No more ‘schools of nope?’ Fla. lawmakers prepare charter negotiations

Things are moving quickly as the Florida House and Senate wrangle over the House’s $200 million plan to shift students from persistently struggling public schools into new “Schools of Hope” run by national charter school operators.

A key lawmaker added new wrinkle this afternoon.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, added an amendment to a closely watched teacher bonus bill (SB 1552) this afternoon that would overhaul the state’s system for turning around struggling schools. It touched off a discussion about bicameral negotiations in the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which he chairs.

Simmons reiterated his praise for the House’s push to take faster action in struggling schools. But his proposal would significantly scale back the role of charters.

Instead, it would encourage school turnaround efforts in which districts extend their school days by at least an hour, provide students with wraparound services, or give charter-like autonomy to their principals.

“I have said that the schools now that continue to fail are schools of nope, and that we want to turn them into schools of hope,” Simmons said. “At the same time … the resources and the infrastructure that we have is in our already-extant school districts.”

Simmons said it would likely be “impossible” for charter school operators to come to Florida and absorb the estimated 60,000 students currently attending persistently D- and F-rated schools.

“I have been told that many have said that they’re not equipped to come in and take on this challenge, particularly to the size and extent that they’re trying to do this, but I do know that there will be a place for them in this,” he said of charter schools.

Two separate Senate bills (SB 796 and SB 1332) could also potentially dovetail with the House’s proposal. They’re aimed at bringing more high-impact charter school networks to Florida.

That, coupled with the House’s $200 million Schools of Hope spending item, sketches the terrain of House and Senate negotiations over the most ambitious K-12 education proposal of the 2017 legislative session, which is scheduled to end May 5.