Proposed amendment would overhaul Florida charter school approvals

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Citing inconsistency in the way school districts approve and supervise charter schools, a state lawmaker has proposed a constitutional change.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.
Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

If approved by lawmakers and a statewide referendum, a joint resolution (HJR 759) filed this week by Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, would require the State Board of Education to “establish a statewide system for the approval of charter schools within the state.”

Charter school advocates have long pushed for statewide body, independent of school districts, with the power to oversee charter schools. They argue local school boards sometimes use their exclusive authority over charters to stifle would-be competition, and that districts often lack expertise in supervising charters.

Court rulings stymied past efforts to create a statewide charter school commission, meaning a constitutional change might be needed to create one. The proposed resolution would let the Legislature decide in state law exactly what form a statewide system of charter school oversight would take.

Diaz chairs the House education subcommittee on choice and innovation, which last month held hearings on charter school authorizing.

“As the charter movement matures in the State of Florida, we must create consistency in quality authorization,” he said in a statement announcing the proposal. “This resolution would provide the highest quality options for our students and parents in Florida.”

The goal, according to the press release from Diaz’s office, is to “create a system of stable and consistent criteria for authorizing charter schools that is aligned with proven national practices.”

Constitutional amendments in Florida have a steep hill to climb. If the Legislature approves them, they still need backing from 60 percent of voters. Still, this proposal, along with a measure that would allow the Legislature to redraw school district boundaries, could open a debate about the constitutional provisions governing the state’s education system.