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OPINION: Yacht at the Helm – Florida Charter Schools Need Improved Oversight

OPINION: Yacht at the Helm – Florida Charter Schools Need Improved Oversight

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Florida Charter Schools need improved oversight

Marc J. Yacht, MD, MPH

Florida legislative efforts to increase charter schools continue.

About one in 17 Florida children attend a charter school. That’s a six-fold increase in a decade. Both not-for-profit and for-profit companies can operate charter schools. School districts can open charter schools. Charter-school teachers must be certified, but administrators do not need to be certified.

Proponents of charter schools say they offer families more choices to educate their children. The schools can be more innovative. They do not have to meet the strict standards of public schools or teacher accountability. Some legislators are trying to impose more regulations to curb some of the abuses that have plagued charter schools.

Unfortunately, the lack of accountability has undermined confidence in many charter schools. Many of them are in financial trouble. They tend to close almost as quickly as new ones open. There have been 252 charter school closings through 2013.

These closings harm students, parents and public school funding. Each student who attends a charter school siphons about $6,500 from traditional public schools.

The bleeding of those funds plays havoc with public school budgets. Other grants and funding are now going to charter schools rather than public schools. Charter schools and vouchers are a financial disaster for public school budgets.

Charter schools remain under the authority of local school boards. But that authority is compromised because the Florida Board of Education can override the decisions of school boards.

The Florida House approved a bill this session that would further limit school districts’ control over charters. According to the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau, HB 7083 would strip districts of their leverage in charter school contract negotiations. However, there is little support for this bill in the Senate.

Charter school scandals are frequent. At the moment, the U.S. Department of Education is investigating the business practices of Florida’s largest for-profit charter school operator, according to the Miami Herald. The federal agency is investigating possible conflicts of interest between Academica Corp. and the Mater Academy network it manages. The investigation is focusing on a questionable relationship with a state representative, board members and contractors. Academica Corp. had been investigated in 2011.

It’s difficult to determine if charter schools are more effective than traditional public schools. Supporters cite data they contend show success; critics cite different data that indicate charter schools are a dismal and expensive failure.

In all fairness, many provide a good education. However, corruption and incompetence taint many charter schools. Legislators would be wise to address the corruption and the lack of accountability.

No public school should have its resources compromised because some legislators promote charter schools because it’s good politics rather than sound education policy.

Dr. Marc Yacht, MD is a semi-retired physician living in Hudson, Florida. This column courtesy of Context Florida  

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