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New Charter School Networks Aimed At Low Performing School Districts

Illinois Network of Charter Schools

A massive charter school bill is rolling steadily through the legislature. The measure would create a network of charters and expand online learning. And Democrats are starting to double down on their criticism of state education policy.

It could soon become easier for charter schools to set up shop in failing districts. So-called High Impact Charter School networks are part of a large House proposal that strengthens charter school accountability while also streamlining where those schools can operate

"This is a new concept, of creating the charter impacts in critical need areas, places we see where traditional schools aren’t getting results," says HB 7029 bill sponsor, Rep. Bob Cortes.

The high impact charter school networks would have to document their success before they’re allowed to open in a failing school district, but they wouldn’t have to wait three years to so, unlike current high performing charter schools. The bill also allows charters designated as high performing networks, to waive some administrative fees.

“If we know and a district knows that there’s a charter operator out there that operates an excellent charter and is interested in coming in to these high need areas, we should do everything we can to make that happen," said Rep. Michael Bileca.

The networks would be a new addition to Florida’s charter school landscape. If approved for operation, they’d be automatically eligible for state school construction and maintenance dollars and charter school grants. The state board of education would have to create new rules to decide which schools are eligible. The measure would allow out-of-state charter schools to open in Florida. But Democratic Rep. Steve Geller isn’t down with that.

“I think there’s a good intention here, I don’t question that. Everybody here is trying to do the right thing. But I think we’re just taking a leap of faith here on people who may have been successful in a small rural environment in another state. And they’re not equipped here," he said.

And Democratic Rep. Reggie Fullwood says his opposition to the bill isn’t because he doesn’t like charter schools. He does. “It’s not that we’re opposed to choice, it’s often how we get there," he said.  Fullwood argues not enough is being done to enhance traditional public schools.

“Are we saying we just turn our back on our neighborhood schools? Just let them decay and fall apart? There has to be some balance. The balance could be we create legislation, and where we’re more aggressive with these failing schools, we work with districts more on new leadership and policies.”

The new high performing charter networks could still have their schools shut down if they receive two F-grades in a row from the state. They and their governing boards would still be held to the same background and financial checks as other charter schools. The bill was approved on a partisan vote with most democrats in opposition. It now heads to the chamber floor. There are several similar bills pending in the Senate.

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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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