Miami Democratic state Rep. Kionne McGhee isn’t sugar-coating how much he dislikes House Republicans’ $200 million, “schools of hope” plan to attract high-performing charter schools to Florida that would aid students currently attending perpetually failing traditional public schools.
“This bill, in my humble opinion, creates a separate but unequal system” that “runs afoul” of the Florida and U.S. Constitutions, McGhee said Wednesday, when HB 5105 faced its second of only two committee hearings. McGhee will be the House Democratic leader starting in late 2018.
House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and other Republicans noted that a question of constitutionality in Florida’s public education system already arises if the state continues to let students languish in perpetually failing schools for years and years.
“These schools have failed these kids long enough,” Diaz said. “These are kids trapped in generational poverty, and for us to create this illusion it [schools of hope] is a separate system? It’s not.”
The full Appropriations Committee sent the “schools of hope” bill to the House floor on a party-line vote, with Democrats opposed.
They argue the money could be better spent on bringing innovations to traditional public schools, rather than picking “winners and losers” and propping up a specific few nonprofit charter operators, whose “schools of hope” could essentially replace failing neighborhood schools.
The “schools of hope” bill is lawmakers’ “best effort to give hope to kids who have no hope,” Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater said. He told the committee members: “If you’re content with failure, then by all means vote against this bill.”
There are 115 schools in 27 counties across Florida — almost half of which are in South Florida and Tampa Bay alone — that have been graded “D” or “F” for three years or more. The 77,000 students in those schools are the ones House Republicans aim to help by bringing in these proposed “schools of hope.”
A Senate companion to HB 5105 doesn’t yet exist but is poised to surface through a sweeping amendment that would replace a relatively generic charter school bill from Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, with the “schools of hope” legislation. SB 796 — and Bean’s strike-all amendment — were supposed to be considered this week but the Senate Education Committee ran out of time. It could now be taken up as early as April 17.