In Florida, the debate over the future of school boards is happening now

Doug Tuthill

the future is nowLast year, 43 percent of Florida’s PreK-12 students attended a school other than their assigned neighborhood school. This enthusiastic embrace of school choice by parents is forcing school boards to rethink their roles and responsibilities. Should they fight to prevent parents from attending non-district schools? Or should they embrace parent empowerment and help ensure all their community’s students have access to the schools – neighborhood, magnet, charter, virtual or private – that best meet their needs?

This dilemma was on full display at a recent Palm Beach County, Fla. school board meeting. The board was reviewing what to do about three struggling charter schools when one board member, Marcia Andrews, suggested the board should do more to help these schools succeed.  “We’ve got to kind of change how we do business,” she said, according to the Palm Beach Post, “so they’ll know we’ll partner with them, so they’ll be successful.”

Some of her colleagues disagreed. They argued that when parents choose charter schools they take their funding with them and that hurts the district. They also worried about the costs of helping charter schools when district budgets are already stretched tight.

This caused another board member, Frank Barbieri, to join Andrews in calling for greater collaboration and support. “I don’t want to hear about ‘we’re taking money from our kids and giving it to these kids,’ ” said Barbieri. “These are our kids. Let’s help them.”

Statistics from Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, which I help administer, support the these-are-all-our-kids position.

This year, approximately 10,000 scholarship students will leave their private schools and return to their district schools, while 20,000 low-income students will leave their district schools to attend private schools. This level of yearly churn will increase as customization becomes normative throughout public education, which suggests school boards should become more engaged with all K-12 providers in their communities.

The exact regulatory and support role school districts should play in the future is an open question. Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, published a book last year, The Urban School System of the Future, in which he argued that school boards need to be abolished and replaced by a system of authorizers who charter and regulate a portfolio of independently owned and managed schools. These authorizers would themselves be overseen by a regulatory authority that would “keep the system fluid, responsive, high-performing, and self-improving by facilitating and managing starts, closures, and expansions; guaranteeing diversity; and enabling choice.” (154)

According to Smarick, this new system would integrate all schools – public, private, and charter – into a single K-12 education system through which students would move seamlessly.

Critics of Smarick’s more inclusive and decentralized public education system level charges of privatization and corporate profiteering, which leads to the question:  Should public education be more decentralized and market-driven? Or is our current command-and-control system the more effective approach?

The Palm Beach County school board debate is interesting because it is being driven by their daily realities, yet it raises issues that Smarick’s futuristic vision attempts to address. This convergence suggests Smarick’s book is timely. The debate over the future of school boards is happening now

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1 comment

chris guerrieri March 20, 2013 - 8:22 am

I have a problem with vouchers. I do think they harm public education and public education is for all of us whether we have a kid in the system or not and when we delude the resources it harms us all but that’s not my main problem.

I recently read that only 3 of the 1300 private schools are taking the FCAT and since that is the case how can we know how they are doing? Furthermore many of these voucher schools don’t hire professional or qualified teachers. Where is the accountability?

Charter schools are another beast all together. As a parent teacher driven laboratories of change I believe they have a role to play but as a profit center for corporations they pervert and shortchange education. They also lack accountability and the examples are legion.

If the powers that be slowed down and attempted to get it right there wouldn’t be the push back there is now but as long as they attempt to run roughshod over public education offering often times inferior and profit driven options there will be resistance. And if you care about all our children you should be part of it.

Choices just for choices sake is a bad choice.

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