This post was updated at 12:18 PM
This morning, Judge John Cooper struck Amendment 8 from the ballot. That means, unless an appeal wins favor with a higher judge, it won’t be appearing on the ballot this November.
Here’s what you should know.
Amendment 8 was a package deal; it bundled three changes together:
- Term Limits
It would limit local school board members to 8 years in office.
- Civics Education
It would force schools to teach students about their rights and duties as citizens and how government works. Well, technically it says they’ll have to teach “civic literacy” so who knows how our legislature, education department, and individual schools would interpret that?
- Charter School Authorization
Somebody has to give the thumbs up or thumbs down on charter schools. Right now that power lies with each school district. But the amendment would let someone else do that. Who that someone might be isn’t defined. State lawmakers would have to figure that question out. But it could be Florida’s department of Education or some statewide non-profit board, or something nobody’s thought of yet.
Some are annoyed that these aren’t three separate amendments, but the bigger problem is the claim that Amendment 8 is misleading. The League of Women Voters says “voters will not recognize that the real purpose of the amendment is to allow unaccountable political appointees to control where and when charter schools can be established in their county.”
Judge Cooper agreed. In his summary judgement, he said the title and summary that would have appeared on the ballot fail “to inform voters of the chief purpose and effect of this proposal.”
In other words: It should have mentioned charters by name, and made it clear that local school districts would no longer have complete control over every charter school that gets approved.
But, can I just point out how rare it is to see a Progressive organization like the League of Women Voters argue in favor of local control?
Florida’s Secretary of State, through a spokesperson, rightly called out the League’s lawsuit as purely a political move last week, saying it “stems primarily from their disagreement with Amendment 8 as a matter of policy.”
While it’s true that Amendment 8 would allow new charter schools to bypass the locally elected school board, it doesn’t mean there’s less accountability. The fact that charter schools must close if they get two F grades in a row is one way they actually have more accountability than locally controlled traditional schools. In Florida, no traditional school has been closed for poor performance, despite having plenty of schools that would qualify for closure under charter school rules: 1 school last year, 5 the year before, and 24 the year before that according to Florida’s school grades data.
Also, parents may not be able to complain to a local school board if they dislike how the charter school is run or threaten to withhold their vote. But unlike zoned schools, parents can just leave the charter school at any time since there’s always a zoned school to go back to. Call it micro-level local control.
Voters may not get to decide whether it’s right for Florida, but similar systems already exists in 35 other states with charter school laws. Having an independent statewide board approving and managing charter schools is considered a best practice by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers: They remove the conflict of interest that sometimes crops up with school districts, they can be focused 100 percent on the job of veting charter school applications because, unlike school districts, that’s all the statewide board would do. That focus tends to allow statewide boards to develop greater expertise in approving and working with charter schools.
Avoiding An Adversarial Relationship
Giving charter schools another path toward approval matters because districts are often hostile toward charter schools. And 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.
This is actually playing out right now with Tallahassee Classical School, a charter school that applied for approval back in the spring. The Leon County School Board denied the school for political reasons, hiding behind the myth that charter schools drain district funds. But now that Classical has won their appeal, they’ll have to operate under Leon County Schools’ supervision.
That’s like working for a boss who was forced to hire you after he literally did everything in his power not to.
One way or another, Florida needs a better system for approving and working with charter schools. We need to put the needs of students first, and avoid setting up charter schools and their governing organization for a rocky relationship.