MANNY DIAZ HEAD WITH FLAG

Florida Rep. Manny Diaz intends to strip charter school authorizing power from elected school boards. His bill, House Joint Resolution 759, passed its first committee stop advancing toward a spot on the 2016 ballot. As a constitutional amendment, the measure requires 60% of the vote to pass.

HJR 759 is model legislation produced by the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, whose board members include Jeb Bush, Jr. and Fernando Zulueta, president of charter giant Academica and employer of Rep Diaz.   The bill creates an appointed state authorizing entity for the express purpose of allowing charter applicants to bypass the constitutional authority of duly elected school boards. The “choice” seems clear. What charter is going to apply to a school board who must act for the greater good of the community when they can go the appointed state charter authorizer for an easy approval?

As Rep. Joseph Geller said in the Tampa Bay Times about the proposed state authorizing entity, “It’s really kind of forum shopping. You get to pick who it is that’s your judge,” Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, said. “I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

Diaz is pushing HJR 759 in part because the Palm Beach County School board sued the state for reversing the district’s decision to deny a charter. Now, Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Associated Industries and others, have filed a legal objection to the Palm Beach suit.

It should be noted that Florida’s First District Court of Appeals found this very concept unconstitutional in 2008. Under current laws, school boards, who are locally elected stewards of public money, have been denied the authority by the state to closely monitor the financial and academic performance of charters. Because charters are often run by private for-profit corporations, transparency is not required and profit is not disclosed. Numerous examples point to failing charters who often close abruptly, abandoning children and robbing the public of millions in critical education funds.

It seems politics and personal gain is driving Diaz and charter school lobbyist Ralph Arza to push for a centralized state charter school authorizer. As a recent Tampa Bay Times article explains:

Diaz said his proposal is one recommended by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. It also has strong support from the charter school industry, which gave lawmakers at least $182,500 ahead of the 2016 session to advance its interests, based on a Herald/Times analysis.

Diaz and former Miami Republican Rep. Ralph Arza — now a lobbyist for the Florida Charter School Alliance — both said state authority over charter school approvals is necessary to remedy rebellious school boards that are either delaying or rejecting charter school applications that should otherwise be approved.

Arza pointed to Palm Beach County as an example, while citing Miami-Dade, Broward and Hillsborough counties as examples of counties that “work in a spirit of collaboration” with charter schools.

“We need this because there has to be some other way to give parents more choice,” Arza said.

“The school board, in statute, does not have the power to decide that they just don’t want more charter schools in their district,” Diaz said. “Their role is simply to say this application meets the standard or it does not.”

He continued: “The problem is we’ve had one school district after another in this state take it upon themselves to interpret statute and whether they want more choice — not based on the application, but based on politics and personal feelings of what’s happening in that district at the time.”

It’s ironic that legislators, who use their authority to push education policies benefiting vendors and wealthy charter school operators, object when school boards exercise their own constitutional authority to act in the best financial and academic interests of constituents in their district.

With HJR 759/State Charter Authorizer, Diaz is trumpeting the “reform” goal of unmitigated charter school growth with a hostile message to school boards who get in the way. The agenda is clear. HJR 759 is another “education reform” tool to justify the transfer of public assets into private hands.

Welcome to the big government, sore loser politics of a charter school industry determined to get its way.