A House bill putting guardrails on how charter schools are renewed unanimously passed its second committee stop Wednesday.
The measure (HB 225), sponsored by St. Cloud Republican Rep. Fred Hawkins, would require school boards to renew — or not renew —charter schools at least 90 days before the school year ends. Otherwise, the charter would renew automatically. The bill passed the House Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee with unanimous bipartisan support. No one on the committee asked questions or gave comments on the legislation.
The bill comes after the Hillsborough County School Board initially voted against renewing four 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 is a problem with a charter school, districts should start addressing it with “plenty of time,” he argued.
Wednesday’s approval continues bipartisan support for the legislation. The bill passed the House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee unanimously in December.
“This is not about whether you favor charter schools or not,” Hawkins told the Early Learning Subcommittee in December. “This is about the parents, the teachers and the students and what’s best for them.”
In the December meeting, Brandon Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned, who represents part of Hillsborough County, drilled the bill sponsor about 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 still awaits a hearing in its first of three committees. The next stop for Hawkins’ bill is the House Education and Employment Committee.