NASCA's letter to the Broward School Board

Publishing in The Sun Sentinel 3/13/15

Broward missed chance to improve school quality
By Greg Richmond, president and CEO of National Association of Charter School Authorizers

The Broward County School Board’s decision not to accept a $3.3 million grant from the Florida Department of Education was a missed opportunity to improve the quality of the more than 100 charter schools the district is responsible for overseeing.

The grant was competitive and was one of just three grants awarded to school districts across the state. Broward’s grant was based on the district’s inspiring plan to bring better public education and services to 5,000 children and their families in a community that needs more of both.

More importantly, the grant included strong mechanisms that would change the dynamic of how the district holds the organizations who run charter schools accountable for their performance — the exact authority the district needs to do its job.

Let me explain. Under Florida law, the district is the only body who can “authorize,” or give permission for a charter school to open in Broward County. Authorizers around the nation are responsible for reviewing charter applications, denying or approving them, and monitoring each charter school’s performance. Authorizers also have the ability to close charter schools if they fail to provide a good education or mismanage public funds.

We support the district’s long-standing position that quality charter schools should be allowed to thrive and grow, while poor-performing schools should be held accountable. However, board members rejected the grant out of a mistaken belief that they don’t have the ability to regulate charter schools. As part of their contract with each charter school, they are able to hold schools accountable for their academic, financial and organizational performance.

The district has an obligation to conduct due diligence on the companies running each school, to monitor their performance and to shutter poor-performing schools. Just last fall, the district exercised its authority to close two charters for low academic performance and failure to properly document use of public funds.

There are still opportunities to improve Florida’s charter school law, the past practices of the state’s Department of Education and the future charter school oversight practices of the district. In fact, the grant that the district rejected was intended to do just that.

We share the belief that all children should have the chance to attend a great school that will prepare them for success throughout their lives. With or without this grant, the district must recognize and exercise its responsibility to hold charter schools accountable. The quality of education in the county depends on it.

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Watch the Broward County School board workshop here.