Over the past 13 years, charter schools have grown exponentially in Florida. In 1998, there were 30 charters in Florida, now there are 411. Legislators have worked to create an environment that gives Charters an advantage over traditional public schools and with the introduction of for-profit management organizations, charters are expected to make a significant impact on shrinking the numbers of traditional public schools.


Charter Schools or “Schools of Choice” became part of U.S. school reform vernacular in 1988, when AFT President Albert Shanker, a conservative, and Ray Budde, President of the University of Massachusetts embraced what most perceived to be a progressive idea at the time. Originally called the “small schools movement,” the intent of this effort was to explore best practices for education outside the constraints of bureaucracy.

There were a few existing niche schools at the time that embodied these principles although they were not called charter schools.

Original 1988 "ideal model" for charter schools

  • Legally and financially autonomous public school
  • No tuition
  • No religious affiliation
  • No selective student admissions
  • Operate like a private business – free from state laws and district regulations
  • Accountability stressed student outcomes

Today Florida Charter schools are:

  • K-12 schools that receive public money and therefore part of the public education system
  • Not subject of all of the rules and standards imposed on traditional public schools
  • Accept/reject students based on academic performance
  • Largely non-union
  • Free from day to day oversight from public school boards
  • Not required to disclose their “for-profit” margin
  • May deny enrollment for any reason
  • Independently run “niche charters” are being surpassed by “for-profit” education management organizations (EMOs) that carve a profit from the base student allocation/public dollars provided for each child.
  • 2011 legislation establishes “high performing” charter schools and districts granting fifteen year contracts and unchecked proliferation
  • Restricts local school boards from denying applications submitted by high-performing charter school operators
  • Establishes high performing charter school designation that is earned when a school earns a minimum of two A grades in the last 3 years.
  • Allows high performing charters to increase student enrollment annually
  • Makes virtual charter schools ineligible for high-performing status
  • Limits local school boards’ ability to deny applications submitted by high performing charter schools or systems
  • Excuses governing board members of charter schools from residing in the district so long as they appoint a parental involvement representative in district
  • 2011 Florida legislation also established virtual/digital learning charters, which are free of “bricks and mortar” and not subject to class size restrictions.

Jeb Bush: Reform # 6

Choices, "Lots and Lots of Choices"

A potpourri of school choice mechanisms is presented as part of Florida’s “success” formula. Vouchers for special education students (McKay scholarships), tax credits (neo-vouchers) to fund private school for low-income children, charter schools, pre-K vouchers and a newly expanded virtual schooling law are all part of the mix.

While the Bush presentation does allude to three un-named papers extolling the advantages of competition, the presentation includes no evidence of how these choice schemes may have influenced test scores. In fact, the proportion of students involved (10% or less cumulatively) suggests that even if these options have been producing positive results, they are unlikely to have substantially contributed to the touted statewide gains. But even the underlying assumption of positive results is highly questionable. There exists, in fact, a very strong research base concerning school choice policies. Notwithstanding their political popularity, they have failed to produce achievement scores exceeding those of traditional public schools37 (some studies show negative associations with test scores), and they segregate the student population by race, class, and status as students with special needs and students learning English.

Source: http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-florida-formula

Florida Charters: Who is Being Served?

Early critics feared that charter schools would lure the highest performing and most gifted students from centrally-administered public schools. Instead, charter schools often attract low income, minority, and low performing students. The privatization trend that supports Charters as “for-profit” entities will significantly alter the original intent of the charter concept.

A closer look at Florida charter schools shows that, “One out of eight charter schools has a student body with 90 percent or more of a single race or ethnicity, an Orlando Sentinel analysis of the state’s 456 taxpayer-financed charters shows. That compares with one out of 12 traditional public schools.” (source: Orlando Sentinel)

Decades of magnet schools, transfers and traditional public school rezoning have not stopped the diminishing diversity of charters. Many politicians and stakeholders view this as the parents “choice.”

“Today, many of the new Florida charters are targeting black or Hispanic students. There are charters for Jewish, Greek, Puerto Rican and Native American students, too.

