What is a charter school?
Charter schools are tuition-free public schools and open to all students.
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 an 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 654 charter schools in the state with enrollment exceeding 283,000 students (2016-17).
Who can attend a charter school?
Charter schools are open to all students. 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, 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 students take state assessment exams?
Yes. Just like students attending a district-run public school, charter schools students must take standardized state exams (like the FSA) and meet federal academic standards.
A 2015-2016 report released by the Florida Department of Education, Student Achievement in Florida’s Charter Schools: A Comparison of the Performance of Charter School Students with Traditional Public School Students, makes 195 comparisons in three areas: absolute achievement, learning gains and achievement gaps. In most of the comparisons, charter school students are outperforming peers attending district-run schools. For example, in 65 of the 77 comparisons, charter school students demonstrated higher rates of grade level performance – scoring a 3 or better on the state assessments; and the percentage of students making learning gains was higher in charter schools in 82 of the 96 comparisons.
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. 2017 grades: 65% of public charter schools earned an “A” or “B” in the state.
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! A 2017 report released by the Florida Department of Education shows that public charter schools are making a difference by helping students achieve academically and, in many cases charter school students are outperforming students attending district-run public schools. Charter schools also empower parents to be active participants in their child’s education.
According to a Florida Department of Education reports (April 17 and May 2014) comparing the performance of public school students in Florida, charter school students outperformed those attending district-run schools.
- The report makes 195 comparisons in three areas: absolute achievement, learning gains and achievement gaps.
- In most of the comparisons, charter school students are outperforming peers attending district-run schools — in 65 of the 77 comparisons, charter school students demonstrated higher rates of grade level performance – scoring a 3 or better on the state assessments;
- The percentage of students making learning gains was higher in charter schools in 82 of the 96 comparisons.
What is a School of Excellence?
The School of Excellence program was established in 2017 by House Bill 7069, and gives the state’s top performing schools and administrators extra flexibility to make budget and, class-size, and staffing decisions.
According to the Florida Department of Education, School of Excellence designation is earned if the percentage of possible points earned in the school grade calculation is in the 80th percentile or higher for schools comprised of the same grade groupings (elementary, middle, high, or combination) for at least 2 of the last three school years. School of Excellence status lasts up to three years as long as the school maintains a grade of B or better. Also, teachers at a School of Excellence get continuing-education credit for working there.
What is Schools of Hope?
A School of Hope must serve students from an area with persistently low-performing schools; is located in the attendance zone of a persistently low-performing school or within a 5-mile radius of such school, whichever is greater; and is a Title I eligible school.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, was the key supporter of creating the “schools of hope” program that aims to encourage high quality charter schools to serve communities where schools have struggled and/or failed to raise student achievement.
Click here to learn more about Schools of Hope
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 contract or “charter” 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 2016-2017, Hispanic students comprise 41.5% of Florida’s charter school enrollment, and 20.5% are African-American students. The Free/Reduced Lunch student population is close to 50%.
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. This funding disparity was corrected by the passing of HB7069 (July 2017).
- The capital outlay funding from local mileage – as outlined in HB7029, will now be equitably distributed to all public school students – whether they attend a district-run or charter school. Although school districts have always had the option to share local capital money with charter schools, only a few had. HB7069 changed this option to a requirement for all school districts.
- As a result of HB7069, Florida’s charter schools could receive up to $96.3 million is capital outlay from shared capital mileage. In the 2016-17 school year, $75 million in capital outlay was shared among all qualifying charter schools in the state.
Do charter schools serve students with disabilities?
Yes. Charter schools must comply with statutes pertaining to the provision of services to students with disabilities.
Per state statute, Section 1002.33 Subsection (10) – Eligible students (f): Students with disabilities and students served in English for Speakers of Other Languages programs shall have an equal opportunity of being selected for enrollment in a charter school;
As the charter school LEA, a school district also has responsibilities to students with disabilities attending a charter school. Per Section 1002.33 Subsection (20) – Services (a)1. A sponsor shall provide certain administration and educational services to charter schools… including exceptional student education administration services.
Administrative services include:
- Initial evaluation for ESE placement
- Professional development related to IEP development
- Access to any electronic IEP systems or forms
- ESE training
- Appointment of staffing specialist
- Other supports and services as agreed to by the charter school and the district, such as…Subsection (17) – Funding (c) If the district school board is providing programs or services to students funded by federal funds, any eligible students enrolled in charter schools in the school district shall be provided federal funds for the same level of service provided students in the schools operated by the district school board.
Do charter schools have clear student enrollment and lottery procedures?
Yes. Florida law requires charter schools to admit students via a random selection process or lottery when the number of applications exceeds capacity.
Enrollment is open on a first come, first serve basis, until the number of applications exceeds the capacity of the program, class, grade level or building. Once capacity has been reached, students wishing to enroll will be subject to a lottery selection per Florida Statutes. Prior to conducting a lottery, enrollment preference may be given to:
- students who are siblings of a student enrolled in the charter school,
- students who are the children of a member of the governing board of the charter school,
- students who are the children of an employee of the charter school,
- students who are children of a business partner with the school,
- students who are children of a resident of a municipality that operates a charter school-in-a-municipality,
- students who have been in a pre-K program in that school, and
- students who are the children of active-duty members of any branch of the armed forces.
Can a charter schools limit enrollment to students that meet specific criteria?
According to Florida law, “controlled open enrollment” means a public education delivery system that allows school districts to make student school assignments using parents’ indicated preferential educational choice as a significant factor. A charter school may limit the enrollment process only to target the following student populations:
students within specific age groups or grade levels; students considered at risk of dropping out of school or academic failure (such students include exceptional education students); students enrolling in a charter school-in-the-workplace or charter school-in-a-municipality; students residing within a reasonable distance of the charter school; students who meet reasonable academic, artistic, or other eligibility standards established by the charter school and included in the charter school application and charter or, in the case of existing charter schools, standards that are consistent with the school’s mission and purpose; and students articulating from one charter school to another pursuant to an articulation agreement between the charter schools that has been approved by the authorizer.
How does the enrollment process at a conversion charter school work?
Florida law states that conversion charter schools must give enrollment preference to students who would have otherwise attended that district-run school. Charter school must give first preference for admission to dependent children of active-duty military personnel. It does not require them to provide enrollment preferences for prior year students within chartered schools.
What is controlled open enrollment?
Beginning in 2017-18, Florida law requires each school district and charter school to adopt a controlled open enrollment plan that allows a student to enroll in any public school in the state that has not reached capacity. This allows students to go to any district-run or public charter school regardless of their zip code.
Who can help a parent who has an issue with their charter school?
Every charter school’s governing board must appoint a parent liaison who is responsible for assisting parents and others with questions and concerns, and resolve disputes. The liaison may be a governing board member, employee, or individual contracted to represent the charter school governing board. That person should be posted prominently on the charter school’s website.