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Florida's charter school application process is changing and may have a lasting impact for districts

Hillsborough County Schools

This spring's legislative session brought huge changes to Florida's education system —including to how charter schools are approved.

Beginning July 1, Florida's school districts will no longer be the sole arbiter of the permitting process for charters.

The state's new Charter School Review Commission will be able to approve applicants. Previously, districts controlled the process.

According to the new law, the state Board of Education will select seven members who have charter school experience; the Senate will confirm them; and the state Education Commissioner will appoint the chair.

The establishment of this commission could have varied effects on districts across the state.

Cinzia DeLange is the director for the Charter Office for Hillsborough County Public Schools. She said that while prospective schools will be able to go through the Charter School Review Commission, they can continue to go through districts as well.

"I think it will add an extra layer for us if they don't come through us," she said. "We're hoping that they will come through us, because all the schools that apply and get approved, we always establish a very good relationship."

DeLange said that no matter who the school decides to go through, the standard procedures will be used to evaluate applicants. Additionally, districts will be required to still serve as schools' sponsors and ultimately be in charge of monitoring them.

She's unsure of what the impacts of the new system will be, and if it may change which schools receive approval.

"I can't really say because we have no precedence on this," she said. "We'll just have to wait and see. I trust that the procedures and processes that are already in play will work in favor of the students."

DeLange said if applicants decide to go through the state Department of Education, the state will still be required to inform the district and allow them to provide feedback.

The shift has been criticized by some state and national education organizations, including the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

The group said that having multiple authorizers can be a good thing — but added that allowing the state to approve applicants and turn over the final authorizations to local districts isn't advisable.

"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," the group said in a release. "This is a bad idea since research shows that an authorizer’s commitment and capacity are essential to strong charter schools."

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Bailey LeFever