They are now considered the most popular school for parents in Florida. Over the past five years, the number of charter schools has increased by 5% statewide, and enrollment has increased by more than 20%, according to the Florida Department of Education (FDOE).

Now a calmly signed the new state law That growth is expected to be even faster in Florida, thanks to the expansion of who can approve charter school applications not only from local school boards, but also from state commissions.

Charter school advocates call this a way to simplify approval.

“It’s just another way of reviewing and approving charter school applications. I think that makes perfect sense,” said Lynne Norman-Teck of the Florida Charter School Alliance.

But critics call it another push by the state’s Republican leadership to further privatize education and dismantle traditional public schools.

Although charter schools are considered public and publicly funded, they are privately operated and often for profit.

“They want to rule like a kingdom with a king,” Florida Sen. Janet Cruz said in response to the state’s expansion.

Cruz, a Democrat from Tampa, fears the law will make it easier for questionable charter schools to get the green light to operate here.

“It has nothing to do with educating our children; it’s about profit from our taxpayers,” Cruz said.

For every child that attends a charter school, money is diverted from traditional public schools.

Cruz voted against the bill during the last legislative session and questioned its need because charter schools denied in Florida can already appeal to the state appeals board.

In addition, government data show that neither denials nor appeals happen infrequently.

Last year, 65% of charter school applications were approved by local school districts, according to the FDOE. Of the applicants who were not approved, most withdrew their applications anyway.

Since 2019, only three refusals have been appealed. The state has canceled two, according to an FDOE spokesman.

Todd Siebart is with the National Charter School Alliance. When asked under what circumstances a charter school company could seek approval through the state rather than a local district, which still has to approve the contract and oversee the charter school, Siebart said, “they would probably go under circumstances where the school district is serving list of hostile attitudes toward charter school applicants. Either be adversarial on the front end and turn away applicants, or be overbearing in their oversight and monitoring of charter schools, or even be capricious in their decisions to renew charters.”

Such was the case in Hillsborough County last year, when the local school board, acting in part against the advice of its district, voted to deny the reopening of four charter schools. The school board’s rare refusals implicated then-state Superintendent of Education Richard Corcoran.

Corcoran threatened to deny the district funding because he believed the board’s decision was based not on the schools’ performance, but on the district’s financial failures. Following threats from the state, the council moved swiftly to reverse these refusals.

In a statement, the National Association of Charter School Authorities, an industry association that offers support and best practices to those who approve charter schools, expressed concern about Florida’s law, which expands the state’s authority.

“NACSA ​​has long advocated that charter schools have access to more than one type of authorizer in their states, especially independent states. Instead of creating a fully empowered authority in Florida that NACSA ​​would support, we are concerned that the current arrangement of having a new statewide authorizer that only evaluates applications will not create quality and sustainable schools for students. Despite ​​these concerns, it will be important for this new authority to make decisions on applications based solely on a careful analysis of all elements of the application.”

State approvals will be filtered through a new seven-member charter school review board. However, this commission has not been created and will not be until lawmakers finance it.

How long that will take is anyone’s guess, but former Republican Sen. Manny Diaz was the first lawmaker to introduce a bill that would give the state the authority to approve new charter schools. This summer, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him as Florida’s new education commissioner, where he now has all of the state’s education authority.

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