In a historic move last week, parents at Rowlett Elementary School in Bradenton overwhelmingly voted to turn their public magnet school into a charter, but one of the parents leading the effort is a longtime activist for an organization that opposes charter schools and Parent Empowerment legislation.
On June 10, 95 percent of voting parents and 94 percent of all of Rowlett's teachers voted to move forward a petition to the Manatee County School District to allow their school whose magnet program focuses on performing arts, visual arts, and communications to become the first public school in county history to be converted to a charter using a special process provided for under Florida law.
Christine Sket, a student advisory committee member with two sons enrolled in the school, has received a fair share of local press for helping spearhead the effort. But she is also a founding member of Fund Education Now, an organization that has been at the forefront of opposing charter school expansion and, most recently, legislation that would have empowered parents of children at failing schools to avail themselves of the same option exercised by Sket and her peers at last week's public meeting
I've distanced myself from Fund Education Now for the time being, because this does look hypocritical, Sket, whose LinkedIn profile still lists her as being affiliated with the group, tells Sunshine State News. But it isn't really [hypocritical].
Sket insists there are two key differences between what she's advocating and what would have been put in place had state Sen. Kelli Stargel's Parent Empowerment (called Parent Trigger by critics) legislation passed the Legislature this past session:
-- Under current Florida law, 51 percent of teachers have to join 51 percent of parents to petition for a charter conversion before it can go forward. Parent Empowerment would only have required the parental vote.
-- Under state law, charter-converted schools must be managed by nonprofit organizations, whereas the Parent Empowerment would have allowed (but not required) management by for-profit corporations.
What we oppose is having it be a one-sided takeover, Sket insists. We also say that choice is good. ... We're a magnet school, so we're already 100 percent choice and we're already operating differently from a traditional public school.
We've always been OK with not-for-profit [charter] schools, she adds.
But SSN could find no materials published on Fund Education Now's website that makes Sket's distinction between nonprofit and for-profit managed charter schools. In none of the site's Web pages blasting Parent Empowerment or other charter school-expansion initiatives is that distinction made, where one might think it would be most appropriate.
Rowlett Elementary's situation can be distinguished from the schools that would have been eligible for Parent Empowerment in one other respect: it isn't a failing school at all it regularly earns As and Bs in the state grading system. Parents and teachers have opted to convert it because its continued funding by the Manatee County School District is in jeopardy.
Allison Aubuchon, deputy communications director for the Foundation for Florida's Future (a think tank founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush), suggests that the recent move by Rowlett's parents vindicates the foundation's own longtime efforts on behalf of Parent Empowerment and school choice.
It is always a good thing when parents get involved to make decisions about their childrens education, she tells SSN. In this particular case, parents and teachers worked together and decided that converting into a charter school was the best thing for students, and we hope this results in a great success for them.
Reach Eric Giunta at email@example.com or at 954-235-9116.