Op⁠i⁠n⁠i⁠on: Leon Coun⁠t⁠y School Board should s⁠t⁠ar⁠t⁠ ⁠t⁠rea⁠t⁠⁠i⁠ng our ne⁠i⁠ghbors l⁠i⁠ke ne⁠i⁠ghbors

By: Dr. J. Robert McClure / 2018



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Now that the Leon County School Board has shot down two new charter school applications, I wonder if the commissioners will consider passing a measure banning any public school family from moving to Orlando, Tampa, or some other place outside Tallahassee.

Obviously such a measure would be absurd. But it would be no more absurd than the rationale for the school board’s recent charter decision, which is this: K-12 students should be prevented from going somewhere else so that the Leon County public school system can have as much revenue as possible.

Look, I don’t fault the school system for wanting as large a share of the student population as it can get. That’s what any enterprise – public or private – is apt to want. What I do have a problem with is public school authorities using their power to deny alternatives to parents and students who want them.

The 275 students currently on the waiting list for the Tallahassee Classical Academy represent families that are every bit as much a part of our community as anyone else. They are our neighbors. Our fellow citizens. And they pay taxes, too.

All they want is to be able to have a say in where the per-pupil funds set aside for their child’s education are spent. That’s not an indictment of the public school system. It’s an expression of engaged parenting – something that everyone in K-12 education ought to be encouraging. And it’s an acknowledgement that no school – not even an “A” school – can or should be expected to be a good fit for every single child that lives in its school zone.

Contrary to popular belief, charter schools are not free to operate as they please. Charters are publicly-funded. They must meet the state’s academic accountability standards. And unlike conventional public schools, they can be shut down for not meeting expectations or for lack of demand.

Moreover, charters are open to all students, regardless of race or income. Unlike conventional public schools, they cannot discriminate based on neighborhood or zip code. As such, charters are philosophically more inclusive than conventional public schools – and this greater inclusiveness is often seen in communities where school district authorities cooperate with charters in establishing school locations that are easily accessible to a diverse population of families and students.

Sadly, the Leon County School Board has chosen not to cooperate with the Tallahassee families interested in launching a new classical charter school. Instead, the board has put roadblocks in their way – roadblocks that violate laws currently on the books (as the school board’s own attorney repeatedly told the superintendent).

Not only has the Leon County School Board chosen to make life difficult for our neighbors interested in these new schools, but its members have chosen to waste our taxpayer dollars fighting an appeal of their unlawful decision.

And when the Leon County School Board inevitably loses this case on appeal, you and I will end up having to pay not just the LCSB’s attorney’s fees, but the attorney’s fees for the charter schools as well!

Please remember that the next time the LCSB starts lamenting about not having enough money. Because if the board really wants Tallahasseeans to invest more in K-12 education, maybe it should start treating our neighbors like neighbors.

Robert McClure III is president and CEO of the James Madison Institute, a non-partisan think tank based in Tallahassee devoted to research and education on public policy issues.