School districts aren’t the only ones raising concerns about a plan to standardize charter school contracts in Florida.
Some charter school representatives have indicated they have concerns about the proposal, which is set to be taken up next week by the state Board of Education, and might consider challenging a state rule creating a standard contract for charter schools throughout the state.
Provisions in the standard contract would not be binding. They are intended to serve as a starting point for the contracts that govern charter schools. The proposal stems from 2013 legislation passed with backing from charter school advocates who were concerned districts could insert provisions they viewed as problematic.
But Stephanie Alexander, an attorney who represents charter schools, warned state education officials in August that some of her clients might challenge the proposal because it spells out a long list of reasons a school district could potentially shut down a charter school. The draft contract contains a list that “is too broad, goes beyond the statute, and invites further mischief by the school boards,” she wrote in an email to state school choice director Adam Miller.
At the time of her message, three schools managed by Charter Schools USA, a charter management organization her firm represents, were in the thick of a standoff with the Hillsborough County school district. Since then, the conflict has ebbed, the two sides are working out their differences, and the district has assured parents the schools won’t be shut down.
In her message, Alexander wrote that charter schools might challenge “any rule that goes beyond the explicit statutory criteria on termination at this point, especially given what is happening in Hillsborough.” She added in a later message, “we are seeing abuses that seem to justify our concerns about expanding termination criteria.”
Many of the concerns school districts have raised are rooted in the idea that a model contract would constrain negotiations with charter schools they’re charged with regulating. Alexander’s emails to Miller, among hundreds obtained by redefinED through a public records request, focus more on details of the proposal than on the concept of standard contracts in general. Miller’s response to Alexander was similar to his response to school districts: Remember, he wrote, that the “the actual terms of every contract are subject to negotiation. A district and charter can agree upon as many changes to the standard contract as they wish. ” The long list of reasons a charter could be terminated under the standard contract was simply an attempt to spell out the reasons that state law might allow, Miller wrote.
And as is now happening in Hillsborough, districts have to give charters 30 days to fix any problems before they can terminate a school’s contract.
The process of creating the standard contracts has been more than a year in the making and is required in state law. Miller has repeatedly told charter and district officials that the state Department of Education hopes to use the standard contracts as a way to help improve charter school authorizing.