School choice in name only? Key Florida lawmaker wants to know

Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

The chairman of Florida’s Senate Education Committee wants to know if some school choice programs exist only on paper, creating a financial advantage for their districts but no “meaningful” options for students.

Florida’s constitution limits class sizes in most public schools, but state law gives charter schools more flexibility. A 2013 law created what some have called a “loophole,’ extending similar flexibility, and potential cost savings, to district-run schools of choice.

Some districts responded by designating more choice schools, though in some cases they did so without adding magnets, career academies or other special programs, or even accepting more out-of-zone students.

In a letter to state education officials, Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, is asking for a breakdown of districts claiming to operate choice schools, as well as documentation of “specific school level innovation” and “meaningful parental choice” at those schools.

Since passage of the class size provisions, the Florida Legislature has implemented the policy in the interest of students obtaining a high quality education. Considerations have been made in class size compliance calculations, for unique public school district programs that support innovation and parental choice.

State policy has established innovation and parental choice as the key components for the class size standard to be calculated as a school average. Policy allows flexibility in the areas of public schools of choice, charter schools, and innovation schools of technology. Some school districts, however, have expanded the intent of state policy by naming themselves a “district of choice” or a “district of innovation,” or labeled many of their schools as “public schools of choice.”

In the letter, Legg says the Senate education panel will consider changes to the ways class-size limits are calculated and enforced.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, charter schools won’t be exempt from scrutiny.

Legg said he expected to include charter schools in the conversation, as well. Charter schools currently are not required to meet classroom count caps.

Legg, who runs a charter school, said he does not think charters without innovative programs should get the advantage of using a school-wide class size average. At the same time, he said, charter schools should get the same financial support as traditional schools to meet class size rules.

The state House, for its part, has repeatedly pushed legislation that would give district schools more class-size flexibility, similar to the provisions for charter schools. That proposal has yet to reach the governor’s desk.

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