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From Teacher Merit Pay to Charter School Expansion: Legislature Marches On

| March 28, 2011

Old school: the Florida Legislature is demolishing education as the state knew it. Charter schools and merit pay.

Old school: the Florida Legislature is demolishing education as the state knew it. (© John Fife)

With teacher merit pay reforms out of the way, the Florida Legislature has turned toward charter school expansion, considering two bills next week that would make it easier for highly-rated charter schools to expand enrollment, add grade levels and grant preferential admittance.

And just like the swiftly-approved teacher merit pay reforms, the push to expand charter schools has the strong backing of Gov. Rick Scott.

“The next thing we’ve got to do (is get) our charter schools expanded,” Scott said Friday at a ceremonial signing of the teacher merit pay bill. “It gives our public schools the opportunity to be run by third parties and be way more innovative.”

The push for charter school expansion is part of a decades-long broader effort by Florida Republicans to offer more school choices beyond traditional public schools. Charter schools are public schools, but they can be run by a third-party, such as a university or non-profit, and are exempt from regulations that apply to traditional public schools.

Charter schools operate with approval and general oversight from the county school districts and are funded through taxpayer dollars.

They are different from private schools, which are totally autonomous and supported primarily by tuition.

“Charter schools give parents a choice,” said Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who is a supporter of a House bill to expand charter schools. “When you have options, that brings everybody to a higher level.”

The bills in committee next week offer two different takes on charter school expansion.

One bill (SB 1546) sponsored by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, emphasizes the ability of universities and community colleges to add new grades or open new charter schools.

It also removes a requirement that charter schools provide transportation.

This is a big change from current law, which limits the number of charter schools eligible for state funding to one per university, with a few exceptions. It also allows community colleges to go from just being allowed to develop secondary charter schools that serve middle and high school students to all grades, K-12.

Thrasher’s bill shares with a House proposed committee bill (KINS 11-03) an effort to label charter schools that have received two “A” grades in three years as “high-performing.” That would open the door to benefits such as the ability to more easily tack on new grades, or increase enrollment by 25 percent. High-performing schools are also assured 15-year contracts. Both bills also strengthen a charter school’s ability to appeal a district’s decision to revoke a charter.

Both measures expand the ability of certain charter schools to grant preferential admittance based on where the parent is employed or where the student lives.

Rather than just granting the preferential status to children of charter school employees, for instance, the bill now allows the children of the charter school’s business partners admittance over others. The House bill also would allow preferential admission based on whether the child attends a pre-kindergarten program at that school.

Charter schools are growing in popularity in Florida. There are currently 458 charter schools in the state serving 154,758 students. That’s up from 411 that were in operation the year before.

Thrasher hinted on Thursday that changes to his bill are likely.

He said he would support an effort to “narrow” his wide-ranging bill. “I’m of the opinion it was too broad,” Thrasher said. “We will try to move forward and see what our friends in the House do, too.”

Stargel said she wasn’t a big supporter of the concept in Thrasher’s bill of letting universities and community colleges open more charter schools.

“They should stick to their mission of higher education,” Stargel said.

The push to expand charter schools is on the legislative agenda of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, which also was a big supporter of teacher merit pay reforms.

Executive Director Patricia Levesque was on hand when the teacher merit pay bill was signed. The Foundation for Florida’s Future has seen much success this session, with another bill the organization supports that expands public school vouchers moving through committees in both chambers at a fast clip.

–Lilly Rockwell, News Service of Florida

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13 Responses for “From Teacher Merit Pay to Charter School Expansion: Legislature Marches On”

  1. PC MAN says:

    ” High-performing schools are also assured 15-year contracts” . Guaranteed contracts for businesses =good idea, contracts for teachers = socialism, I see.

  2. palmcoaster says:

    Few years from now we will all find out the negative results of allowing our education high taxes going to charter schools. Privatization will prove a failure but the test results will not be published like they are in public schools today, so the happy parents won’t know.

  3. runningonempty says:

    Okay, let’s talk about charter schools.

    #1- Charter schools get to “cherry pick” their students. Sure all students are welcome initially, but MANY a troubled and disruptive student have returned to public schools, where more often than not, public school teachers have to help this student “catch up” to the level of his or her classmates.

    #2- Check out this “Volunteer Schedule:”
    Public school teachers can only “Imagine” having THIS MUCH parent support! Parents of charter schools are REQUIRED to give a certain number of volunteer hours. Possibly another reason we see a return of former charter school kids back in public schools.

    #3- Charter schools are run by businesses in addition to receiving money that public schools receive via tax dollars.

    So all things considered, charter school test scores SHOULD BE through the roof and yet….

    Public schools, against all odds (spend a week in a public school and you’ll understand quickly), persevere time and time again. Yet, public school teachers now seem to be on trial with government and the media. Go figure.

  4. Jim Guines says:

    If you had to give a titled to this activity like a book, it would read :”TheDeath of American Public Education, As We Know It Before Your Vary Eyes.”

  5. palmcoaster says:

    PC man I certainly appreciate your enlightenment regarding these disguised for profit charters. “15 yeaaars” contract! We are going to be scammed big time and our kids education will deteriorate right off our pockets for that long of a time. A real shame. I never mind until now being a retiree and paying the high school taxes…but I may change my mind in the near future and move to a place like Sun City West Arizona, where residents over 50 buying a home there, do not have to pay school taxes in those adult only communities. Never crossed my mind before. That will leave those parents demanding to have charter schools to foot the bill all themselves then and the fights to come, when failure will set in.

  6. palmcoaster says:

    Also as you very wisely copied us all….what about our public schools demanding parents volunteering?
    That for sure will help our teachers and our students. After all are their kids. I sure did plenty of volunteering in my kids schools back then 30 years ago.

  7. Ernie Toth says:

    If parents had kept control of the education system this would not have to be. School is a tool for parents to use. Don’t blame the system blame the parents for not working with the resources that they have to teach.

  8. Anne-Marie Shaffer says:

    Thank goodness! I am sick of funding this defunct education system. It is in desperate need of reform. Finally, someone has the courage to do something about it.

  9. Lor Cor says:

    I really hate this guy.

  10. runningonempty says:

    Anne-Marie Shaffe, please elaborate. Describe (in your own words) how the education system is “defunct.” In what way is it “in desperate need of reform?” Or are you just playing follow-the-leader with what you hear on the news and what you see on TV?

    I urge you to get involved if you think its so bad. Sign up and be a volunteer in a public school. Be part of the solution… walk in the shoes of teachers and administrators for a few weeks. Or maybe you can be like every other teacher who thought they could earn a teaching degree and “save every child” only to realize over time that there’s no control over what goes on at your students’ homes.

  11. Kevin says:

    Rick Scott got voted in based on his stating he was going to do the things he is doing. So just sit back and enjoy it just as you enjoyed whatching Obama and his Minions like Dirty Harry and that slimy piece of refuse Nancy Pelosi dish it out, her swinging the gavel provacatively trying to cause a reaction so she could spin it against anyone who commented negatively about her. At least Rick Scott doesn’t stick your nose in it like those two lunatics did on a daily basis.

    Time to reap what you’ve sewn libbies! And by the way–I don’t like the guy nor do I like his past but I like seeing the worms turn and wriggle like you all are doing. Funny thing is it looks like what he is doing is working for the good of the whole not some leftist minority– the kind many of you represent. Quit wasting your time on a recall, there are more sane people who elected him outnumbering you all so he isn’t going anywhere. Have a nice day:)

  12. Think again says:

    Sure, we need more charter schools like Heritage and Palm Harbor!

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