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Senate Education Committee Waters Down Charter School Bill

Florida Senate

Another school choice bill looks to be in trouble in the Florida Legislature. The Senate Education Committee has watered down a proposal that would have established a statewide contract for charter schools.

A similar bill was approved Monday in a House committee, but the language establishing a standardized charter school contract is gone from the Senate version of the Bill. Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg issued a  strike-all amendment to the bill Tuesday, effectively rewriting the legislation. Legg also added a provision that charter schools can’t remove students unless the document a code of conduct violation—something Tallahassee Democratic Senator and Association of District School Superintendents head Bill Montford says has been a problem:

“I have visited some schools and specifically when I asked how do you handle discipline, they say,‘we withdraw them and send them back to their district'," Montford said.

Under the Senate’s revamped bill, charter schools and districts will take their contract disagreements to an administrative law judge. The new version of the bill, unlike its House counterpart, no longer includes language allowing charters access to unused public school facilities-- a provision public schools have fought against for years.

As it’s been re-written, the bill sponsored by Senator Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park)  would send disputes between charter schools and their districts to an administrative law judge. The revamped bill has support from the Florida Association of School Districts and the non-partisan League of Women Voters.

“The Florida league supports expanded public school parental choice under controlled conditions determined by each school district," said lobbyist Debbie Harrison Rumberger.

She adds the group likes the local control Legg's amendments have put back into the bill.

The dismantling of the charter school legislation marks a second blow to legislative leaders who had championed expanding the state’s school choice programs. Last week, Bradenton Republican Senator Bill Galvano effectively killed an attempt to expand the state’s corporate tax scholarship program, often referred to as the school voucher system, when he pulled his own bill aiming to do just that from consideration.

The watering down of the charter school bill comes a week after a planned expansion of the state’s school voucher program was shelved.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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