House Speaker: 'Schools of Hope will hopefully be a beautiful thing'
Although a major school reform bill was signed into law last month amid heavy criticism and calls that it be fixed immediately, an influential lawmaker from Miami-Dade County indicates that issue won’t be a priority on the Legislature’s agenda for 2018.
“It’s way too premature,” said Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., who helms the House’s pre-K-12 education budget committee. “Making adjustments going forward — we first have to see what happens instead of jumping the gun.”
HB 7069 took effect Saturday, prompting myriad changes in statewide education policy — many favorable to charter schools seeking less restrictions to their expansion in Florida.
Among the most controversial of those changes is a new “Schools of Hope” program to help the state’s worst-performing schools by, in part, providing incentives for new charter schools to directly compete with them.
It’s that part of the bill that some senators — led by Republican David Simmons of Altamonte Springs — have argued needs to be revised. They say, as written, the new law forces failing schools to either shut down after getting two “D” or “F” grades or hand themselves over to privately managed charters, with both options leaving the schools’ teachers out of work.
Diaz — who helped craft HB 7069 and shepherd it through the Legislature — contends such critics are misreading the new law and they need to be patient while the Florida Department of Education drafts rules this summer that better clarify how the “Schools of Hope” program will be implemented.
Diaz told the Herald/Times there’s no immediate threat of closure to failing schools, and that if they are in need of a turnaround, they could opt to transition the school into a district-managed charter, with leeway from state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to have an extra year to improve before the more drastic measures are taken.
He added that it will take time to see the program fully implemented and for failing schools to reap its benefits, such as the up to $2,000 per student 25 struggling traditional schools could get to add wraparound services, like after-school programs.
He said he’s been contacted by some charter operators interested in the program but acknowledged the ones ultimately approved by the state DOE to run a “School of Hope” would likely need a year to get set up first.
“I don’t think we need to make any tweaks until we see,” Diaz told the Herald/Times. “What we’re looking forward to is hopefully two years down the line, we’re seeing a further leap where there is no grades or very little grades that are failing or even D’s in the state.”