State board to hear three South Florida charter school appeals

The Florida Board of Education tomorrow will decide appeals from three prospective South Florida charter schools.

In different ways, the cases spotlight a key tension in the Sunshine State, between removing roadblocks to new charter schools, which must be approved by their local school boards, and stopping schools that are unqualified, unlikely to serve students well, or at risk of shutting down soon after they open.

In Broward County, the school district has come under scrutiny for a large number of sudden, unexpected charter school closures, prompting a suggestion that it should screen charter applicants more closely.

In the case set to come before the state board tomorrow, it denied the Phoenix Academy of Excellence’s application after finding what a school board attorney described as “a number of areas of weaknesses or concern.” When the case reached the state Charter School Appeals Commission, the district prevailed.

The state board gets the final say on the appeal commission’s recommendation, though it accepts them in most cases. Either the district or the charter applicant can challenge the board’s decision in state appellate court.

The remaining two cases originate in Palm Beach County, which has been a hot spot of charter school controversy for a different reason. The district has challenged the state board’s authority to approve charter applications on appeal, arguing the local school board should have the final say on which charters can open in its community. Since then, it’s rejected a number of charter school applications for, among other things, not being sufficiently innovative — a standard charter school advocates argue is “self-serving.”

In one case, the charter appeals commission found the school board had good cause to deny an application from the proposed Palm Beach Collegiate Charter School. In the other, it sided with Renaissance Charter High School of Palm Beach, finding the school should be allowed to open.

The board meeting starts Friday morning in Orlando. The full agenda can be found here.