The ABCs of charter schools
“Should charter schools be allowed to hire teachers without the same certifications as public school teachers?”
This question, posed by a reader using the Your Voice tool as part of our Florida Influencers Series, was answered by Florida Gov. Rick Scott back in 2017 when he signed into law House Bill 7069, a controversial education bill backed by House Republicans and charter school operators that allows certain charter schools to hire teachers and administrators who have not been licensed by the state.
Most charter school teachers are required to be certified, according to the Florida Department of Education, but a subset of charter schools known as Schools of Hope — which aim to compete with low-performing schools in impoverished neighborhoods — would be exempt from that requirement and eligible to receive millions in state funding.
“Florida’s K-12 education system is so important to the future of our children and our state, and we will never stop looking for ways to improve how our students learn and achieve,” Scott said after signing the bill.
While no Schools of Hope currently operate in Florida, four companies have been approved as so-called “hope operators.” The Florida Board of Education approved its first two charter companies in March.
Texas-based IDEA Public Schools plans to open four charter schools in Florida in August 2021, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The three other approved operators are New York-based Democracy Prep Public Schools, KIPP New Jersey and Somerset Academy, a Miami-based affiliate of state charter giant Academica,
The bill — and the $140 million Schools of Hope program — were panned by supporters of traditional public education, including superintendents across the state, nearly all elected school boards and parent groups and teachers unions who pressed Scott to veto the legislation.
Charter school advocates like state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican who chairs the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, argue that the exemption gives charter school operators an incentive to compete with failing schools.
Diaz, who works as the chief operating officer at the charter-affiliated Doral College and is running for state Senate, spearheaded HB 7069 in spite of lingering questions about his ties to the charter school industry.
“In areas where traditional methods have not worked to help our kids, sometimes you have to think outside the box and bring instructors in that may be experts in subject areas to move the students forward,” Diaz told the Herald in a text message. “Flexibility is the key in areas where schools have failed at making progress for our kids.”
Doral College, which operates on the same campus as the Doral Academy Charter High School, offers college courses to high-school students who attend Academica-managed schools.
To receive a Florida teaching certificate, applicants must obtain a bachelor’s degree and test their knowledge through a number of state accreditation exams in order to “support the academic achievement of our students by assuring that our educators are professionally qualified for highly effective instruction,” according to the Florida Department of Education.
Under Florida law, one cannot teach at any of the state’s public schools without such a certification. Private schools are responsible for their own teachers’ certifications, although the Florida Department of Education says most employ certified instructors.
The K-20 Education Code, part of the 2018 Florida Statutes, mandates that teachers under contract with a charter school “shall be certified as required by chapter 1012,” which requires teachers to “hold the certificate required by law and by rules of the State Board of Education” in order to teach.
However, a charter school can legally employ “noncertified personnel to provide instructional services” as a teacher’s aide or another kind of “paraprofessional,” per Florida Statute 1002.33.
Marta Perez, a Miami-Dade County School Board member, said allowing teachers lacking proper accreditation to instruct children would be “detrimental to the students.”
“I think that would be very dangerous because it could lead to people who have no idea what they’re doing [to get hired],” Perez told the Herald.
The issue of teacher certification requirements at charter schools came up this summer when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham falsely asserted during an interview that “the teachers in [charter] schools don’t even have to be certified.”
The fact-checking website PolitiFact Florida graded the statement as being “mostly false.”