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Joe Henderson: Make private, public, and charter schools play by the same rules

A lawmaker wants to make standards the same for all Florida schools

Charters and private schools are here to stay in Florida, and that’s just the way it is. That’s not a bad thing. But the rules that apply to public schools sometimes don’t apply to the other schools.

State Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat, wants to change that. She filed SB 632 that would make private and charter schools operate by the same standards as traditional public schools. Private schools would also face stricter requirements for academics, testing, and building requirements.

“I don’t care where they want to send them,” she told the Tampa Bay Times. “But at least have the same requirements. … It makes for a better education system.”

That seems fair to me, but it prompted this retort from Erika Donalds. She is a charter school operator, and her husband, Byron Donalds, is a GOP state lawmaker.

“I just find it interesting that traditional public school advocates complain about the mandates from the state being stifling to their programs, yet they want the same regulations for the other programs rather than free their programs from the burdensome regulations,” she told the Times.

I just find her double-talk interesting. Donalds resists having standards Republicans love to shovel on public schools applied to alternative schools. And even as charter advocates tout educational choice, there is a reason to be skeptical about some of the motives.

The Washington Post reported 502 Florida charter schools received about $92 million in grants from the Department of Education between 2006 and 2014. More than 36 percent of those schools closed now or never opened. Those schools, the Post said, received $34.8 million in federal seed money.

More ominously, for-profit organizations operate nearly half of the Florida charters. In some cases, “nonprofit” charters sent large chunks of their budgets to their for-profit management company. And charter advocates have successfully lobbied GOP lawmakers to shares of state funding that used to go to public schools.

When he was Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran argued that school districts should manage their money better. He pointedly complained about a high school that cost $100 million to build, as if that were the norm.

It is true that the new Gateway High School in Lee County cost more than $98 million to build. But Jule F. Sumner High School opening next year in Hillsborough County carried a $70 million price tag. It is the most expensive school building in the county’s history, but it’s hardly an extravagance.

It is designed for 2,500 students but likely will have several hundred more than that when it opens next August. And the state mandates where public schools are built and what construction standards apply. High school buildings must also be sturdy enough to serve as hurricane shelters.

They must have athletic facilities, such as football stadiums.

Charters don’t have to play by that rule.

That brings us back to Stewart’s proposal.

There is an education revolution ongoing in Florida, and that’s not necessarily bad. But that’s also why lawmakers need to control this better.

There are excellent charter and private schools, and they can be an attractive alternative to a struggling public school. Students can receive more individual instruction than a sometimes-harried public-school teacher can provide.

They can receive religious instruction at a private church school. If the family chooses that route, they should have that right.

But while the methods can be different, the standards shouldn’t be.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. John Kociuba

    November 3, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    Dear Citizens,

    Re: Commie Demorats

    Go straight to hell, Linda! In 1978 United States was #1 in education. Yes. After Communist Jimmy Carter signed into law the U.S. Department of Education now America is 17th.

    P.S. Private schools and Charter schools won’t have sicko pedophiles dressed like clowns lap dancing for 5 year olds!

    TRUMP2020! TRUMP2020! TRUMP2020! TRUMP2020!

  2. Dan

    November 3, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    Joe, Results Count… Charter schools which cost $,000 to $8,000/yr. per student is half price from a Public non-performing school. Look at the result from attending a school dedicated to teaching instead of instructors of socialist indoctrination. How many are ready for college or the real world responsibilities instead of teaching them how to apply for food stamps, welfare and minimum wage lives.

    Lets have the equal dollars follow each student. Make your budget fit your services delivered.

    • matthew lusk

      November 4, 2019 at 9:11 am

      Hey Dan, Matthew has a plan to fund equally or abolish truancy law. He is the only candidate in the 5th district putting students and their parents first.

  3. Karen

    November 4, 2019 at 6:26 am

    Citizens must get rid of public school education & the unions!
    Charter schools are excelling and the money people can’t stand it!
    The pinko Commies have had their way long enough, it’s time for citizens to stand up for their kids and kick these destroyers to the curb!

  4. Jane

    November 4, 2019 at 6:33 am

    Linda Stewart just another damn Communist Democrat doing everything she can to continue the dumbing down process!

  5. Matthew Floyd Lusk

    November 4, 2019 at 9:08 am

    Matthew Lusk is the ONLY Florida Congressional candidate mandating states give equal funding in a universal voucher program which includes home schooling.

  6. Carol

    November 4, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    Wow, these comments! Commies, Socialists, teaching students how to apply for food stamps and welfare! Who are these people? Where do they get this misinformation? It scares me that they live amongst us. The lack of knowledge of facts in these comments is frightening.

  7. Steve Easterling

    November 4, 2019 at 10:16 pm

    The state has more than enough problems trying to run their own school system. They should worry about that, not bother other folks who are doing just fine without their interference.

  8. Janis L.

    November 7, 2019 at 9:24 am

    Charters are for-profit corporations that are DRAINING our oublic coffers in FL! They are rife with financial fraud and abrupt closures because the state does not monitor their finances or teacher credentials! Headmasters should not be paid huge salaries but should be out on the public school pay limitations–same salary as a principal is paid! Their students are hand-picked–not fair! Yet they dont test any better than public school students! These private businesses are ripping Floridians OFF and violating our state constitution’s ban on paying private and relivious schools with public funds! Inspect their books, regulate salaries, test their students with same tests as public school students, and prosecute craud committed by charter companies!!

    • Michelle

      November 10, 2019 at 9:58 am

      So true!

  9. Michelle

    November 10, 2019 at 9:57 am

    Of course Donald’s has a comment. She’s wanting to open another charter school in North Naples! Charter and public should follow the same rules as public!

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