FL Legislature talking charter schools & military families

Travis Pillow

Update: The bill with the charter school language is headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk after the Senate approved it this morning on a 38-0 vote.

Florida lawmakers are set to approve a proposal intended to help military bases offer more education options for children of their personnel.

Sen. Richter

Sen. Richter

The move comes amid a high-profile effort to create a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. The organization looking to create the school withdrew its first application last week after being denied by the Hillsborough County School Board and losing its first state appeal.

A provision added to the  “Florida G.I. Bill” would add new language to the state’s charter schools law, calling for commanders on bases to “collaboratively work with the Commissioner of Education to increase military family student achievement, which may include the establishment of charter schools on military installations.”

SB 860 contains a number of provisions aimed at helping the state’s veterans, from extending hiring preferences to charging them in-state tuition at colleges and universities. The Senate is scheduled to take it up today on the floor. The House passed its version, which also includes a charter schools provision, on the first day of the session.

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, faced questions from Democrats on the Appropriations Committee last week when he helped add the charter schools provision to the Senate bill. They wanted to know if it would change the process for charter school approvals or affect the MacDill application. (The Florida Charter Educational Foundation withdrew its application later that day, and has pledged to revise and resubmit it).

Richter said the proposal “does not affect the MacDill situation.” It simply “encourages the MacDill base to work with the school district” and “recognizes the unique characteristics of our military families with deployment and certain other circumstances.”

Richter could not be reached for comment Monday.

Following the district’s rejection of the MacDill application, Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, told redefinED that lawmakers would consider an expedited application process for on-base charter schools serving military families. So far, specific language to that effect has not surfaced.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, previously added language similar to Richter’s to SB 790, a separate piece of legislation dealing with digital learning. Brandes’ district includes MacDill Air Force Base.

Senate staff found military families face potential disruptions to their education that civilians might not. For example, their children typically change schools six to nine times before finishing high school.

State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said he did not want to see more school districts get “overruled” by the state during contested charter school appeals. But like other members of the appropriations panel, he supported the effort to encourage military bases to work with them.

“I think that’s a wonderful goal, because indeed, it may be in the best interest of those students on that military base to have a charter school there,” he said during the committee meeting. “But the school district has the authority to make that decision as to whether or not that charter school is approved.”

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