How the Florida Constitution Revision Commission could tackle school choice

Travis Pillow

Several school-choice related proposals before the Florida Constitution Revision Commission could be in line for revisions.

The full commission has scheduled a marathon of meetings at the state capitol next week. All four of its school choice-related proposals could appear on the agenda. Three of them could see substantial changes.

Blaine Amendment

Commissioner Roberto Martinez has sponsored a proposal that would eliminate Florida’s ban on government support of religious institutions.

This week, he proposed an amendment that would merge it with another proposal, which would eliminate a provision allowing the Legislature to ban property ownership by “aliens ineligible for citizenship.”

Martinez would likely argue both proposals would purge outdated language rooted in bigotry from Florida’s governing document.

A rival amendment by Commissioner Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez would take a different approach, declaring the so-called “Blaine Amendment” cannot block Florida’s existing private school choice programs or “successor” programs lawmakers might create.

Some school choice advocates question whether the Blaine Amendment is truly a barrier to private school choice in Florida, as it stands.

Charter districts

Martinez has also proposed allowing school districts to achieve “charter” status, along with all the freedoms charter schools enjoy. However, other commissioners worried his proposal would have been open to too many districts. It also would have cut out the role of the legislature, which is already pushing to expand public-school autonomy.

An amendment by Commissioner Marva Johnson, who also chairs the state Board of Education, would address some of those concerns. It would allow lawmakers to create a process by which districts could apply for “innovation” status and freedom from certain state education regulations.

Non-district charters

Commissioner Erika Donalds has proposed allowing entities other than school districts to establish public schools. Among other things, this could pave the way for a statewide charter school authorizer.

Donalds, who is also a Collier County School Board member, has proposed an amendment that would simplify the concept. It would clarify that school districts are in charge of all the public schools they establish — rather than all public schools within their boundaries.

This could address Florida’s constitutional barriers to alternate charter school authorizers. But it wouldn’t be limited to that purpose.

In spirit, it would jibe with another Donalds proposal, which would clarify the state’s constitution doesn’t prohibit lawmakers from creating public education programs outside the system of district-controlled public schools.

Donalds has said repeatedly that the commission is making policy for future generations. And that might require new approaches to public education.

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