Fla. House bill would make it harder for schools to hide dropouts

Students who leave traditional public schools for alternative charter schools or private providers would still count against their original school’s graduation rate under legislation prepared for a Florida House committee.

The draft legislation emerged Friday, days after state education officials said they were investigating whether districts inflated their graduation rates by shifting students into alternative education programs.

Earlier this year, ProPublica reported a Central Florida school district encouraged students to enroll in alternative charter schools, which target academically struggling students and may have helped the district take potential dropouts off its books.

Last year, the Tallahassee Democrat reported a North Florida school district contracted with private online education companies. It counseled struggling high school students to enroll into those programs, where they counted as private school transfers rather than dropouts.

Under Florida’s school accountability system, when students leave traditional public schools for district-run alternative schools, their performance is typically factored into the letter grade of the school they left.

The proposed bill, which the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee is set to debate Tuesday, would clarify that rule applies to students who leave for alternative charter schools, too.

It would also stipulate that:

Student performance data for a high school student who transfers to a private school that has a contractual relationship with the school district shall be assigned to the school in which the student was last enrolled.

The new accountability rules are part of a wide-ranging piece of proposed charter school legislation.

Among other things, the bill would also:

  • Eliminate caps on high-performing charter schools that want to expand in areas where existing public schools struggle.
  • Prevent school districts from imposing regulations on charter schools beyond what the law requires.
  • Allow charter school networks to form “local education agencies” that can receive federal funding directly, rather than relying on their local districts to distribute the money.

It’s not clear how the state Senate will approach these issues. The Education Committee in the upper chamber has scheduled a preliminary discussion of bills that affect charter schools and other school choice issues Monday.