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Proposal Emerges To Create Adult Charter Schools

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) -- Nudged by a Tallahassee-based non-profit group, two lawmakers are poised to file bills that would allow charter schools and non-profits to offer adult education.

But allowing charters to receive a portion of the nearly $300 million in state funds given to school districts and colleges for administering these programs, could mean fewer students and less funding for public school and college providers.

Currently the 330,000 adult education students in Florida take classes through public school districts or colleges. Typically, many of these students do not have high school diplomas and take courses to obtain a GED, learn English to prepare for citizenship, or receive workforce training.

This proposal, which is expected to be filed as a bill sometime this week, allows charters or non-profit groups to offer adult education classes. It also establishes a performance pay system for charters or non-profits.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, and Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, will be the sponsors, said Liza McFadden, the president of Volunteer USA Foundation, a non-profit group that touts former Gov. Jeb Bush as its honorary chair.

McFadden, who used to run the state's adult education programs and whose group is pushing the legislation, said Florida doesn't stack up well when comparing adult education programs in other states.

"Our completion rates are the second-lowest in the nation," she said. "We've got to do something new to this system." Allowing competition, McFadden said, could prompt schools and colleges to do better.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and the head of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said school districts and colleges have done a good job educating adult students, many of whom are juggling full-time jobs and are parents themselves.

"It is one of the most important programs and services that school districts provide," Montford said.

Montford indicated that opening up adult education to charter schools may not be welcomed by school districts. "It would be a mistake to open that opportunity up at this point to others in the school district," Montford said. "It would concern me greatly. There is a misperception that this is a simple program to administer."

A report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability issued this year says most students who are co-enrolled in adult education classes and high school eventually earn a diploma or GED, but adult students or recent high school dropouts never obtain a diploma or GED or achieve learning gains.

"What I would like to see is each school district or state college providing contracts to groups like charter schools or literacy providers so they are pay-by-performance and there is incentive to move adults through as quickly as possible," McFadden said. A draft of the bill indicates the districts or colleges would be required to supply charters and non-profits with information on the cost per student to run these programs and average gains on tests.

The district would then be "encouraged" to set up a performance-based contract for the charter or non-profit.

Volunteer USA develops and manages programs aimed at family literacy, mentorship and parenting throughout the southeast. Allowing non-profits to offer adult education courses paid for by the state would benefit Volunteer USA.

The only tinkering lawmakers have done recently with adult education was a new law implemented this year that charges for courses and institutes stricter residency requirements. Lawmakers were told earlier this month that the new fees and residency requirements have led to dramatic drops in adult education enrollment.

This proposed bill would not address the fee or residency issues.

"The News Service of Florida contributed to this report."

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