Proposal calls for alternate charter school authorizer in Florida

Re-posting a story from the Tampa Bay Times

By Jeffrey Solochek

When Florida established charter schools, the idea was to create a new set of schools unburdened by red tape that might provide new ideas to better education. The charters were, in many ways, considered competition to sometimes stagnant district schools.

The law set up county district school boards as the sponsors from which charter applicants had to seek approval. A common complaint was that the set up was akin to having Burger King ask permission from McDonald's to open in the same neighborhood.

When lawmakers created a statewide authorizer, called the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission, though, the Supreme Court ruled it "facially unconstitutional." That's because the constitution says school boards "operate, control, and supervise all free public schools within the school district," and lawmakers have made abundantly clear that charters are free public schools.

School boards are now relying on the same constitutional provision as they challenge the Legislature's "Schools of Hope" initiative to create additional charter schools outside district control.

Florida Constitution Revision Commission member Erika Donalds, a founding advisory board member for a Collier County charter school, has proposed an amendment that would end the debate.

Donalds, now a Collier County School Board member, wants voters to consider changing the constitution to allow lawmakers to create "alternative processes to authorize the establishment of charter schools within the state."

She also has submitted proposals to set school board member term limits and eliminate board member salaries, as well as end the election of school district superintendents and allow lawmakers to "make provision" for educational services in addition to the free public schools.

All these ideas still require approval by the 37-member Constitution Revision Commission before they can head to the 2018 ballot. Members have yet to weigh in.