A Florida panel charged with proposing amendments to the state constitution has decided to put before voters a proposal to expand charter schools.
The Miami Herald reports that the Constitution Revision Commission has approved eight amendments to go before voters in November and rejected three.
The group rejected a proposal that would have allowed high-performing school districts to be given the same flexibility that charter schools now have.
The 37-member commission meets once every 20 years and has the power to put amendments directly on the ballot to update the state constitution. After meeting for nearly a year, the commission whisked through 23 proposals that were bundled into 11 different amendments.
Proposed constitutional revisions on the ballot must secure at least 60 percent voter approval to become law, the commission says.
The most controversial proposal would rewrite the way the state governs charter schools. Under existing law, school boards approve and monitor all public schools within their counties, including privately run charter schools. Under the proposed constitutional amendment, the legislature could create a state-created entity to also control and approve charter schools. That would allow charter schools to circumvent potential local opposition.
The idea is is opposed by school officials across the state, but is a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron, and Gov. Rick Scott, who together appointed 34 of the 37 commissioners.
The charter school proposal was sponsored by Erika Donalds, a charter school activist who serves on the Collier County School Board. She argued that the proposal would encourage innovation in Florida schools and was needed to update an "antiquated" constitution. Donalds is a founding board member for Mason Classical Academy, a Hillsdale College public charter school in Collier County that is expanding to other parts of the state.
Roberto Martinez, a Coral Gables lawyer and school choice activist who served on the state Board of Education under former Gov. Jeb Bush, argued that that while he supports charter schools, he disagrees "that the solution is to create a statewide agency."
"It's a big deal. It's a game changer,'' he says. "It will allow the Legislature to create a new government bureaucracy -- not located at the local level -- created somewhere on Mount Tallahassee."