Time has come for charter school accountability in Florida

By Damien Filer - October 3, 2014

Nationwide, more than 2.5 million students are enrolled in over 6,000 charter schools. In recent years, Florida’s Republican lawmakers and governors like Rick Scott have funneled more and more taxpayer-funded handouts to for-profit charter schools.

“Charters began as a way to free teams of educators to devise innovative ways to engage students and learn from effective practices to improve all of public education,” said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García. “Unfortunately, the lack of vigorous oversight and a superficial regulatory structure in the charter sector has enabled too many of these schools to fall short of delivering on what they promise students and families.”

In his recent column, It's time for Legislature to prevent more charter school debacles, the Sun-Sentinel’s Michael Mayo wrote, “Unfortunately, our Republican-dominated Legislature has let ideology trump common sense when it comes to regulating charter schools.” Broward schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told Mayo, “"The way Florida authorizes charter schools is one of the worst in the country.” 

The NEA is shining a light on a new study by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University calling for increased accountability, transparency and equity in the taxpayer-funded charter school sector. “There needs to be a full reporting of data and finances and a separation of governing boards from their management companies,” said Leigh Dingerson, author of the report. “That would go a long, long way to cleaning up the most egregious waste of public dollars that I have seen.”

The report provides key policy recommendations Florida lawmakers would do well to take to heart:

  • Traditional districts and charter schools should work together to ensure a coordinated approach that serves all children.
  • School governance should be representative and transparent. Only 10 states – California is not among them – require a parent to be on the governing board.
  • Charter schools should ensure equal access to interested students and prohibit practices that discourage enrollment or disproportionately push enrolled students out of school.
  • Charter school discipline policy should be fair and transparent.
  • Districts and charter schools should work together to ensure that facilities arrangements do not disadvantage students in either sector.
  • Online charter schools should be better regulated for quality, transparency and the protection of student data.

Monitoring and oversight of charter schools should be strong and fully funded by the state.