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Charter Schools

What is a Charter School?

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Gulf Coast Academy of Science & Technology

2014 FACT Sheet about Florida Charter Schools

FAQs about Charter Schools

What are charter schools?

Charter schools are non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations that have a contract or charter to provide the same educational services to students as district public schools. They are nonsectarian public schools that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools.

The "charters" establishing such schools are performance contracts detailing the schools’ mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. The length of time for which charters are granted can vary from three to 15 years. At the end of the term, the entity granting the charter may renew the school's contract.

Charter schools are accountable to their sponsor, usually a state or local school board, to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for this accountability. They are accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices to several groups: the sponsor that grants them, the parents who choose them, and the public that funds them.

What is the purpose of charter schools?

The Florida Charter School Statutes require charter schools to be guided by the following principles:

◦ To meet high standards of student achievement while providing parents the flexibility to choose among diverse educational opportunities within the state's public school system

◦ To promote enhanced academic success and financial efficiency by aligning responsibility with accountability

◦ To provide parents with sufficient information on whether their child is reading at grade level and whether the child gains at least a year's worth of learning for every year spent in the charter school

Additionally, Florida charter schools are authorized to fulfill the following purposes:

◦ Improve student learning and academic achievement

◦ Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on low-performing students and reading

◦ Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including ownership of the learning program at the school site

◦ Encourage the use of innovative learning methods

◦ Require the measurement of learning outcomes, along with creating innovative measurement tools

◦ Provide rigorous competition within the public school district to stimulate continual improvement in all public schools

◦ Expand the capacity of the public school system

How are charter schools formed?

According to the Florida statutes, charter schools can be formed by creating a new school or by converting an existing public school to a charter school. An individual, teachers, parents, a group of individuals, a municipality, or a legal entity may create a charter school. The concept behind the Florida charter school movement is that community-based organizations, colleges and universities create charters schools to serve students in those communities, with a focus on meeting the needs of underserved students.

The charter school developers form a not-for-profit corporation to govern the charter school. Next, they submit a charter application to the local school district sponsor. The district school board reviews the application and makes the decision whether to approve or deny it. If the application is denied, the founders can choose to appeal through an appeals panel.

An existing public school can apply to convert to a charter school if it has been in operation for at least two years prior to the application to convert. This includes a public school-within-a-school that is designated as a school by the district school board. In order to convert an existing public school to a charter school, the school must demonstrate the support of at least 50 percent of the teachers employed at the school and 50 percent of the parents whose children are enrolled at the school.

Do charter schools charge tuition?

No, charter schools are public schools that receive public funds. They cannot charge tuition for the regular school day. They may charge fees for before and/or after school care.

How many charter schools are currently operating in Florida?

In 2012-13, there are 574 charter schools serving 203,077 students in 47 of Florida’s 67 counties.

What types of students are eligible to attend charter schools?

Charter schools must be open to any student covered in an inter-district agreement or residing in the school district in which the charter school is located. However, in the case of a charter lab school, the charter lab school shall be open to any student eligible to attend the lab school as provided in Florida Statute 1002.32, or who resides in the school district in which the charter lab school is located. Any eligible student shall be allowed inter-district transfer to attend a charter school when based on good cause. A charter school may limit the enrollment process in order 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 shall include exceptional educational students, students enrolling in a charter school-in-the-workplace or charter school-in-a-municipality.

What are charter schools-in-the-workplace and charter schools-in-a-municipality?

Charter schools-in-the-workplace may be established when a business provides the school facility to be used; enrolls students based upon a lottery that involves all of the children of the employees of the business; and enrolls students according to the racial/ethnic balance reflective of the community or other public schools in the same school district. Any portion of a facility used for a charter school is exempt from ad valorem taxes.

Charter schools-in-a-municipality may be established when a municipality obtains a charter school; enrolls students based upon a random lottery that involves all of the children of the residents of the municipality; and enrolls students according the racial/ethnic balance reflective of the community or other public schools in the same school district. Any portion of the land and facility used for the school is exempt from ad valorem taxes.

What are the specific requirements for charter schools?

A charter school is required by the Florida statutes to:

◦ be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and operations

◦ admit students as provided in subsection (10)

◦ be accountable to its sponsor for its performance

◦ not charge tuition and fees

◦ comply with all applicable state and local health, safety, and civil rights requirements

◦ not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, sex, handicap, or marital status

◦ subject itself to an annual financial audit

◦ maintain all financial records that constitute its accounting system in accordance with current law

◦ annually adopt and maintain an operating budget

◦ provide an annual financial report and program cost report information

◦ be governed by a body that exercises continuing oversight over charter school operations and reports its progress annually to the school’s sponsor

◦ not levy taxes or issue bonds secured by tax revenues

◦ provide instruction for at least the number of days required by law for other public schools, and may provide instruction for additional days

How are charter schools evaluated and assessed?

Every charter school must be evaluated on academic progress and the outcomes agreed upon in the school's binding contract. In addition, individual schools are evaluated and assigned a school grade using the same standards and criteria as traditional public schools.

Are charter schools exempt from state statutes?

Yes. Charter schools are generally exempt from the Florida K-20 Education Code. (Ch. 1000-1013, F.S.), except those statutes specifically applying to charter schools: pertaining to the provision of services to students with disabilities; pertaining to civil rights; and pertaining to student, health, safety and welfare. Charter schools are not exempt from any statute governing public records; public meetings; public inspection, and penalties. The sponsor's policies shall not apply to a charter school.

Are charter schools required to employ certified teachers?

Yes. Statutory provisions require teachers employed by or under contract with a charter school to be certified as required by current law.

