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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The big bussiness takeover of Florida Schools

From the St. Augustine Record

by Kathleen Haughney

TALLAHASSEE -- As Gov. Rick Scott backs away for now from a push for an expanded school voucher program, former Gov. Jeb Bush's education foundation has begun quietly circulating draft legislation that may serve as the Legislature's template to massively expand the number of charter schools throughout the state.

Scott's budget team this week preached the governor's belief in school choice, saying the Scott wanted to expand virtual school offerings, allow more students to transfer from failing or sub par schools and create more charter school opportunities. Meanwhile, Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future has brought forth a plan that would allow colleges and universities to open charter schools without school district approval and set up a system for the per-student funding to follow the student and not be tied to a school district.

The governor and the foundation got a high profile push this week from former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, who made her name by promoting school choice and firing teachers she deemed failures. Rhee, who also serves as an informal adviser to Scott, was in Tallahassee this past week to lobby the Legislature on an education reform issues, particularly expanding school choice and abolishing teacher tenure.

"We have to be putting policies and laws in place that don't hamstring charters ... that create the right environment for them," Rhee told reporters. "And if Florida can do that, I think you're going to attract more and more of the high quality charter providers into the state."

Charter school expansion may be an easier route for Scott to test the waters of school choice expansion.

State Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, who chairs the Senate's Prek-12 Education Committee, is open to the idea of charter school expansion, noting that the Kipp Charter School in Jacksonville has been relatively successful.

"Sometimes, they have a little bit more flexibility than the school districts, but I think they're going to be in this game," Wise said. "And we're going to try to work with them as best as possible."

Union officials aren't weighing in yet on potential charter school legislation. A Florida Education Association spokesman said the teachers' union has generally been in favor of charters in theory, but that it would not favor a system where per student funding left a school district to follow the student to a charter school.

A line in the foundation's draft legislation reads, "Charter school students shall be funded without regard to whether the student's home address lies within the school district sponsoring the charter school."

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