FCSA - Florida Charter School Alliance

Charter School FAQs

What is a charter school?

Charter schools are tuition-free and open to all students in the districts where they operate.

Charter schools were created more than 20 years ago to improve our nation’s public school system and close the achievement gap. They are unique public schools that have the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for improving student achievement. As a result, they raise the bar for what is possible in public education. Charter schools foster a partnership between parents, teachers and students to create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are given the freedom to be innovative in their classrooms to help improve learning, and students are provided the structure they need to learn. This holds all groups accountable for the most important goal: improving student achievement.

Charter schools are governed by a independent board. This allows charter schools to be hyper-responsive to the needs of students and families enrolled in them. In exchange for this independence and freedom, charter schools operate under contracts or “charter” with the sponsoring school district that allow them to be closed for failing to reach specific academic and/or financial benchmarks.

How long have charter schools been operating in Florida?

The first charter school opened in Florida in 1996. Since then, charter schools have grown to meet parental demand for a high quality education choice program. There are more than 650 charter schools in the state with enrollment exceeding 271,000 students (2015-16).

Who can attend a charter school?

Charter schools are open to all students residing within the district it operates in. Charter schools are permitted – by state statute – to target students within specific age groups or grade levels, students considered at-risk of dropping out or failing, students wishing to enroll in a charter school-in-the-workplace or charter school-in-a-municipality, students residing within a reasonable distance of the school, or students articulating from one charter school to another.

Do charter school student take state assessment exams?

Yes. Just like students attending a district-run public school, charter schools students must take standardized state exams (like the FCAT and FSA) and meet federal academic standards.  According to reports by the Florida Department of Education, the percentage of students making learning gains was higher in charter schools in 86 of the 96 comparisons (2013-14 school year); and in 52 of the 63 comparisons, students enrolled in charter schools demonstrated higher proficiency rates.

Are charter schools graded?

Yes. Charter schools are evaluated and assigned a school grade by the Florida Department of Education using the same standards and criteria as district-run public schools. In 2014, 62% of public charter schools earned an “A” or “B” in the state assessments click here and 167 charter schools earned “high performing” status..

Do charter school hire state certified teachers?

Yes. Both district-run and charter schools must hire state certified educators.

How do charter schools work?

The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in the classroom / curriculum used in return for increased accountability. Charter schools are accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices. They are accountable to the authorizer / school district that grants the charter, the parents who choose them, the students they serve, and the public that funds them.

Are charter schools making a difference?

Yes.  Results show that charter schools are making a difference by helping students achieve academically and empowering parents to be active participants in their child’s education.

According to a Florida Department of Education report (May 2014) – Student Achievement in Florida’s Charter Schools: A Comparison of the Performance of Charter School Students with Traditional Public School Students:

  • In 58 of the 63 separate comparisons of student achievement, students enrolled in in a Florida charter school demonstrated higher proficiency rates.
  • The percentage of students making learning gains was higher in charter schools in 76 of the 96 comparisons.
  • The achievement gap was lower for charter school students in 18 of the 18 comparisons.  The report analyzed the gap between white students and African American students, and white students and Hispanic students, in reading, mathematics, and science.

To see entire report click here

What is a high performing charter school?

According to state statute (1002.332, F.S.), a high-performing charter school is one that has met the following criteria:

  • Earned at least two school grades of “A” and no school grade below “B” for the last 3 consecutive years
  • Received unqualified opinion of their annual audits in the most recent three years
  • Recent audits did not reveal financial emergency conditions set forth in s. 218.503, F.S.

What is a high performing charter school system?

A high-performing charter school system is a municipality, other public entity, private non-profit corporation with tax-exempt status under s. 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or a private for-profit education management corporation that meets each of the following criteria:

  • Operates at least three high-performing charter schools in the state;
  • Operates a system of charter schools in which at least 50% of the charter schools are high-performing, with no schools that received a grade of “D” or “F;” and
  • Has financial audits clear of financial emergency conditions as set forth in s. 218.503, F.S. for any charter school within their system.

What are the benefits offered to a high-performing charter school?

A high-performing charter school may:

  • Increase its student enrollment once per school year by up to 15% more than the capacity identified in the charter contact. A high-performing charter school must notify its sponsor, in writing, by March 1 if it plans to increase enrollment or expand grade levels for the next school year.
  • Expand grade levels within K-12 to add grade levels not already served;
    Submit quarterly rather than monthly financial statements to its authorizer;
    Consolidate multiple high-performing charter schools under a single umbrella operated in the same district by the charter school’s governing board;
  • Receive a modification of its charter to a term of 15 years;
  • Replicate its educational program in any district in the state;

How are charter schools held accountable?

First and central to charter school accountability is the charter or contract between the charter school and the authorizer, usually the school district. The district may close a charter school if the school fails to meet the student performance outcomes agreed upon in the charter, fails to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management, violates the law, or shows other good cause. Charter schools are accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices. They’re accountable to the authorizer / school district that grants the charter, the parents who choose them, the students they serve, and the public that funds them.

What is the demographic breakdown of charter school students?

Florida’s charter schools are very diverse and reflect the population in the state. An estimated 65% of charter school students are minorities. According to data from 2013-14, Hispanic students comprise 39% of Florida’s charter school enrollment, and 22% are African-American students. The Free/Reduced Lunch student population is an estimated 49%.

How Are Public Charter Schools Funded?

Like district-run public schools, charter schools are funded according to enrollment (also called Full-time Equivalent Students or FTE), and receive funding from the state according to the number of students attending. However, charter school students are funded an average of 11.4 % less than students attending a district school (2005 Thomas B. Fordham Institute report).

More funding facts:

  • Most charter schools receive federal start-up grant dollars and capital outlay in order to secure a facility and begin operations. In the last decade, the availability of start-up grants has been reduced while the demand for and number of charter schools continue to grow.
  • According to Ball State University report (May 2010), Florida’s charter school students receive, on average, $3,000 less than students attending district-run public schools.
  • Disparity in funding: Except in a few counties in Florida, capital millage is exclusively used by school districts, even though parents of both district school and charter school students contribute to those funds. Only the school districts in Bay and Sarasota share mileage with charter schools.
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