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League: Plan for state charter school authorizer is 'an egregious attack on public schools'


The Florida League of Women Voters and advocates for traditional public schools lambasted Republican state lawmakers today for proposing and considering a constitutional amendment that would set up a state-appointed board with the power to "authorize, operate, control, and supervise" charter schools across Florida.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed. School districts currently have the ability to authorize new charter schools based on criteria set forth in state law.

But some school districts have tried to push back on the proliferation of charter schools in a way that Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, has said violates those rules and injects subjectivity into what is supposed to be a black-and-white approval process. 

He and Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, are proposing the change to Florida's Constitution to give charter school applicants an alternate authority from which to get the needed approval. (More here).

They have said it wouldn't reduce local power, but critics -- including the league -- disagree.

"It would be a major change to the Florida Constitution, disregarding school districts' authority," league President Pamela Goodman said, during a league rally on the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee.

"It's another example of the continued push to privatize public schools and establish a parallel system that diverts money to for-profit corporations," Goodman said, calling it an "egregious attack on public schools."

Diaz, a proponent of charter schools, told the Herald/Times in a text message that "it's unfortunate they (the league) spend time and energy trying to limit educational choices for parents and students across the state."

"Charter schools are public schools and they should be one of the many choices students in our state have," he said.

Diaz's version (HJR 759) is ready for consideration on the House floor, while Stargel's measure in the Senate (SJR 976) has stalled in committee.

Her bill was supposed to be heard in late January by the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee, but it was postponed and hasn't been scheduled for consideration again since. The committee has not met for two weeks and it's unclear whether it will have another meeting this session. Committee Chairman John Legg, a Republican senator from Trinity, did not return a message seeking comment.

The Legislature 10 years ago tried to create a state-authorizing body for charter schools but it was struck down in the courts. Diaz's and Stargel's bills would send to voters a constitutional amendment to codify the charter school authorizer in the Florida Constitution.

Constitutional amendments must be approved by three-fifths of both the House and Senate: 72 members in the House and 24 in the Senate. Then, the proposal must get 60-percent approval from voters in order to change the Constitution.

The league was joined at their rally by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, but he left the steps prior to the league's discussion of the proposed charter school amendment. (More here on his appearance in Tallahassee.)