Update: Florida Senate advances major public school choice package

Update, 6:30 p.m.: The Senate Education Committee on Tuesday approved the legislation on a 7-4, party-line vote.

Out-of-state charter school networks could be able to gain a greater foothold in Florida, and charter school boards would have to show their members are “independent of any management company” under a proposed rewrite of school choice legislation a state Senate panel is set to take up later today.

The measure would merge many of the charter school and parental rights provisions proposed this legislative session into a single bill, SB 1552 by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers.

Among other things, the proposed rewrite would:

  • Allow parents to enroll their children in any public school, including a charter school, that has room.
  • Allow out-of-state charter school networks with strong track records to receive “high-performing” status in Florida. The change, backed by Sen. Jeff Brandes-R-St. Petersburg, is aimed at attracting more nationally known charter operators like Aspire and Yes Prep.
  • Create a new code of ethics for charter school board members, requiring them to demonstrate independence from management companies and other vendors, a measure proposed by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.
  • Create a new charter school institute at Florida State University.
  • Raise the bar for new charter schools by giving districts clear authority to vet their academic and financial history, and requiring them to show they have a suitable school facility at least 30 days before school starts. These changes have been sought by district superintendents, with Robert Runcie of Broward County among the most vocal.
  • Launch a new state pilot program allowing school districts to give select principals charter school-like autonomy and accountability.
  • Require school districts to inform parents of the total funding provided for the education of each of their children.

Last week, the Senate held a workshop on charter school legislation, after which Senate Education Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity said he wanted to combine some of the “consensus” provisions from various bills.

This looks like an attempt to do that. Taken together, this proposal would address some of the state’s recent charter school controversies and significantly expand public school choice. The Senate’s main education policy committee is set to hear discuss the plan this afternoon.