Fla. constitution proposal would open door to more state-sponsored public schools

Entities other than school districts could be allowed to start or sponsor public schools under a proposal making its way through the state Constitution Revision Commission.

Right now, the state constitution gives 67 county-wide school districts near-exclusive authority to operate all free public schools in their geographic areas.

A proposal amended Friday by the commission’s education committee would add a new provision to the state constitution allowing the Legislature to create alternative avenues to establish public schools. The proposal by Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member, was initially intended to allow multiple charter school authorizers.

But Patricia Levesque, a longtime education reformer, amended the proposal so it wouldn’t apply only to charters.

“I think we should be thinking in a broader fashion,” she said.

State law already allows the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, Florida Virtual School (which operates like a statewide school district) and lab schools at state universities, Levesque said. She wanted there to be a solid constitutional basis for creating more options like that in the future. Continue Reading →

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Former Fla. Supreme Court Justice: Time to nix Blaine Amendment

Florida’s prohibition on public aid to religious institutions grew out of anti-Catholic bigotry. It’s also outdated, a former state Supreme Court justice told a panel working revisions to the state’s governing document. And it likely violates the U.S. Constitution.

Former Chief Justice Raoul Cantero, now a lawyer in private practice, urged the education committee of the Constitution Revision Commission to support a proposal that would erase Florida’s Blaine Amendment.

The “no-aid” provision has come up in lawsuits against voucher programs that fund scholarships to religious schools. It’s been used to challenge groups providing substance abuse counseling in state prisons. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year suggested federal justices think blanket prohibitions on public funding of religious institutions are unconstitutional. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Scholarships oversight, court challenge and more

Scholarship oversight: The Florida House Education Committee is proposing new rules governing private schools that accept state scholarships. The legislation, still in draft form, would require state visits to all private schools before they can participate in one of the state’s three K-12 scholarship programs, compel schools to provide a list of teachers and their credentials to parents, make it more difficult for the schools to falsify fire and health inspection reports, and increase financial oversight. But private schools could continue to to hire teachers without college degrees. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando SentinelredefinED.

Argument against law: The school districts challenging six provisions in the new state education law argue in a motion for dismissal that even if some of the provisions are judged to be constitutional, they’re part of the larger package that unlawfully undermines the authority of local school boards. The districts cite several cases that they say affirms districts’ authority over Florida’s public schools, and forbids the Legislature from creating “parallel,” publicly funded alternatives. redefinED.

Proposed amendments: The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) meets today to consider amendment proposals, including several that could affect the state’s school choice movement. Among them: one that would extend relaxed regulations now enjoyed by charter schools to traditional public schools that receive state grades of B or above for three straight years; getting rid of the state’s restriction on public funding of religious activity; eliminating limits on the Legislature’s authority to create educational programs; and allowing the Legislature to create non-district charter school authorizers. redefinED. By allowing members to engage in secret talks, the CRC risks the invalidation of all its work, according to a dozen open government advocacy groups. Those kinds of private policy discussions are “just part of the process,” says CRC member Erika Donalds. Politico Florida.

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School choice-related proposals coming before Fla. constitution revision panel

The education panel of Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission will consider some of its most closely watched proposals on Friday.

A handful of them could have big school choice implications. Here’s a quick guide to the debate.

Charter districts

In recent years, the state Legislature has given more district schools the same freedom from state regulations that charter schools enjoy. A handful of schools are participating in a principal autonomy program in which they exchange autonomy for accountability. The Schools of Excellence program gave similar regulatory freedom to roughly the highest-performing one-fifth of public schools in the state.

A proposal by Roberto Martinez (a former state Board of Education member) would push this concept further. Entire school districts that maintain a letter grade of B or higher for three straight years would get the same exemptions that charter schools receive from state education laws. Their local school boards would remain the “governing board” of the local school system, and they would keep that freedom unless the district’s letter grade slipped below a C, or hit multiple grades below B in a three-year period.

For a little context, if the proposal took effect right now, 38 of Florida’s 67 countywide school districts, including the six largest — Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Orange and Duval — would qualify.

The proposal is certainly in line with current trends. The pendulum is swinging away from top-down regulation of public schools. Continue Reading →

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Districts: charter school parts of HB 7069 ‘collectively’ violate state constitution

Thirteen Florida school boards have challenged six separate provisions of the state’s sweeping new education law in court.

