Bad Break For Charter Authorizing

This court ruling from Florida knocking down the statewide charter school authorizing agency(pdf) there is bad news if you care about charter school quality.   As the charter school experience evolves it’s becoming clear that professional authorizers bring some real advantages to the table (pdf) and that having lots of “one-auths” out there, school districts that just authorize one school, is not an efficient or high-quality strategy.  Over half of charters today are still one-auths.  That’s not to say districts shouldn’t authorize schools, they should if they want, only that the professional authorizers bring a lot to the table (pdf) on the quality and efficiency side.*   What happened in Florida is of course politics as much as anything else — surprise, the school districts don’t like competition! — but it will have an impact on the availability and quality of charter schools if it stands and will whet appetites to go after authorizers elsewhere (that’s already happened in Colorado).

By the way, this is in part why Rick Hess and I wrote at the time that the decision striking down Florida’s voucher program was problematic even if, like me, you’re not a voucher supporter.   

*And some districts get this, for instance a few years ago a school district in Indianapolis asked the mayor there to authorize a school rather than do it themselves because of the expertise his authorizing operation had.

2 Replies to “Bad Break For Charter Authorizing”

  1. Andy:

    This ruling is only bad news if I don’t like reasonable interpretation of statutes. The plain language of the Florida constitution seems to say that local school districts are in charge of all the public schools, whether chartered or not:

    “The school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district and determine the rate of school district taxes within the limits prescribed herein.”

    I like great schools, regardless of how they’re formed. But I also like courts to read the plain language of statutes in a straightforward way. That seems to be what they’ve done here. It’s too bad the State Board of Education didn’t spot this challenge ahead of time and try to change it instead of sponsoring a statute that they (or their attorneys or the state attorney general) could have seen would violate the plain language of the constitution.

    Of course, an argument may be made that you could have an independent authorizing agency, as long as the local school districts could still “operate, control and supervise” the schools. But that’s a tough argument to win.

    The voucher ruling was a much broader and seemingly unsupported interpretation (as you argued).

  2. Andy,

    As Rich noted, the ruling is consistent with the plain reading of the constitutional language. Furthermore, you’re going out on a limb sans evidence when you imply that the FCEE is a “professional” authorizer, whatever that means. Its behavior seemed pretty political to me. For what it’s worth, a number of districts in Florida have been fair to charter proposals, accepting quite a few in many counties… and also shutting down charters where there’s a pattern of failure, regardless of the discomfort level involved. Maybe I’m misreading charter-school arguments, but isn’t that what charter school authorizers are SUPPOSED to do?

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