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Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014
Letter of the Day

Time to slow down charter school train?

Published:

In response to “Charter school choice” (Your Views, Aug. 8), Stacy Ulrey Regan writes very emphatically as a satisfied parent with a child at Winthrop Charter School in Riverview. She criticizes Superintendent MaryEllen Elia for “attempting to close down three charter schools” managed by Charter Schools USA, a for-profit company that operates 70 schools in seven states. But she did not address the district’s governance and accountability questions that are at the heart of the issue.

Legally, the Hillsborough County school district grants a charter contract to a local nonprofit board of directors that is responsible for all the legal and financial obligations of the school. The board of directors establishes policies consistent with the school’s mission and ensures that the school programs and daily operations are faithful to the terms of the charter, including compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements.

Since opening Winthrop and Woodmont schools in Temple Terrace in late 2011, their shared board of directors, the Bay Area Charter Foundation LLC, has often met in Fort Lauderdale at Charter Schools USA headquarters. How can you oversee a school hundreds of miles away?

The majority of people attending the board meetings are employees of CSUSA. Others are from a non-local nonprofit, Florida Charter Educational Foundation Inc., which oversees other CSUSA schools across the state. Who is on what board, and what are their responsibilities? If these governing boards were truly representing the educational interests of children, they would be made up of involved parents, teachers and local educators, as are successful, independently operated charter schools in Hillsborough County.

What choice do taxpayers have when they’re required to pay millions to CSUSA in management fees, rents and leases? Charter schools, as a group, do not produce better students than traditional public schools, according to the most comprehensive and scientifically credible longitudinal study, conducted by Stanford University. During the 2013-14 school year, Florida K-12 public schools enrolled more than 2,700,000 children, while only 230,000 children were enrolled in charter schools.

Many of our schools are older and in need of ongoing maintenance, yet charter schools have received the lion’s share of education construction dollars in three of the last four legislative sessions. During this spring’s legislative session, traditional public schools that house more than 95 percent of the state’s children received $50 million to build and repair facilities, while charters enrolling only 5 percent of our children were gifted with $75 million. How can we justify this inequality? Why do charter schools have so much influence in Tallahassee? Is it time to slow down this unproven charter school/school choice initiative?

Patricia Hall

Tampa

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