School Choice Expansion Bill Passes First House Committee

Apr 2, 2019
Originally published on April 1, 2019 6:10 pm

In 2017 the legislature decided to give greater incentives to charter schools to serve students in low-performing traditional schools. Today an attempt to expand where the schools of hope could open up was approved in the House.

Two years ago the legislature created a “Schools of Hope” designation – opening more money and greater operating lee-way to charter-schools that opened near failing traditional ones. The reason was because year after year more than 100 schools throughout the state were persistently low-performing schools, meaning for three consecutive years they earned grades lower than a C.

The first charter school company to receive the designation operates a school in Jefferson County where the last time the district earned a C-grade was in 2011. In 2018 Jefferson Somerset Academy improved the districts grade to a C for the 1st time in nearly a decade.

Miami-based Somerset Academy and Texas-based IDEA Schools, are the only 2 approved “Schools of hope” operators in the state. Now Miami Republican Representative Vance Aloupis, wants to see more school of hope operators open up.

“We should be excited to have these schools in our state and what this legislation does is give them an opportunity to understand where their services can best be utilized. But more importantly gives them a runway to be very deliberate and intentional about where they plan to school," said Aloupis.

The legislation changes the definition of persistently low-performing schools to include schools that have earned three grades lower than C in the last 5 years.

It also allows such schools in state and federally designated “opportunity zones” places targeted for more economic development.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Naples) says this will help catch schools that fluctuate between low-performing and meeting standards.

“To a school districts credit, they will intensify their focus on a previously low-performing school to try to get the grade up. But for some reason, I don’t want to throw stones or place blame, but that school will slip back to a D or an F status," said Donalds. 

"And that appears to get them out of differentiated accountability for an amount of time. So really expanding that definition so we make sure we are actually focusing in on the schools that are having issues is very important,"

But Karen Mazzola with the Florida Parent Teacher Association says they don’t like the idea of expanding charter schools into area that might not need them.

“It expands low-economically struggling areas whether or not they are a low-performing school," said Mazolla

Mazolla says the PTA board does like the part of the bill that makes sure charter school teachers are background checked.

The bill also removes the requirement for an independent evaluation of a public school that has 10 or more students receiving a Hope Scholarship. The Hope Scholarship Program was established for parents whose child who has reported an incident of harassment, hazing, bullying and more.

“What the department has found is there was almost a perverse incentive not to disclose issues of bullying because once we reached 10 reports an independent audit was called. So that would remove this requirement," said Aloupis.

The bill passed its first committee today and is now headed to the House Education Committee. Bills that address some of the changes are moving along in the Senate.

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