Four key Constitution Revision Commission proposals that could impact K-12 education are a step closer to being in front of voters in November.
A CRC proposal would designate high-performing school districts as “innovation districts,” giving them flexibility similar to that of charter schools in how they use their resources. Commissioner Roberto Martinez’s measure requires districts to have had a grade of B or higher for the past three years and have their finances meet state requirements.
“When I was on the board of education, many times superintendents would come before us and say ‘If we only had the flexibility charter schools have, we could do a lot of stuff at the local level, we could innovate etcetera, save money, and be more responsive to the needs of the children and the family,’” Martinez said.
Each individual school board must vote to become an innovation district. Once designated, districts must continue to meet the performance benchmarks or lose the classification.
Martinez thinks his proposal might be a shoehorn for passing Republican Commissioner Erika Donalds’ measure relating to the creation of charter schools.
“Commissioner Donalds, I think if this proposal makes it as an amendment to the ballot, I think actually it enhances the chances of your proposal, number 71, to get 60 percent of the votes,” Martinez said.
Donalds’ proposal would allow the legislature to create alternative processes for opening and overseeing new charter schools. Right now in Florida, the only entities that can do so are district school boards.
“A best practice in charter school establishment across the country has been shown to be having multiple choices for those new schools coming in to say who they’re going to partner with long-term to oversee them,” Donalds said. “And we want those oversight boards to be accountable to the taxpayers.”
Florida has had more first-year charter schools close than any state in the nation. Donalds says that statistic says everything about why her measure is needed.
“What that tells us is that they shouldn’t have been authorized in the first place. So what we want to see is not necessarily an expansion of the charter school sector, but an increase in quality in the charter school sector, by better authorizing and better ongoing oversight,” Donalds said.
Donalds also backed a proposal to put a cap on the length of school board members’ service at eight years, or two four-year terms.
“Term limits provide fresh faces and new idea to elected office,” Donalds said. “They reduce the special interest influence and make room for the citizen legislator, as was the intent of our founding fathers.”
Donalds serves on the school board of Collier County. Should it get a majority vote on the ballot, her measure would apply only to board member terms that start after it goes into effect.
Commissioner Don Gaetz’s proposal to add language that promotes civic literacy in public schools into the state constitution also has moved to the CRC’s style and drafting committee.