Sweeping school choice bill passes — key components and what's next

3/21/2016

After months of revisions and compromises, a controversial bill that covers a variety of school choice topics was passed by the Florida legislature on its final day of session. The 160 page bill, HB 7029, includes changes to issues as varied as charter schools’ public funding, high school athletics, open enrollment, and performance standards for Florida’s state colleges and public universities. The bill has been passed, but must still be signed by Governor Rick Scott before it will become law. The bill has some important implications for two areas in particular: open enrollment and charter school funding.

The bill, assuming it gets signed, will make it officially legal for students to attend schools across district lines beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. This means any child could attend any public school in the state of Florida, so long as the school is not yet at capacity.

In order to determine who would get priority as a school approaches its capacity, the bill makes some provisions of which students would receive priority. Children of active military who must move for work, children who move due to foster care placing, children whose parents have died, divorced, or changed custody, and children who live in the same district as the school in question would all have a prioritized status in whether they can attend their school of choice. There is also a provision dictating that a child attending or choosing a school in their own district cannot be displaced by a child from an outside district.

Another interesting component of the bill states that parents may transfer their children within a school from one classroom/teacher to another, although they cannot pick a specific classroom/teacher.

While there are a number of provisions made for charter schools and how they obtain funding (click here for a more comprehensive list or see above to read the bill itself), here are the key points.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, and their supporters have been waging a constant battle to receive more public funding, which many public school supporters oppose because this exchange would take funds out of the public school budget. The argument boils down to the fact that some charter schools make good use of public money, producing high-performing students or catering to specific groups like low-income students. But other charters are not well-prepared or well-run, and fail quickly without any public regulation or accountability, which wastes tax-payer money.

Many of the bill’s components added increased financial accountability, transparency, and higher educational standards and monitoring for charter schools. Among these were quarterly financial reviews by the district, leadership and school history reports, and the mandate that a charter school be terminated if it receives an ‘F’ grade two years running.

However, these restrictions were moderated by concessions to charter schools. Charter schools now only have to wait two years instead of three to receive public dollars for capital outlay. Additionally, the bill did not include a ban on “private enrichment,” despite pushes in both the House and Senate. In its final version, the bill provided no plan to protect public money from being used to bring big profits to charter school management companies and their owners at the public’s expense.

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