Learning Curve: Charter School Friction in Florida
Charter Schools 101
Tim Kitts runs charter schools in Bay County and chairs the advocacy committee of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools. "The districts really have the power to drag you out forever," he says. [Photo: Terry Barner/The News Herald]
|Sizing Up Florida's Charters
» Count: 456 charter schools in 43 districts
» Growth: From 92,214 in 2005-06, the number of charter school students grew to 118,169 in 2008-09, then to 137,196 in 2009-10. In 2010-11, there were approximately 155,000 students at charter schools in Florida.
» Most students at charter schools in Florida are minorities:
White — 39%
Hispanic — 33%
African-American — 22%
» Boy/girl ratio: 50/50
» Eligible for free or reduced lunch: 42%
"If I'm a district and I want to stop you, I can write nebulous things like 'the curriculum's incomplete. We don't have to tell you what's incomplete. Make it complete.' The districts really have the power to drag you out forever," he says.
Charters' paramount complaint involves funding. Charter schools across Florida typically receive at least 5% less per student, up to 250 students, than district public schools get. Districts keep the money to cover administrative costs in dealing with charters, and also to stimulate charters to meet their mandate to operate more efficiently.
That's bad enough, say the charters, but almost no districts share any of the local property tax money that goes to fund capital improvements ["Sarasota's High Charter Marks"]. Charter operators see those funds as public education money that should be shared proportionally with charter schools to benefit all students.
Charter operators have other complaints. Some local districts, they say, reject applications as insufficient and then refuse amendments. Charters are often left out of the loop on important communications, they say. Some local districts even deny applications for new schools from proven operators while approving substandard applicants — so-called "approved-to-fail" schools.
Much is in the eye of the beholder. Talk to two charter operators about the best and worst counties in the state to do business and they're likely to disagree.
Districts, meanwhile, ask how charters can complain of district obstruction at the same time charters are growing by the score. Candace Lankford, a Volusia school board member and president of the Florida School Boards Association, says that some districts lack the personnel resources to thoroughly review a charter application, which perhaps causes complaints of uneven treatment from county to county.
|Since 2005, 67 charter operators have appealed district rulings denying their applications. The state body that hears appeals granted 16 and denied 23 cases. Most of the rest were withdrawn; one was remanded to the district, and three were ruled untimely.|