But court documents filed last week add a new argument to the mix. In a motion for summary judgement, the districts’ lawyers argue that even if some of those changes pass constitutional muster on their own, they’re part of a larger package that unconstitutionally undermines the authority of local school boards.

Among other things, the lawsuit takes aim at provisions in House bill 7069 that allow charter organizations to form their own local education agencies, create a more aggressive school turnaround system and allow Schools of Hope to bypass the normal charter school application process. Continue Reading →

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Florida House unveils plan to strengthen private school choice oversight

The Florida House Education Committee this morning unveiled its proposal to strengthen oversight of Florida’s three K-12 private school choice programs.

The draft legislation comes after an Orlando Sentinel investigation that brought scholarship programs under scrutiny, and a legislative hearing on private school oversight.

Among other things, the House’s proposal would:

  • Require private schools to disclose their teachers’ qualifications on their websites.
  • Prevent private school administrators from transferring authority to their relatives to evade regulations, an issue raised in the Sentinel‘s reporting.
  • Require local officials who perform school health and fire inspections for private schools to submit the reports directly to the Department of Education, rather than having schools submit them. This would prevent cases like that of Agape Christian Academy, a troubled Orlando private school that forged safety records and created years of headaches for the department.
  • Lift the cap on school inspections and require schools to receive an inspection from the department before they participate in scholarship programs.
  • Subject more private schools to the financial oversight system that applies to schools that receive more than $250,000 in scholarships.

The House panel greeted the proposal with minor, technical questions and did not take a vote. Chairman Mike Bileca, R-Miami, said it wasn’t yet clear if the draft would become a separate bill, or get merged into other education legislation.

The state Senate’s education committee has scheduled a Monday hearing on an oversight proposal by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the Florida Tax Credit and Gardiner Scholarship programs.

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Florida schools roundup: Schools of Hope rule, Bright Futures bill and more

Schools of Hope: The Florida Board of Education approves a rule that will allow highly regarded charter organizations to apply for money from the state starting next month to open schools in areas with persistently low-performing traditional public schools. The rule outlines the process by which these companies can become operators of “Schools of Hope” as outlined in the education bill passed in last year’s Legislature. The bill set aside $140 million for the program. redefinEDGradebook. WCTV. Politico Florida. The San Francisco-based KIPP Foundation is making plans to open a charter school this fall in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. It would be run in collaboration with the Miami-Dade County School District, and hopes to receive Schools of Hope grant money intended to lure nationally prominent charter networks to the state. WLRN. The state board also approved giving 14 schools about $20 million to provide additional social services, after-school learning programs and tutoring through the Schools of Hope program. Twenty-five schools are now receiving the extra $2,000 per student. Schools selected are in Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam and Volusia counties. WLRN. Capitol News Service. George W. Munroe Elementary School in Gadsden County is one of the schools awarded the extra funds. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bright Futures bill: The House Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee approves a higher education bill that expands Bright Futures scholarships, but only after adding a requirement that the state’s universities conduct an annual survey to assess the state of “intellectual freedom” on campuses. “What has been missing is a way to measure or determine if intellectual diversity actually exists,” says House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero. “And more importantly, particularly in this day and age, whether students and faculty feel safe and secure in expressing their own individual viewpoints.” The companion bill has already been approved by the Senate. News Service of Florida.

Board term limits: A bill that would impose term limits on members of local school boards is approved by the Florida House PreK-12 Quality subcommittee, despite the misgivings of several legislators. Board members would have to leave office after serving eight consecutive years, though they could run again after a break. The bill would start counting years served after 2013. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

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Florida state board sets ‘Schools of Hope’ in motion

Starting next month, Florida will open a new avenue for charter school organizations with a track record of lifting achievement for disadvantaged students.

Under a rule approved unanimously by the state Board of Education, charter organizations will be able to apply to become Hope Operators. They’ll then be able to start entering performance-based contracts with school districts with persistently low-performing schools, with a streamlined application process. We outlined that process here.

Approved charters will then be able to start applying for state grants and facilities loans through the $140 million Schools of Hope program.

Parts of the Schools of Hope program still face a legal challenge brought by 13 Florida school districts. A separate lawsuit, now pending before Leon County circuit court, takes aim at the entire statute authorizing the program. Continue Reading →

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