Charter Schools and Adult Education: Thoughts on Pending Florida Legislation

According to this report in the Cape Coral/Fort Myers News Press, legislation is about to be introduced in the Florida legislature by Sen. David Simmons, (R-Maitland), and Rep. Janet Adkins, (R-Fernandina Beach), that will, according to the report, “allow charters or non-profit groups to offer adult education classes.”

I’m pretty sure that Florida law does not currently prohibit nonprofits from offering adult education classes, and if you read further, it appears that this is not actually what this proposed legislation would do.

The issue caught my attention because there are several charter schools in Washington, D.C. that provide adult education classes as part of their mission. The D.C. charter law is unique (as far as I know) in that it explicitly includes adult education as a suitable function for D.C. charter school funding. I think that there are other states where the law is silent on the issue.

While I haven’t actually read the proposed Florida bill, it does not appear to be modeled after the D.C. law. Instead, this proposal appears to be designed to provide charters and nonprofits with access to state adult education funds that currently flow exclusively to the K-12 system in Florida. In other words, nonprofits can obviously offer adult education services now — they just can’t currently access state adult education money to do it. The bill is being promoted by a large nonprofit organization, the Volunteer USA Foundation, a non-profit group with strong connections to the Bush family.

The charter school law in the District of Columbia, on the other hand, allows charter schools that serve adult students with the opportunity to access city education funds that otherwise is used for K-12 education. In other words, it created a new funding source for adult education, leaving existing state funds for adult education alone. (The “state” adult ed money in D.C. does not go to D.C.’s K-12 system, by the way, but flows pretty much exclusively to nonprofit organizations through a competitive grant process.) Again, I may be wrong, but it appears that the Florida legislation is designed simply to move adult education money from the K-12 system into private nonprofits and charter schools. It may result in new adult education entities but if so it will be at the expense of services currently being provided by the school system.

I think this distinction is worth mentioning as this issue is often raised in discussions of whether charter school legislation might open up new funding streams for adult education. It did in the District. That doesn’t appear to be what is envisioned in Florida.

P.S. Someone with some extra money lying around should fund someone to do a  comprehensive look at current adult education charter school models, (most are in D.C., but I understand that are a smattering being proposed in other jurisdictions), and look at state charter school legislative language across the country that might theoretically accomodate the growth of adult charter schools.