by: Russell Colburn, Action News Jax Updated:
The local representative behind the controversial legislation to overhaul Florida's education system is defending the bill to Action News Jax.
Wednesday, we sat down with Rep. Jason Fischer (R-Jacksonville).
“Is this an effort to privatize public education in Florida?” reporter Russell Colburn asked.
"It's an effort to get kids a better education,” Fischer said.
The superintendents of Duval and St. Johns counties have already taken sides against House Bill 7069.
“[It’s] a budget that I feel is not in the best interest of children in St. Johns County,” St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson said.
Duval County Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti agreed.
“It's anti-government, it's anti-transparency and it's anti-public schools,” Vitti said.
Action News Jax asked Fischer why school leaders are against the bill.
“That's one of the reasons why we come back to the district to talk to them about it,” Fischer said.
Vitti and Forson said they're unhappy with the budget's funding per student.
We asked Fischer about their concerns.
“We are actually spending more per student than we did last year,” Fischer said.
Forson sent a letter to parents stating St. Johns County would receive a mere $24 increase per student compared to the 2016 budget.
Despite St. Johns County's recent massive growth, it's actually getting $135 per student less than it was 10 years ago, Forson said.
With HB 7069, public schools that score below a C for three consecutive years could be closed and reopened as charter schools.
That could lead to the closure of Ribault, Matthew Gilbert and Northwestern Middle schools.
Fischer spoke before the state education committee touting the success of charter schools, despite school leaders saying there’s no proof they perform better than public schools.
Action News Jax dug into Fischer’s campaign finances and asked him about it.
“Over the years, you've accepted thousands of dollar in donations from charter school companies and their executives, including two KIPP executives. Have you been influenced in favor of charters?” Colburn asked.
“For me, I separate campaigns from governing,” Fischer said. “I've raised quite a bit of money, and I think if you were to fairly categorize what was raised versus what was donated, you'd see that I'm a fair actor in what I do.”
One big issue with charters in our area is it's tough to keep them here.
“We see charter schools close all the time, often times for financial mismanagement. Valor Academy and Acclaim Academy come to mind from just the last few years. What protections are in there for taxpayer dollars?” Colburn asked.
“Well, what we don't talk about, or what's not talked about often is all of the failing schools and in all the neighborhoods around not just our county,” Fischer said. “We need to apply the same level of accountability that we're applying to charter schools, to traditional schools, and you'll see some of those changes in House Bill 7069.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office said Scott is reviewing the bill. Fischer said he hoping he doesn't veto it.
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