Charter school bill draws rare bipartisanship in House panel
Image via AP.

The bill is a response to the near-closure of four Hillsborough County charter schools.

Lawmakers are starting to take action on a bill to put guardrails on how charter schools are renewed.

The measure (HB 225), sponsored by St. Cloud Republican Rep. Fred Hawkins, would require school boards to renew charter schools at least 90 days before the school year ends, or the charter would renew automatically. The House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee gave its unanimous approval Wednesday to the bill.

The bill comes after the Hillsborough County School Board initially voted against renewing four charter schools’ charters this summer over what the board members considered poor performance. However, the vote came only 56 days before the charters were set to expire. The district ultimately renewed the charters after Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran threatened to withhold funding for the districts for what he considered a violation of a 90-day notice rule.

“Teachers were trying to find jobs. Parents are trying to find new schools for their children,” Hawkins said. “We want to prevent that.”

Public schools start working toward the next school year well in advance, Hawkins noted. If there’s a problem with a charter school, districts should start addressing it with “plenty of time.”

Charter schools currently give a 90-day notice before the end of their charter, noted RSA Consulting lobbyist Edward Briggs, representing Charter School Leaders Florida. However, the expiration date on some charters can be just weeks before the new school year.

Bolstering charter schools has long been a priority for Republicans. Meanwhile, Democrats frequently oppose the expansion of charter schools.

“This is not about whether you favor charter schools or not,” Hawkins told the committee. “This is about the parents, the teachers and the students and what’s best for them.”

Committee member Rep. Mike Caruso, a Delray Beach Republican, said shutting down schools at the last second is wrong.

“Kids are being abused and bullied and their lives (are) being turned upside down, as we’ve seen over the last two years, because of COVID and the masking and vaccine mandates, etc.,” Caruso said. “Like that wasn’t enough, and then this happens.”

But Democrats on the committee joined the majority in supporting Hawkins’ bill. Brandon Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned, who represents part of Hillsborough County, drilled the bill sponsor about the impetus for the proposal before he was ultimately satisfied.

“These issues are very politically charged, as we all up here are well aware, but this one seems to have struck the right balance without going too far,” Learned said.

Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess has filed the Senate version of the bill (SB 892), which awaits a hearing in its first of three committees. Hawkins’ version next heads to the House Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee.

The legislation would take effect in July.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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