Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

Charter School Group’s Wish List: Independent Review

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A charter school group wants an independent panel to decide on school applications.

Florida charter school operators want an independent body with the ability to approve or reject charter schools applications.

The redefinED blog reports creating an independent panel to review charter school applications is a top legislative priority of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools. Charter school leaders gathered in Orlando for an annual conference this week.

The reason is simple: Charter schools compete for students — and funding — with public school districts, but the boards in those school districts get the first say about whether to allow a charter school to open.

From the redefinED story:

“This is a forced marriage that needs counseling,’’ joked Ralph Arza, a former Florida legislator who now serves as the governmental affairs director for the Florida Consortium on Public Charter Schools.

School board members and advocacy groups, such as Fund Education Now, argue local school boards only have a limited ability to reject charter schools.

Here’s how the process works now:

A board applies to open a charter school with the school district. The district reviews the application and recommends whether the school board should allow the school to open or not.

Then the school board votes on the application. If the board says no, the charter school can ask the Charter School Appeal Commission for a second opinion. Those decisions can be appealed to the State Board of Education.

Frequently the State Board of Education has overturned the decision of local school boards and the Charter School Appeal Commission – most notably with online charters tied to K12, the nation’s largest online education company.

Several school districts have challenged the State Board of Education decisions in court.

Many other states have created an independent group to authorize charter schools. Florida’s lack of an independent authorizer is a shortcoming in its charter school laws, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled the a similar panel, the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission, unconstitutional in 2008.

In 2011, the Florida Legislature approved a bill which makes it easier for charter schools considered “high-performing” to expand. The law requires school districts to fast-track the review of any application replicating a charter school which earned two ‘A’ grades in the last three years and no grade lower than a ‘B’ during that time.

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