Amendment 8 may not be on the ballot come November, but we can’t ignore the issue it was trying to address.
Charter schools have a legitimate place in our state. They’re written into our laws because they give families a public-school option (and hope) when their zoned school doesn’t meet their needs.
But they have to get approved by someone before charter school leaders can find a building, hire a principal and teachers, and let students come to learn. In Florida, that’s exclusively the job of local school boards.
Unfortunately, local school boards are becoming increasingly hostile to any charter school that wants to open. That opposition isn’t motivated so much from the general public—44 percent of people support charters and only 35 percent oppose according to an EducationNext poll released Tuesday. The real pressure comes from the politically powerful teachers unions.
And resistance from school boards isn’t just happening in Florida. Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers says local school boards across the country are walking “away from the opportunity to authorize” charter schools: In 2013, they approved 56 percent of charter schools, but by 2016, that number had dropped to 41 percent.
That’s 15 percent of local school boards nationally that just decided to altogether stop approving charter schools.
When your state is one of the 35 that offer an alternative path for charter schools to get authorized, that might not be a huge deal, but in Florida, your local school board is the only game in town. If they’re not approving charter schools, nobody is.
Giving charter schools another path toward approval matters because in cases where the school appeals to the state and gets approved, it sets up an adversarial relationship between the school and the district that tried to block them.
That’s like working for a boss who was forced to hire you after doing everything in his power not to.
Leon and Palm Beach counties have had some of the most notable headlines recently as they’ve rejected charter school applications only to have the schools approved later by an appeal to the state.
I attended the meeting in May where the Leon County School Board and Superintendent Rocky Hanna bent over backwards to deny Tallahassee Classical School’s charter application, despite the fact that the school met every legal requirement.
I watched Hanna acknowledge his defeat and begrudgingly welcome Tallahassee Classical in front of TV cameras earlier this month.
But just because he says they’re welcome doesn’t mean the district’s actions will match. The school board can easily slow-walk the process of negotiating their contract and making the Tallahassee Classical official, which would delay them in hiring teachers and staff, and making other arrangements to start school on time.
And just like in a lot of businesses, delays will cost the school money. Since they already get less money than traditional schools, that can put the homegrown charter school in a serious financial pinch.
Literally nobody likes this system as we have it now. It’s a pain for the districts as well as the schools.
We need a change in Florida. Charter schools need an alternative path to getting a green light, not for the charter schools’ sake, but for the sake of the kids and families who need something different.