OUR POSITION: A new law regarding the approval of charter schools in Florida further deteriorates the authority of local school boards and continues a scary trend for the state to assume more control of schools.

If Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature continue on the path they’re on, local school boards may soon be convened merely to approve dress codes. Or, maybe the Legislature wants to take on that responsibility too.

We’re not kidding. It is getting to the point that lawmakers want control of how your children are taught, who teaches them, what books are in the library and who sits on school boards — if we need school boards at all. It’s a muscle-flexing exercise by Tallahassee that we all should be concerned about.

The latest step in the power grab is a law that severely limits or takes away{span} school districts’ ability to approve or disapprove{/span} a charter school.

In simple terms the new law, according to a Daily Sun story, puts in place a State Charter School Review Commission under the Commissioner of Education. Appointed members of that board will decide if a charter school is allowed to open and also if a charter school’s charter should be renewed or terminated. It allows for input from the local school board but stops there. Local school boards would have no decision-making power.

The new law removes the requirement that any facility used as a charter school obtain a special exemption from existing zoning and land-use designations. And, it also requires the Office of Program Policy and Governmental Accountability to conduct an analysis of the distribution of capital outlay funds to charter schools.

The problems, we believe are numerous.

We fear charter schools could be approved or allowed to renew a charter for up to 15 years even if their curriculum is not up to most standards. They may not not carry proper insurance. The facilities could be lacking. They may reject students without good reason.

There are all sorts of issues that a local school board would have a better handle on than a board in Tallahassee that is tasked with overseeing all charter schools in the state.

Charlotte County is lucky, according to Superintendent Steve Dionisio, in that it has “two great charter schools. We see all students in Charlotte County as our kids.”

“We would not normally be a roadblock for the approval of a charter school,” Dionisio said. “And the best way to avoid a problem would be to work with the charter school from the very start.”

Dionisio did admit he can see a trend in the Legislature to take more control over schools. He said the best tact to fight any problem is for school districts to not “dig in their heels” and instead work to get everyone in the fold.

Charlotte County School Board member Kim Amontree said she is concerned about charter schools who may want to open just to make a profit.

“If they don’t do well (or test well) it’s on us,” she said. “If we have no voice that means our citizens have no voice. I’m not sure citizens are really aware of that.”

The charter school bill is just another example of how the governor and lawmakers are putting a tighter grip on school districts. The controversy over masks for students during the pandemic could be pointed to as a tipping point in the state’s move to take more control of schools.

We don’t like the idea of a review commission of political appointees having the power to approve charter schools that could be owned or operated by friends or benefactors. It forces the local school districts into what could be an uncomfortable relationship and falls short of the local oversight that is needed.


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