Three ‘double-F’ charter schools to close after board denies waivers

The first day of the school year brought grim news to three Florida charter schools, who learned this morning that they will have to close because of their performance.

State law requires the schools to lose their charters after earning failing grades from the state in two straight years. The state Board of Education voted unanimously not to offer waivers that would have allowed the schools to remain open.

So-called “Double-F” charter schools can only receive waivers if their students achieve higher learning gains than comparable public schools. The board agreed to deny waivers after looking at data for the three schools – one in Miami-Dade County, one in Broward and one in Columbia.

None of the decisions drew debate from board members, who noted afterward that they were simply following the requirements in state law.

Representatives from the three schools joined the board on a conference call to plead their case for another year to improve their scores.

Anthony Buzzella, the founder of Shining Star Academy of the Arts in Columbia County, said the school, which that morning opened its third year of classes, had raised its test scores after a dismal first year. But its improvements were not enough to shake its F grade. He also said the school’s drama, art and music programs have attracted students from three surrounding rural counties who, without those options, might not return to the public school system.

“Test results alone are not the sole indicator of our school’s effectiveness,” he said.

After the meeting, a few board members agreed that the decisions were difficult. Marva Johnson said the state should look for ways to assist new charters that stumble out of the gate, to prevent second-year struggles that can lead to their closure.

“It is a heavy decision to close a school,” she said. “I’d rather be having that conversation after the first year about how we can help.”

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