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Duval Superintendent ‘Extremely Concerned’ About Charter Legislation

Daniel R. Blume

Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said he’s extremely concerned about state legislation that would encourage charter school takeovers of low-performing schools.

The bill, PCB EDC 17-03, passed the House education committee Thursday.

The bill would give neighborhood schools less time to improve their grades before the state intervenes and closes them. Then, students could be assigned to other schools or a charter school operator with a proven track record could quickly open on the school’s campus.

Currently, districts have to make a state-approved turnaround plan to improve school grades after a school makes multiple Ds and Fs. Under this legislation, a charter could take over a school’s campus after it makes three consecutive grades below a C.

Vitti said giving Duval’s buildings to charters — which are public schools, but run by private companies — isn’t the answer.

“The assumption in the bill is that charter schools can provide at-scale solutions for areas that have low-performance and that notion is not verified in any way in Florida,” Vitti said.

He pointed to charter performance in Duval. The county’s charter schools in areas of poverty don’t perform better than traditional schools in the same areas.

Legislators at theeducation committee meeting said there are 115 failing Florida schools that could be taken over. In Duval, seven schools are implementing state turnaround plans this year for receiving several D and F grades. Vitti listed Northwestern, Ribault and Gilbert middle schools as the most vulnerable for closing if this legislation passes. The schools are less than 10 miles apart.  

Rep. Manny Diaz, R- Hialeah Gardens, who voted for the bill, said the current system is failing students.

“We have tried everything else,” Diaz said. “It is our moral responsibility to make this move and provide an option for our kids.”

However, Vitti said high-performing charters are successful because of the effective teachers and principals working at them. He said the same is true for high-performing traditional schools.

“The challenge is trying to scale that in multiple schools and meeting the expectations of changing standards and accountability requirements,” he said.

Vitti said the $200 million the bill allocates to removing students from failing traditional schools, would be better spent developing teachers and principals.

The Senate does not have a matching bill.

Photo:"Lockers" used under Creative Commons

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.