Enrollment at some can run to 99 percent black or Hispanic, with not a single white student at 19 charters and more than a quarter of all Florida charters with 10 percent or fewer white students, according to the state’s official count in October.

Equally troubling, civil-rights advocates say, is the rise in charters with largely white student populations, evoking memories of “white flight” from public to private schools across the South during integration.

Such schools appear in communities, including some in Orange County, where parents say they are dissatisfied with the size, academics and discipline at traditional schools their children are zoned to attend. Typically the public schools they are avoiding have a broad racial, ethnic and socioeconomic mix.” (source: Orlando Sentinel)

Florida Charter Performance: 2011 Traditional Public Schools v Charters

  • Florida Traditional Public Schools: 2,280 – 17 FCAT Fs.
  • Florida Charter Schools: 270 – 15 FCAT Fs.

Florida Charter Schools Failure Rate: 740% higher than that of public schools. Clearly, Florida Charter students are at a dramatically higher-risk of attending an F school than their peers are at traditional public schools.

Even Governor Rick Scott, who makes no secret about his desire to hand over taxpayer dollars to for-profit charter management organizations had this to say to the Orlando Sentinel in July 2011, “Students at failing schools are more likely to drop out, which means they are most likely to have trouble keeping a job.”

Handing over taxpayer dollars to for-profit charter management companies directly contradicts the Governor Scott’s frequently expressed belief that over $4 B had to be cut from Florida traditional public schools.

2011 Florida Failing Elementary Schools - Traditional and Charter

  • Alachua:
    • Sweetwater Branch Academy Elementary- CHARTER
  • Broward:
    • Imagine School at West Melbourne- CHARTER
    • Imagine Charter/ N. Lauderdale- CHARTER
    • Imagine at N. Lauderdale Middle School- CHARTER
    • Charter School of Excellence at Riverland- CHARTER
    • Broward Community Charter Middle- CHARTER
  • Dade:
    • Lenora Braynon Smith Elementary- Public
    • Lawrence Academy Elementary Charter School- CHARTER
    • Comstock Elementary- CONTROLLED CHOICE
    • Florida International Elementary Academy- CHARTER
    • Kelsey L. Pharr Elementary- CONTROLLED CHOICE
  • Duvall:
    • Brentwood Elementary- Public
    • Highlands Elementary- Public
    • John Love Elementary- Public
    • KIPP Impact Middle- CHARTER
    • West Jacksonville Elementary- Public
  • Escambia:
    • AA Dixon Charter School of Excellence- CHARTER
  • Hamilton:
    • Central Hamilton Elementary- Public
  • Hillsborough:
    • Riverhills Elementary- Public
    • Mt. Pleasant Standard Base Middle- CHARTER
  • Lake:
    • Beverly Shores Elementary- Public
  • Lee:
    • Lee Charter Academy- CHARTER
  • Manatee:
    • G.D. Rogers Garden Elementary- Public
  • Orange:
    • Rio Grande Charter- CHARTER
    • Kaley Elementary- Public
    • NAP Ford Community Charter- CHARTER
  • Palm Beach:
    • Joseph Littles-Nguzo Saba- CHARTER
  • Pasco:
    • Gulf Highlands Elementary- Public
  • Pinellas:
    • Maximo Elementary- Public
    • Melrose Elementary- Public
  • Volusia:
    • Community Learning Center East- Public

Do Charters Out-Perform Traditional Public Schools?


A study done by Stanford University found that charter schools on average

perform about the same or worse compared to public schools.

In 2009, the most authoritative study of charter schools was conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. The report is the first detailed national assessment of charter schools. It analyzed 70% of the nation’s students attending charter schools and compared the academic progress of those students with that of demographically matched

students in nearby public schools.

The report found that 17% of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools; 46% showed no difference from public schools; and 37% were significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts. The authors of the report considering this a “sobering” finding about the quality of charter schools in the U.S. Charter schools showed a significantly greater variation in quality as compared with the more standardized public schools with many falling below public school performances and a few exceeding them significantly.

