'Public School Choice' Gets Bipartisan Nod In House

Mar 24, 2015

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Students could soon be able to enroll in any school—public or charter—in the state, as long at there’s space available. The "Public School Choice" proposal is poised to break down the district, and school boundary lines that have existed for decades.

The premise is simple: a student can go to any public school of his or her choice in and out of a district—as long as that school isn’t full. Parents have long complained about being limited to schools based on zip codes. Still, Democratic Rep. Joe Geller sees technical problems with the bill.  

“I’m worried about the effect of losing state funding on some of these poor districts, they’re having a hard time keeping up as it is," he says.

A financial analysis on the bill says its cost-neutral to the state, but districts would still lose money if students leave--and aren't made up. The state funds education on a per-student cost, and Geller says there's no way to know how many people will take advantage of the program should it pass.

The Palm Beach County School District also spoke on the bill. It's lobbyist, Vern Crawford, says Palm Beach's schools operate similarly to what's in the bill--with students being able to choose among all of the districts high school, and many of its middle and elementary schools. Still, Crawford notes--principals are already planning for the next school year. And the bill, if it passes as its worded currently, could pose logistical problems for school districts trying to implement it:.

“Right now, this bill, say passes out in April toward the end of session. It waits on the Governor to take action. It takes effect July 1. We wait for the department of education to provide rule and guidance. Now we’re bumping up to the beginning of school. To have this implemented by the next school year is something resembling organized chaos," he said.

Crawford recommends moving the effective date back for a year to let districts prepare.

Despite those concerns the proposal got bipartisan support in its first committee stop in the House, and even those who oppose it say the measure is a good idea.  The companion bill in the Senate is bigger and would create an institute to study charter schools.

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