FL charter schools need more oversight—not federal funding

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by Brian Washington

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This year, every seat in the Florida House and Senate is up for election. Educators throughout the state are working to elect as many pro-public education candidates as they can—both Democrats and Republicans.

And now, thanks to the U.S. Department of Education, they have some new incentive. The Department of Education announced last month that Florida is going to receive about $70 million in charter school grants. Fifty-eight million dollars of that funding is earmarked for new charter start-ups.

Given Florida’s track record with charter schools, it’s going to take a state legislature full of pro-public education lawmakers to protect students’ educational futures and taxpayer dollars.

Last year, Education Votes told you about a report put out by the Center for Media and Democracy that concluded Florida had one of the worst records in the country in terms of charter school oversight and fraud. It also found that, since charters began opening in the state more than a decade ago, 120 of these schools have closed, due to a variety of negative reasons, including fraud, severe mismanagement, and poor academic performance.

We have had funding going to charters that have actually closed before they officially opened, leaving students in a bind and taxpayers out of their money,” said Joanne McCall, a former school speech language pathologist and president of the Florida Education Association, which represents 140,000 teachers and school support professionals statewide.

“To send this kind of money, unregulated, when we already know we have a problem with charters, seems ludicrous.

Florida is splitting $245 million in charter school grants with 15 charter operators and seven other states, including California, Georgia, Louisiana, and Massachusetts.

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Florida educator and FEA President Joanne McCall

And despite the billions of dollars being doled out at the national level, even federal education officials admit charters are not measuring up to the high standards of oversight, accountability, and transparency set for traditional public schools.

“The charter industry needs new rules for financial transparency, including regular audits and published budgets, and new standards for equal opportunity, including admissions and discipline,” said Utah educator Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association (NEA), which represents 3 million educators nationwide. “This is essential to ensure all schools are accountable for how they serve students, taxpayers and communities.”

McCall is hoping following next month’s elections the state legislature will have enough pro-public education lawmakers to pass legislation requiring more oversight and accountability for charter schools.

But in the meantime, as Florida prepares to take hold of its $70 million grant, she can’t help but think about those students attending public schools in high-poverty neighborhoods and the impact that type of money could have on their lives.

“That money could go a long way in making sure our most vulnerable students are successful in the classroom,” said McCall. “All of our students, including those living in neighborhoods that are struggling, deserve a high-quality, first-class education. That’s what we need to be making sure happens with our federal and state dollars—not opening up more charters.”

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