How Jeff Clemens Bill Forces Florida Charter Schools Into a Debate They Don’t Want to Have

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Florida Public Employees

Sen. Jeff Clemens

Sen. Jeff Clemens

December 22, 2013

By  – Scathing Purple Musings

Let’s get this out-of-the-way now. Jeff Clemens bill has zero chance of getting a hearing. But it sure makes the for-profit charter school bristle. The Florida Current’s James Call has the story:

A Palm Beach County senator wants to narrow the mission of charter schools. Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, Wednesday, filed SB 452 — revising the guiding principles listed in statute creating charter schools to meet “a specific instructional need or a need for additional educational facilities.”

“I think charter schools are there to serve the needs that the (traditional) public school system can’t,” Clemens said. “If they’re just going to do the same thing that we’re doing in public schools then I think it is a poor use of our tax resources.”

Charter schools receive taxpayer dollars but have private governing boards. There are nearly 600 of them in the state, some operated by private nonprofit companies, with an enrollment of more than 203,000 students.

“Who would set the parameters of what is needed?” said Lynn Norman-Teck, spokeswoman for the Florida Consortium of  Public Charter Schools after the bill was read to her. Norman-Teck expressed reservations about its language, saying there are numerous reasons why a parent may choose a charter school in addition to a specialized curriculum.

“I understand the thinking behind the bill but you have to look at the bigger picture,” Norman-Teck said. “A charter school may have a completely unique educational program but then there are schools that follow the same curriculum as the district and you ask, ‘But what is different?’ It may be smaller classes, it may be a uniform policy, it might be closer to where a parent works. The bill doesn’t address the parameters a parent uses when picking a charter.”

Norman-Teck is the spokesperson for the lobbying firm which supports Academica, the other big for-profit charter school empire in Florida. Such legislation would torpedo Charter Schools USA bid to get that school on MacDill AFB so it’s no surprise that its top-dollar lobbyist, Jim Horne, weighed in with Sherri Ackerman at redinED.

“It is interesting now after 18 years of Florida charter schools when we have statistical data that clearly shows that Florida charter schools are outperforming district managed schools in most grade levels and gaining increasing market share that suddenly we see legislation that is aimed at severely limiting the growth of charter schools,’’ Horne said in an email to redefinED. “In other words, if you can’t compete with them then let’s just stop them from opening in the first place.”

Like most charter school flacks, Horne won’t have to take follow-up questions from a member of the media. His claim about performance data is easily discredited. But Horne delivers a bit of a gaffe by mentioning charter schools’  ”increasing market share.” This is what he is paid to protect. Repeating charter school propaganda is just boilerplate schtick.

Going after Clemens’ bill will be problematic for Horne and Norman-Teck as  SB 452 establishes the “needs” of a school district and a community as more critical than the  “choice” theme that has grown the ”market share” of the for-profit charter industry.

It’s a debate Horne and Norman-Teck don’t want to have: What’s more important to taxpayers? Protecting choice and charter schools market share? Or making sure school boards can prioritize the needs of their districts and communities?

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