A response to League of Women Voters Report

For close to two decades, public charter schools have been a vital part of Florida’s K-12 system, helping students succeed and giving families a quality education choice. Since 2010, all but one independent research study has found that students in charter schools do better than their district school peers. A report released in May 2014 by the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) compared charter and district-run public school students statewide in terms of proficiency, learning gains, and achievement gap. According to the results documented in 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 charter schools demonstrated higher proficiency rates; and the percentage of students making learning gains was higher in charter schools in 76 of the 96 comparisons. A similar report was issued in 2013 by FLDOE using over 3.1 million test scores from the 2011-12 school year. It found that the percentage of students making learning gains was higher in charter schools in 83 of the 96 comparisons, and that charter schools are helping close the achievement gap particularly in underserved communities. Despite measurable success – including rising high school graduation rates, and college acceptance - the critics continue to attack charter schools.

The report issued by the League of Women Voters is flawed. It only looked at a small number of charter schools out the more than 600 in the state and didn’t take into account achievement data, and funding disparity – both documented by various university studies and our state’s Department of Education. More importantly, not one parent of the more than 240,000 public charter school students in the state was asked why they chose a charter school or how their charter school is helping their child succeed. Charter schools give parents a voice and the power to control their child’s education future, and in return they have pushed us to be better. Demanding high quality choice programs, parents have been and continue to be the driving force behind the growth and success of charter schools.

The following information addresses inaccuracies within the League’s report:

It is false that school districts “lack of any detail in charters’ financial reports.” By law, public charter schools must submit monthly (or quarterly) financial reports and yearly independent audits to the district. These financial reports provide district personnel with valuable information they can use to monitor a charter school’s financial health.

Charter schools have become increasingly diverse. In the 2012-13 school year, 65% of the students served at public charter schools are minorities. Hispanic students comprise 37% of Florida’s charter school enrollment, and 23% are African-American. The population at charter schools typically reflects the population at area district schools. Charter schools are permitted to operate free from rules that apply to curriculum, hiring, and other operating details however, charter schools must still comply with local, state and federal accountability measures.

Charter schools, by law and their contract with their sponsor (the district), are held strictly accountable for academic performance and must meet annual yearly progress as outline in the No Child Left Behind Act.

A student’s behavior or academic history has no bearing on enrollment. A charter school is open to any student covered in an inter-district agreement or residing in the school district in which the charter school is located.

Exceptional Student Education (ESE) students at both district-run and charter schools have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and work with a team of educators, district representatives, ESE coordinators, and parents to monitor their progress and help ensure the child is at a school that can provide the assistance that child needs to succeed.

A very important point left out of the League’s report is that charter schools receive LESS FUNDING than district-run public schools. This means charter school principals and teachers must make sure their students make academic gains, pass state standardized exams, and graduate from high school, all with less funds that their district counterparts. According to a study by the University of Arkansas released on April 30, 2014, Florida’s charter schools receive 20.7 percent less funding than district schools; that’s $8,047 vs. $10,154 per pupil in 2011. Charter Funding: Inequity Expands reveals the disparity is greatest in major cities and that the funding gap has grown in recent years. If all Florida school districts received the same level of per pupil funding as charter schools, districts would have received over $5 billion less in total revenues. During the 2014 legislative session, legislators addressed this disparity by allocating $75 million to facilities funding / PECO to public charter schools. These funds are critical because charter schools do not have access to the monies raised by district public schools through property taxes and bond issues.

Charter schools serve a valuable teaching role. In increasing numbers, district school systems are turning to charter schools for examples of best practices regarding everything from curriculum to academic recovery, specialized academies to blended programs, staffing and teacher retention. This cooperative effort has been helping improve Florida’s public education system and is making this state, and every community in it, better.