Results vary for various demographics with Black and Hispanic children not

doing as well as they would in public schools, but with children from poverty backgrounds, students learning English, and brighter students doing better; average students do poorer. While the obvious solution to the widely varying quality of charter schools would be to close those who perform below the level of public schools, this is hard to accomplish in practice as even a poor school has its supporters. — Source

What is a Florida Virtual Charter School?

Virtual Charter Schools were created and signed into law (SB 7197) during the 2011 Florida Legislative session. Virtual Charter Schools provide online learning to students enrolled in K-12 public schools. They can either supplement or be a student’s sole source for education.

These “charters” are not required to have any of the bricks and mortar of a traditional public school, yet they receive the same base student allocation. Virtual Charter operators gain full access to public tax dollars and can make a profit with minimal investment.

It is unclear how virtual charters, which lack transparency, will be held accountable for student work product, learning gains and test scores.

  • Charters are initiated through an application process.
  • Existing Florida Charter Schools can apply to amend initial contracts
  • All applicants must be contracted with an approved provider of virtual instructions services approved for district virtual instruction programs.
  • Virtual charter schools are not limited to current charter schools.
  • Virtual charter schools are authorized to provide full-time virtual instruction.
  • Virtual charter schools may serve eligible district students in grades K-12
  • Eligibility: Students old enough to enter Kindergarten or first grade
  • Funded through the Florida Education Finance Program, based on ‘successful completions’ rather than on seat time (attendance and enrollment)
  • Accountability: school grades are based on student performance, only accountability is “successful completion.”
  • Blended Learning: Brick and mortar charter schools may combine virtual instruction with traditional classroom learning.
  • Instructional personnel: may be employees of the charter school or may be under contract
  • To provide instructional services to charter school students. At a minimum, the instructional personnel must hold a state certificate as required in s. 1012.55, F.S. or a 10 school district adjunct certification under s. 1012.57, F.S., for the subject area of the blended learning course.
  • Blended Learning Funding: Based on seat time (attendance and enrollment) and the charter receives a school grade based on the performance of students enrolled in the school.

Charters and Teacher Turnover

This study examines how teacher turnover differs between charter and traditional public schools and seeks to identify factors that explain these differences. The odds of a charter school teacher leaving the profession versus staying in the same school are 132% greater than those of a traditional public school teacher. The odds of a charter school teacher moving schools are 76% greater.

Our analysis confirms that much of the explanation of this “turnover gap” lies in differences in the types of teachers that charter schools and traditional public schools hire. The data lend minimal support to the claim that turnover is higher in charter schools because they are leveraging their flexibility in personnel policies to get rid of underperforming teachers.

Rather, we found most of the turnover in charter schools is voluntary and dysfunctional as compared to that of traditional public schools.

(source: Vanderbilt University http://www.ncspe.org/publications_files/OP183.pdf)

All Choices Created Equal? How Good Parents Select "Failing" Schools

Recent reports suggest that the vast majority (up to 97%) of parents with children “failing” schools choose to leave their children in those schools, even when it is their legal right to do otherwise. These reports — and the puzzling behavior they describe — draw attention to researchers’ limited ability to explain parents’ actions.

This study addresses this limitation by investigating the “black box” of choice — the processes parents use to choose. Based on interviews with 48 urban parents during the eight months preceding the selection of a middle or high school, the study finds that differences in the choice process did not explain why parents chose failing schools. Instead, differences in choice sets explain, in part, why parents choose the schools they do.

Using social networks, customary attendance patterns, and their understanding of their child’s academic achievement, parents constructed choice sets that varied systematically by social-class background. The differences between parents’ choice sets were statistically significant and provide insight into why it makes sense that well-intentioned parents choose failing schools. The study’s findings elaborate our understanding of the choice process and, in so doing, raise concerns about the ability of current choice policies to deliver the equity outcomes reformers suggest. — Source: University of Connecticut, Bell, Courtney, http://www.ncspe.org/publications_files/OP106.pdf