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Florida Legislative Update: Mid-Session Hope for Schools of Hope

Larry Williams

April 26, 2019


Florida Legislative Update

Florida Legislative Update: Mid-Session Hope for Schools of Hope

In the past two years, the Florida Legislature passed some of the most sweeping charter school policy since the original charter school legislation was signed in 1996. As Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Richard Corcoran orchestrated the revamping of the formula for calculating and appropriating capital funds to charter schools, expanded timelines for planning and opening new charter schools, created a state-sponsored scholarship for struggling readers in grades 3-5. But the most sweeping change that will play for years to come is Schools of Hope.

Schools of Hope

Schools of Hope were established as a means of closing the opportunity gap and improving student performance. The Schools of Hope legislation provided an expedited approval path to entice national high performing charter schools to become Hope Operators and open charter schools within the attendance zones of Florida’s persistently low-performing traditional public schools.
Since then, two nationally known charter school operators (KIPP and IDEA Public Schools) have received the Hope Operator designation from Florida Department of Education and have announced plans for new schools in Miami and Tampa.

A Plan to Expand

Fast forward to the present. Shortly after his inauguration in January Governor Ron DeSantis named former Speaker Richard Corcoran as Secretary of Florida Department of Education, and he is now on a mission with supporters in the Florida Legislature to expand the Schools of Hope program even further.

Legislative Negotiations

At the beginning of legislative session last month the Florida Senate offered a plan that cut funding for the existing Schools of Hope program ($140 million) as well as reclaiming money from the previous two years and increasing Hope awards available to school district’s efforts at improving those persistently low-performing schools on their own. This idea did not sit well with House members who felt the Schools of Hope was the best solution after years of failed attempts by school districts to improve performance at these low-performing schools.
The House plan cuts Hope awards available to public schools from $2,000 per student to $500 per student and shifts more money into the Schools of Hope program. Negotiations between the two chambers on policy soon began and now the policy is beginning to come together.

Senate Bills

This past week, the Senate amended its school choice bill to more closely resemble the House version and its provisions for Schools of Hope expansion.
Both bills (HB 7095 in the House and SB 7070 in the Senate) would revise the school grade requirements in the definition of “persistently low-performing” that could potentially expand the areas available for Hope Operators to open new schools. It would also provide state funds for lease payments and other costs until the school is fully enrolled.
The House version further amends the definition of “persistently low-performing” to include Florida Opportunity Zones created by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, signed into law last December. This could add an additional 200 communities available for potential Hope Operators to consider for new school sites.

What it All Means

Both versions of the bill will continue to move closer to one another as the last two weeks of the legislative session come to a close. Regardless of what the specific language that is finally approved, this expansion of the Schools of Hope program will continue to solidify school choice and will only mean more options for closing the opportunity gap in Florida’s K-12 education system.
See our previous Florida Legislative Update here.

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