school had threatened to dismiss students for failing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests.

"If there are some out that that adhere to those practices, this will stop that," Montford said.

There was practically no debate on the bill.

Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat, cast the lone vote against the proposal.

It's too early in the session to predict what will happen to the charter school proposal.

Even though the model contract is no longer in the Senate version, it doesn't mean the language is off the table entirely. The House version, which won approval in the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Monday despite concerns from Democrats, still includes the model-contract and space-sharing provisions. 

The Senate version has two more stops. But the Legg amendment, coupled with Sen. Bill Galvano's decision to pull his controversial voucher bill last week, sends a strong message to the House: the upper chamber does not want any controversial education bills this session.