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Jacksonville Lawmaker Pushes To Allow State Universities, Colleges To Sponsor K-12 Charters

State Rep. Jason Fischer
State Rep. Jason Fischer

A Jacksonville lawmaker has introduced legislation that would allow state universities and colleges to sponsor K-12 public charter schools.

Republican Rep. Jason Fischer is sponsoring the bill (HB 1197), which cleared the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday by a vote of 19-10. His proposal would expand what is now the responsibility of locally-elected school boards to state-appointed college and university trustees.

Fischer said his goal is for charter schools especially at the high-school level to better connect with workforce programs.

“They all have colleges of education as well, so there’s a lot of synergies that are in play,” he said. “So, in my mind, there’s no good reason why our great public institutions of higher ed can’t work in this space.”

Some universities already operate what are known as lab schools, which are typically used to train future teachers and for educational research. Additionally, nine colleges and universities run high school charters that allow students to obtain an associate’s degree.

But unlike those university operated schools, Fischer’s proposal wouldn’t require trustee sponsored charters to be directly connected to those colleges and universities, which worries some committee members.

“The idea that they wouldn't have to be University based or lab schools or have anything to do with that relates to the curriculum that's being taught at the college or university is even a bigger problem. They could basically just, you know, lease out these charters to anybody, any nonprofit that wants one,” said Rep.  Joe Geller, D-Ventura. “And I don't think that's the kind of standards that we want to set.”

According to the bill analysis, the proposal would allow state university-sponsored charter schools to serve students from multiple school districts. It would let those institutions operate multiple K-12 charters.

Some critics say they’re concerned there would be nothing stopping universities from creating charters for any private operator who wants one.

“I trust our public universities and our state colleges to decide whether or not they want to offer this to their communities and what that’s going to look like in their communities,” said Fischer. “There are certainly limitations that can be placed on them.”

The Department of Education, in collaboration with charter school sponsors and operators, would be required to develop a sponsor evaluation framework, according to the bill analysis.  

Fischer, who formerly served on the Duval County Public Schools board, has been a vocal proponent of charter schools, most recently lobbying the legislature to secure a $2 million proposal to help pay for the Knowledge is Power (KIPP) programs extended school day costs.

Related: Jacksonville State lawmakers Are Lobbying To get $3 Million For 2 Charter Schools

He said having state colleges and universities would expedite creating public charter schools.   

“There’s counties that you can point to that create additional processes, make it really long, make it really hard. They hide the ball, so to speak,” he said. “But there’s also a clogging of the system.”  

Fischer’s proposal has the support of the Florida Department of Education, as well as school choice advocates.

Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, is sponsoring a companion bill (SB 1668) is sponsoring a companion bill. 

Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, or on Twitter at @abukaradan17.

Abukar Adan is a former WJCT reporter who left the station for other pursuits in August 2019.