A House committee has approved a bill which would put rules in place for opening a charter school and warding off troubled charters.
The House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee made a few changes to the bill and more amendments are expected.
“This is not a finished product,” Rep. George Moraitis, Jr., R-Fort Lauderdale, said. “We’re still open to changes as we move forward in the process.”
The bill allows charter schools to use empty school district facilities. Charter schools would have to pay for maintenance, or reimburse the district for maintenance.
The 36-page bill would also prohibit a shuttered charter school from spending more than $10,000 without the prior written permission of the school board or other sponsor, with some exceptions.
Charter school employees would not be allowed to serve on the charter school’s governing board.
Those requirements are a direct result of a case from Orlando.
Shortly after the failed Northstar High School closed last June, its principal was paid more than $500,000. Audits also show the school paid the principal’s husband nearly $500,000 over five years for various management services, violating state statutes.
Chris Moya with Charter Schools USA told the committee his industry has “bad actors like in any walk of life.”
He said the charter school industry invites accountability.
“This is a movement where the moms and dads know better than what they read in the papers and isolated incidents,” Moya said. “But the isolated incidents tarnish the entire movement.”
Jim Horne, president of the Florida Charter School Alliance, said the charter movement had grown in Florida to more than 500 schools serving over 200,000 students.
“Yet, we still have over 80,000 students on a waiting list to try to get into the charter school of their choice. So we think legislation like this that helps move things along, that helps to create greater access is a very good thing,” Horne said. “We think that moms and dads know best about what is the best educational environment for their own children.”
A lot of school districts have expressed concerns about the bill.
“We look forward to working through these concerns with the members of the committee,” said Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, assistant superintendent of Miami-Dade County Schools, “in order to basically strike a fair balance between charter schools and school districts while protecting the taxpayers’ investment in public education and their demand for choice and accountability.”
One issue raised is how charter school teachers aren’t held to the same standards as their public school counterparts.
Jorge Lugo, a high school teacher in Vero Beach, said it’s not a fair competition.
“If I’m going to be competing against charter school teachers teaching what I teach, then I want them to be evaluated like I’m evaluated,” Lugo said.
Before the committee took a vote on the bill, Moraitis told them: “I think the only thing we’re really competing for – is against poor performance.”
The bill passed the 13-member committee along party lines, with 8 Republicans voting for it and 5 Democrats voting against.