How are charter school student enrollments funded?

Students enrolled in a charter school must be funded as if they are enrolled in a basic program or a special program at any other public school in the school district. Each charter school must report its student enrollment to the school district and the school district must include each charter school's student enrollment in school district's report of student enrollment that is submitted to the state.

What key steps are involved in the charter school application process?

A school board must receive and review all charter school applications. The sponsor shall by a majority vote approve or deny an application no later than 60 calendar days after the application is received, unless the sponsor and the applicant mutually agree to temporarily postpone the vote to a specific date, at which time the sponsor shall by a majority vote approve or deny the application.

What must a sponsor consider in order to approve a charter?

Current law specifies that criteria be used to approve a charter based on the following:

◦ the charter school's mission, the students and the ages of students who will be served, and the grades that will be included in the charter

◦ the focus of the charter school's curriculum, the instructional methods to be used, any distinctive instructional techniques to be employed, and identification and acquisition of appropriate technologies needed to improve educational and administrative performance which include a means for promoting safe, ethical, and appropriate uses of technology which comply with legal and professional standards

◦ that the charter school ensures that reading is a primary focus of the curriculum, and that resources are provided to identify and provide specialized instruction for students who are reading below grade level

◦ the curriculum and instructional strategies for reading must be consistent with the Sunshine State Standards and grounded in scientifically based reading research

◦ how the baseline student academic achievement levels and prior rates of academic progress will be established

◦ the current incoming baseline standard of individual student academic achievement, the outcomes to be achieved, and the method of measurement that will be used

◦ to the extent possible, how these rates of progress will be evaluated and compared with rates of progress of other closely comparable student populations

◦ the methods used to identify the educational strengths and needs of students and how well educational goals and performance standards are met by students attending the charter school

◦ a method for determining that a student has satisfied the requirements for high school graduation

◦ a method for resolving conflicts between the governing body of the charter school and the sponsor

◦ the admissions procedures and dismissal procedures, including the school's code of student conduct

◦ the ways in which the school will achieve a racial/ethnic balance reflective of the community it serves or within the racial/ethnic range of other public schools in the same school district

◦ the financial and administrative management of the school, including a reasonable demonstration of the professional experience or competence of those individuals or organizations applying to operate the charter school or those hired or retained to perform such professional services

◦ the description of clearly delineated responsibilities and the policies and practices needed to effectively manage the charter school

◦ the asset and liability projections required in the application which are incorporated into the charter and which shall be compared with information provided in the annual report of the charter school

◦ a description of procedures that identify various risks and provide for a comprehensive approach to reduce the impact of losses

◦ plans to ensure the safety and security of students and staff

◦ plans to identify, minimize, and protect others from violent or disruptive student behavior

◦ the manner in which the school will be insured, including whether or not the school will be required to have liability insurance, and, if so, the terms and conditions thereof and the amounts of coverage;

◦ the term of the charter

◦ the facilities to be used and their location

◦ the qualifications to be required of the teachers and the potential strategies used to recruit, hire, train, and retain qualified staff to achieve best value

◦ the governance structure of the school, including the status of the charter school as a public or private employer

◦ a timetable for implementing the charter

◦ the development of alternative arrangements for current students who choose not to attend a charter school that was converted from an existing public school

What if a charter school application is denied?

If an application is denied by a district school board, that school board shall, within 10 calendar days, articulate in writing the specific reasons based upon good cause supporting its denial of the charter application. A charter school applicant has 30 calendar days to appeal to the State Board of Education if:

◦ the school board denies the charter school application

◦ the school board fails to render a decision on the charter school application by the specified time

Subsequent to a charter school applicant filing an appeal, the Commissioner of Education shall convene a meeting of the Charter School Appeal Commission (comprised of an equal number of members representing charter schools and school districts) to study and make recommendations to the State Board of Education regarding its pending decision about the appeal. The commission shall forward its recommendation to the state board no later than 7 calendar days prior to the date on which the appeal is to be heard. The State Board of Education shall by majority vote accept or reject the decision of the district school board no later than 90 calendar days after an appeal is filed in accordance with State Board of Education rule. The district school board shall implement the decision of the State Board of Education.

Who can sponsor charter schools?

In Florida, district school boards are authorized to sponsor charter schools in the county over which the school board has jurisdiction.

What is a high-performing charter school?

According to s. 1002.331, F.S., a high-performing charter school is a school that has met each of the following criteria:

◦ Received at least two school grades of "A" and no school grade below "B" for the last three years

◦ Received an unqualified opinion on each annual audit in the most recent three years for which such audits are available

◦ Did not receive a financial audit that revealed one or more of the financial emergency conditions set forth in s. 218.503, F.S., in the most three recent fiscal years for which audits are available. (Exception: Charter school-in-the-workplace can meet this criteria if the audit determines that the school has the monetary resources available to cover any deficiency, or that the deficiency does not result in a deteriorating financial condition)

What is a high-performing charter school system?

According to s. 1002.332, F.S., 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"

◦ Has not received a financial audit that revealed one or more of the financial emergency conditions 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 is authorized to:

◦ Increase its student enrollment once per school year by up to 15% more than the capacity identified in the charter

◦ Expand grade levels within K-12 to add grade levels not already served

◦ Submit quarterly rather than monthly financial statements to the sponsor

◦ Consolidate under a single charter the charters of multiple high-performing charter schools 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

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.

A high-performing charter school may submit an application in any school district in the state to establish and operate a new charter school that will substantially replicate its educational program. A high-performing charter school may not establish more than one charter school within the state in any year. A high-performing charter school system may also replicate one of its high-performing charter schools in the same manner.

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