Florida’s past few legislative sessions have seen some contentious battles between school districts and charter schools over issues like applications and capital funding, especially in the House.
State Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, who chairs a key education panel, is trying to set a more collaborative tone this year.
This week, he introduced legislation that would allow districts to seek charter-like flexibility in exchange for more regulatory freedom. On Wednesday, he brought in a group of district and charter representatives to talk charter school authorizing.
The two sides have for the past few years been trying to reach agreements on issues like promoting quality charters and screening out schools that aren’t qualified.
Lawmakers have heard or floated proposals on both fronts in the run-up to the legislative session that begins in March, but this year’s key charter school bills have yet to emerge.
Diaz said that while charter school issues have brought “fireworks” to the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee in the past, “You see some common ground. Everyone involved in this wants the best for the kids and wants quality charter schools.”
While lawmakers want to “provide the environment for quality charter schools to exist,” he said, “there’s no one here that wants to allow fly-by-nights, or folks who are in it for the wrong reasons to be in this industry.”
Tim Kitts, the leader of a small Northwest Florida charter school network, has become a vocal advocate for stopping unqualified charters. He told the committee that around the state, he’s seen “bad actors” on both sides – charter schools that aren’t prepared to educate students, and districts that throw roadblocks in the way of charter operators with proven track records.