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Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham has promoted public education as her top priority in her campaign for governor, and she has openly criticized the charter school industry for drawing money away from traditional public schools.
In an interview with editorial boards from major South Florida newspapers, Graham argued that some charter schools in Florida provided a subpar education. She said, "The teachers in (charter) schools don't even have to be certified."
Charter schools operate as independent contractors within the public school system. These schools generally have more freedom to experiment than traditional public schools. Many are catered to specific subjects, like science or art, and some are organized for students with disabilities. However, with that increased freedom, charter schools are required to perform to a certain standard, and may be shut down if they fail.
Most charter schools in Florida are run by the same statutes that govern public schools, and would therefore need certified teachers. But does Florida hold all charter schools to the same regulations?
According to the Florida Department of Education, most charter school teachers are required to be certified.
The certification process is mandated by the Florida K-20 Education Code, a subset of the 2018 Florida Statutes. Statute 1002.33 reads, "Teachers employed by or under contract to a charter school shall be certified as required by chapter 1012." Statute 1012, the same rule that governs traditional public schools, requires teachers to "hold the certificate required by law and by rules of the State Board of Education" in order to teach.
However, certification is not mandatory for a subset of Florida charter schools, called the "schools of hope." These charter schools operate within underserved districts that have "persistently low-performing schools." The legislature hoped to attract successful charter organizations from other states by offering financial incentives and increased administrative freedom. Gov. Rick Scott signed the controversial bill, known as HB 7069, into law in July 2017.
Graham did not specify in her interview with the editorial boards that she was referring to these schools. Her campaign clarified when we contacted them, and linked us to the bill.
According to HB 7069, "schools of hope" can hire administrators and "instructional personnel" who do not meet the requirements for public school teachers, so long as they have not been convicted of any felonies or other serious crimes. Instructional personnel include lead classroom teachers.
To obtain a Florida teaching certificate, teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and complete several state accreditation tests. Most notable are the Florida Teacher Certification examinations, which include a general knowledge test, a professional education test, and a subject area test. A school of hope teacher would not be required to pass any of these tests.
As of August 2018, no "schools of hope" have opened in Florida. Four companies have been approved as "hope operators," but none intend to begin operation for this school year.
Thirteen counties have filed a lawsuit against HB 7069, arguing that it restricts the rights of districts to operate freely and violates the constitutional right to a uniform system of public schools.
"Gwen believes charter schools must be held to the same standards as traditional public schools and, as governor, will fully enforce certification requirements," said Graham campaign spokesman Matt Harringer in an email.
Graham said that "The teachers in (charter) schools don't even have to be certified."
At every charter school currently operating in Florida, teachers are held to the same certification standards as they would be in public schools. At "schools of hope," a recently introduced subset of charter schools, teachers will not need to be certified. Even when these schools begin operation, they will make up only a small percentage of the state's 654 existing charter schools.
It is misleading to say that teachers in charter schools don't have to be certified when the vast majority of them do.
We rate this claim Mostly False.
Sun Sentinel, "LIVE 8/3: Gwen Graham democratic candidate for Governor of Florida," Aug. 3, 2018
Tallahassee Democrat, "Gwen Graham: Florida Legislature starves public schools to benefit for-profit charters," July 13, 2018
Tampa Bay Times, "What's $419 million and 278 pages? An education bill that state lawmakers vote on today," May 8, 2017
Tampa Bay Times, "Florida Department of Education posts proposed Schools of Hope rules," Dec. 18, 2017.
NPR, "Just What IS A Charter School, Anyway?" March 1, 2017
Florida Department of Education, "Fact Sheet: Florida’s Charter Schools," Sept. 2017
Florida Department of Education, "Florida Teacher Certification Examinations"
Florida Department of Education, "Charter School Statutes"
Florida House of Representatives, HB 7069, signed into law June 15, 2017
Teacher Certification Degrees, "Florida Teaching and Certification Resource"
Florida Senate, 2018 Florida Statutes
Education Commission of the States, "Do teachers in a charter school have to be certified?" Jan. 2018
Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, "A Close Look at Florida’s public charter schools 2018"
WUSF Public Media, "Duval,12 Other Florida School Districts Allege ‘Schools Of Hope’ Law Unconstitutional In Suit," Oct. 18, 2018
Palm Beach Post, "Gov. Scott signs charter-friendly education bill HB 7069 into law," June 15, 2018
Email interview with Gary Bitner, media contact for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, Aug. 6, 2018
Email interview with Matt Harringer, communications director for the Graham campaign, Aug. 8, 2018
Email interview with Sonia Lindell, communications specialist at the Florida Policy Institute, Aug. 13, 2018
Email interview with Sharon Nesvig, communications director at the Florida Education Association, Aug. 10, 2018
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