Top-rated charter schools could more easily add students and expand grade levels under a House proposal that passed its last committee stop today.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, would also automatically reward those schools with 15-year charter renewals. It passed on a 12 to 5 party-line vote of the House education committee. Rep.Betty Reed, D-Tampa, whose daughter is involved with a charter school, abstained. Charter schools would be considered “high performing” if, in the last three years, it has received at least two “A”s and had satisfactory financial audits. By those measures, a total of 108 charter schools would currently qualify. Supporters described the proposal as a way to allow the best charter schools to more quickly meet the demand cited waiting lists of 57,000 children. “Does it fix every problem? No, but it’s a great start,” said Rep. Marlene O’Toole, R-LadyLake. Critics expressed concerns over the inclusion of charter schools run by for-profit companies and the addition of language that gives enrollment preferences to certain children. But more broadly, some Democrats said the proposal makes it too easy to open charter schools, at the risk of hurting traditional public schools. “It now opens us up to having to rationalize every year what the purpose of the public school is,” said Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami. Bullard said the measure doesn’t take into account the public school children whose parents don’t push to get them into charter schools. “What happens to the children who are left to fend for themselves in schools that we’re not addressing,” he said. “We have to have the courage and responsibility by saying we’re going to do right by those kids who not only are in struggling situations but also in struggling schools.” The enrollment increases allowed under the proposal would cost at least $5.1 million, according to a legislative staff analysis. A Senate version passed its last stop, the budget committee, last week.