More and better schools are essential for students and families, especially now as we continue to deal with the devastating effects of the global pandemic. While the quality of authorizing is more important than the quantity, NACSA has long advocated for applicants to have more than one authorizer to choose from. If implemented well, a system with multiple authorizers can strengthen a state’s charter school sector; promote stronger professional practices; and, create accountability in charter approval, oversight, and renewal decisions.
But in Florida, it is hard to imagine how SB 758 would help drive an ecosystem focused on more and better schools by potentially forcing entities to be authorizers. This bill would establish a commission in the state’s Department of Education that would solicit, review, and approve charter schools. Once a school is approved, the Commission would have no other authorizing responsibilities and the local district would be required to do all other authorizing duties. This goes against national best practice. By removing the discretion from local districts to review charters, local district authorizers would then have little incentive to implement the principles and standards of authorizing, and we fear they would invest less in the process, leading to a decrease in district capacity and commitment. This is a bad idea since research shows that an authorizer’s commitment and capacity are essential to strong charter schools.
If the goal is to improve authorizing in districts, there are other ways of doing that. As Melissa Brady, the Executive Director of the Florida Association of Charter School Authorizers (FACSA), points out, FACSA is doing much to help pave the way:
SB 758 introduces the idea of a Charter School Review Commission within the Department of Education that would solicit, review, and approve charter school applications. Once approved, the school board in the district where the new school will reside is forced to serve as the school’s sponsor. No other state’s alternate authorizers are set up like this.
Florida charter law is already very clear about the process to ensure fairness. Today if an application is denied by the district and the applicant feels the decision is unfair, the decision can be appealed. The appeals commission reviews the decision and has the right to overturn. Similarly, if a school renewal is denied, statute allows the decision to be overturned by an administrative law judge.
At FACSA we are working to bolster the efforts of quality authorizing. Beginning in 2019, supported by a federal grant, FACSA and our partners designed and disseminated model resources and technical assistance tools like annual report templates, capacity interview tool kits, and renewal handbooks and have convened professional development webinars that support best practices founded in the Florida Department of Education’s Florida Principles and Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing.
These processes work.
We agree good resources and strong technical assistance works to strengthen authorizing when adopted and implemented with fidelity. If Florida wants to add more authorizers to the mix, it should consider a range of other possibilities and ensure appropriate structures, then they must do it in a way that results in better schools for children. Forcing a marriage between charter schools and district authorizers is not the way.