WUSF | By Kerry Sheridan | June 28, 2021
Warning of serious consequences and threatening to withhold state money, Florida’s education commissioner Richard Corcoran this week urged the Hillsborough County School Board to reconsider its decision to deny renewal to four charter schools.
Corcoran, who is a supporter of charter schools and school choice, sent a sternly worded letter to the district on June 23, saying the school board’s vote earlier this month “appears to be contrary to law” because the board did not give the schools enough notice.
Florida statutes require a 90-day notice period, prior to the end of the charter’s term. Corcoran pointed out that the June 15 board decision came 56 days before two of the schools — SouthShore and Woodmont — were set to reopen.
A legal amount of notice time, Corcoran argued, meant the schools would have been notified April 1.
Along with Pivot and Kids Community College, the four charters affected serve more than 2,000 students, with between 33-100% coming from “economically disadvantaged homes,” Corcoran said. He also noted that none of the schools scored below a C-grade.
Reasons cited at the June 15th school board meeting for not renewing the charter applications included class size concerns, poor academics, and financial difficulties.
Corcoran gave the school board a deadline of 5 p.m. on Tuesday to either renew the charter school contracts, or provide “every factual and legal justification” for their decision not to renew.
A special school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
Corcoran said he will review the reasoning Hillsborough provides and decide whether to put the school district under state oversight.
The state education commissioner warned earlier this year that Hillsborough County Schools — the eighth largest school district in the nation, serving some 220,000 students — could find itself under state-led financial stewardship when the district was looking for ways to bridge a $100 million dollar budget gap.
If he finds that the board acted illegally with regard to the four charter schools, Corcoran said that “could result in the State Board imposing serious consequences, including withholding state funds, discretionary grant funds, discretionary lottery funds, or any other funds specified as eligible for this purpose until such time as the school Board comes into compliance with Florida law.”