The Florida House of Representatives is considering a bill that would streamline the charter school approval process and fast-track the closing of underperforming charters.
House Bill 7037 would create a statewide institute whose mission would be to assist in the opening of proposed charters. It would use a standardized checklist to determine important information in need of collection. The information would be used to help indicate future success for proposed schools. Sponsors say this should increase the quality of future charter applications and lead to greater academic success.
The bill also includes a provision requiring termination of any charter should the school receive two consecutive “F” grades from the state.
Ensuring Charter Quality
Allison Aubuchon, spokesperson for the Foundation for Florida’s Future, lauded the bill.
“A statewide institute would provide assistance to charter applicants, ensuring [charters] of the highest quality are opening for our students,” Aubuchon said. “It would better ensure charters are financially viable and able to provide an excellent education to Florida children.”
Aubuchon says she believes it’s important to maximize school choice options for parents and students.
“This bill will help ensure more high-quality charter schools can get into the highest-need communities,” Aubuchon said. “It is important that we work to provide great school choices to serve the needs of Florida students and make it easier for effective out-of-state charters to enter the state.”
Positive Results of Charters
Bill Mattox, a resident fellow at the James Madison Institute, says in the approximately 15 years since school choice has been expanded in Florida, academic results have demonstrably improved, particularly among students who weren’t properly served in traditional public schools.
“Our special-needs students now perform better in testing than any other special-needs population in the United States,” said Mattox “Our special-needs kids rank number one in performance in testing. This is seen both in private schools and in public schools because competition has entered into the education market and public schools have raised their game.”
Mattox says both choice and accountability have contributed to the success.
“Since all of the reform initiatives [were] ushered in about 15 years ago, there was a dramatic turnaround in terms of achievement of Florida students,” said Mattox. “How much of it was due to choice innovations, and how much of it was due to accountability measures—like report cards for schools and things like that—it’s difficult to say how much each part played. But something positive happened here, and we ought to continue to promote these policies to further our advancement.”
Expanding Choice Beyond Charters
Mattox says it is important for the school choice movement to expand beyond charter schools.
“Given that so much progress has been made in our state, we never want to see the conversation begin or end with charter schools,” Mattox said. “We want to see school choice across the board. For that reason, we look to see every part of the choice movement advance simultaneously. So, at the same time that we’re promoting open enrollment and charter school innovations, we’re also pushing for expansion of our new education savings accounts. At the same time, we’re progressively helping to defend taxpayer dollars in funding against attacks through the legal system by the teachers unions.”
Mattox says the most important measure of school choice’s effectiveness is parental feedback.
“The most important accountability measure is parental satisfaction,” Mattox said. “What we have found is that parents like school choice. The more familiar they are with choice, the more they like it; and when they have a choice, they show high satisfaction with the choices they choose for their children.
“Ultimately, in a market-based system, consumer satisfaction, or in this case parental and student satisfaction, should be a very strong consideration in measuring success,” Mattox said. “If you get the choice part of the puzzle right, a lot of the accountability part will take care of itself. Schools will either raise their game or lose business.”
Jeff Reynolds ([email protected]) writes from Portland, Oregon.
Image by Florida Community Loan Fund.
Kathleen McGrory and Jeffrey S. Solochek, “Florida lawmakers eye charter schools,” Miami Herald, March 5, 2015: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article12721652.html