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Florida charter schools lack proper oversight

State’s charter school laws rated very poor in new NEA analysis

TALLAHASSEE — Florida charter school laws received a rating of “very poor” and a grade of F in a new report card issued in a national study released today by the National Education Association (NEA). The report, titled “State Charter Statutes: NEA Report Card,” analyzed the laws governing charter schools in every state that allows them. The study, which provides a roadmap for states to improve their oversight and accountability laws, found that in Florida and across the nation, charter school laws fall short of protecting students and leave taxpayers on the hook for fraud, waste and abuse within the charter school industry.

“Whenever we talk about schools, the bottom line is always the students,” said Florida Education Association (FEA) President Fedrick Ingram. “The reality is charter schools choose who they teach, and they teach a far smaller percentage of students with disabilities and kids living in poverty than neighborhood public schools. This separate and unequal system of charter schools is creating haves and have-nots — something that should never exist in public education.”

Florida’s charter school laws received 45 out of a possible 100 in the NEA analysis. Florida lost points for charter schools not being genuinely public and not being governed by local school boards, and received only partial credit for providing students with a high quality education.

Government watchdog Integrity Florida took an in-depth look at Florida charter schools in a report released last September, “The Hidden Costs of Charter School Choice: Privatizing Public Education in Florida.” That report also found that lax regulation of charter schools has created opportunities for financial mismanagement and criminal corruption.

Florida’s Constitution is clear that the Legislature has an obligation to provide a free system of public schools that is “uniform” and “efficient.” It is neither uniform nor efficient to operate a system of charter schools that are exempt from many Florida statutes and are owned by for-profit management companies that rake in taxpayer dollars.  

Effective charter school oversight laws, like those identified by NEA’s Policy Statement on Charter Schools, would prevent scandals like Imagine West Melbourne spending more taxpayer dollars on rent and administrative fees ($2,535,154) than they do on instruction ($2,017,870), according to the school’s most recent audit. In Miami-Dade County, an investigation by the Miami Herald found one charter school paying 97 percent of its revenues to a management company.

NEA released this analysis as the U.S. experiences a wave of pro-public education activism that educators have dubbed the #RedForEd movement. Educators, students, parents, and community members have stood up for well-resourced, quality public education in states and cities across the country for more than a year, resulting in a public mandate for decisionmakers to act in the interest of our students.

“Charter schools were started by educators who dreamed of schools in which they would be free to innovate, unfettered by bureaucratic obstacles,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Handing over students’ education to privately managed, unaccountable charters jeopardizes student success, undermines public education and harms communities.  As the report card shows, Florida’s leaders have a long way to go to ensure that charter schools actually function to improve public education offerings for students. This study provides them with a path to accountability.”

NEA reviewed the charter statutes for each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and posed 13 questions of the charter school laws of every state that authorizes the schools. (Six states do not have laws establishing charters.) The questions emanate from NEA’s Policy Statement on Charter Schools, which outlines the requirements NEA believes are essential for public charter schools: They must be genuinely public schools in every respect; accountable to the public via open and transparent governance; approved, overseen and evaluated by local school boards; and providers of high quality education for their students. The number of points allocated for a particular question reflects the relative importance of the factor according to the Policy Statement. Affirmative answers were awarded full or partial points, depending on the degree to which the legislation met Policy Statement requirements. The Policy Statement was developed by a working group that included NEA leaders, state education leaders, education policy experts and educators from both charter schools and traditional public schools.

Nationally, NEA found that charter school laws in nearly every state failed to meet basic standards for public oversight, accountability, transparency, governing by local school boards and providing students with a high quality education. Points were tallied and converted into letter grades using a total of 100 potential points and a traditional A through F scale. Only six states with charter laws garnered enough points to avoid an F, and all of those were D grades except for Maryland (B-minus) and Tennessee (C-minus). To better distinguish among the state laws, the large majority of which simply failed to meet NEA’s standards, NEA divided states into sub-groups according to their overall score. By referring to these sub-group ratings, it is possible to better distinguish between, for example, the District of Columbia (“worst” with 20 out of 100 points) and Arkansas (“poor” with 59 out of 100 points), both of which received failing grades. This evaluation reflects the laws in existence as of Nov. 9, 2018.

NEA’s assessment of charter school laws was limited by necessity to the terms of the statutes themselves. On some occasions, external sources were consulted to resolve ambiguity or when the statute was silent. While this review captures the statutory landscape of charter schools in any given state, it does not attempt to reflect actual compliance by charters or state or local government entities with those laws.

CONTACT: Joni Branch, (850) 201-3223 or (850) 544-7055

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The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest association of professional employees, with more than 140,000 members. FEA represents pre K-12 teachers, higher education faculty, educational staff professionals, students at our colleges and universities preparing to become teachers and retired education employees. 

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