For retiree-populated Charlotte County, spending tax money may be second to seeking a new early-bird special restaurant. For both, retirees want to get their money’s worth.

They recall in their day students who attended private schools went on their parents’ money. Yes, “the times they are a changin’.” State vouchers are awarded to students to attend private schools. Charter schools are created at the expense of public schools when the latter’s state-funded student enrollment drops. Either way, it is at taxpayer expense.

Charter schools are a relatively new educational approach. Parents may think a neighborhood school does not suit their child. It may be too academically ambitious or not enough. Either status is usually created by the school’s socioeconomic venue. It may be too big or too small. High schools with a larger student body offer more courses beyond required ones

Proponents claim charter schools create innovative learning methods, raise test scores and are cost-effective. There may be excellent examples, but charter schools are not producing better results.

Free-market education advocates also claim charter schools create competition. Apparent sole result: old-fashioned public schools are more sensitive to public outreach. Public schools serve all students. Charter schools adopt specific missions to attract parents and their children.

No doubt two charter networks receiving national exposure for innovative style are Harlem Children’s Zone and KIPP. They appear to be unconstrained by union rules and bureaucracy. Charter schools may have longer school weeks or years. Teaching is intense, especially in urban areas necessitating extensive individual student support.

Public schools like those in Charlotte County are state-funded based on enrollment. Whether here or anywhere “going charter” means loss of state finances for public school districts (K-12). Charters market parents with claims of rigorous studies for students. Weak academic students do not apply. Low-income families do not apply unless there is transportation. Commonly lacking special education services curtails that type of student enrollment.

Charter schools are also sponsored by for-profit companies that spend half of their budgets on instruction. Public schools spend much more, and for-profit operations spend less on special education, teacher compensation, transportation, and elementary and middle schools.

Accountability is a continuing issue. Too many unknowns. Are administrators and teachers being appropriately evaluated? Are local charter school boards effective? In the last election in Florida, a constitutional amendment eventually withdrawn by the courts would have placed charter schools with limited accountability under state control.

The measure would have allowed the state — perhaps even a new department — to have oversight of charter schools not established by school boards. Such non-board established schools could include privately-organized charter schools, lab schools, collegiate high schools and other types of schools.

Florida Southwestern Collegiate High School, located on Airport Road in Punta Gorda, operates within the Charlotte County School District. It serves 342 students in grades 9-12 and has a graduation rate of 87 percent, higher than the Florida state average of 71 percent.

Charlotte County has 11 private schools serving 1,056 students. Student-teacher ratio is 12:1. Some 91 percent are religiously affiliated.

While specific Florida state public funds flow to charter schools, concern for church-state separation was respected when the Constitution Revision Commission chose not to advance two proposals that did not appear on the November ballot.

One proposal would have stripped a provision which prevents taxpayer dollars from going to religious institutions or activities. Another proposal would have removed the education provision which ensures public money funds public schools, not private, religious schools through vouchers.

As Florida’s Legislature currently conducts its business, public money — taxpayer driven — for private schools is on Gov. Ron Desantis’ agenda and on Senate President Bill Galvano’s also. They agree on expanding Florida’s school voucher programs, which would allow more students to attend private schools at taxpayer expense.

That early bird dinner special may be a bargain. Using taxes to support private schools is not.

Norm Goldman administered programs and enacted legislative policies for New Jersey’s major educational institutions and organizations.


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