Some of Florida’s top policymakers have for the past few years been looking for ways to attract more high-performing charter school operators to the state’s inner cities. But apart from KIPP Jacksonville and a few newcomers like the SEED School of Miami, they have few high-profile efforts to point to. And attempts to change state law to help recruit well-regarded operators have faltered in the Legislature.
Now one of the top state lawmakers on education policy, Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, says she wants lawmakers to try a different approach next year.
The state creates special provisions for charter schools designated “high-performing.” Why not do something similar for charters that want to open in “high-needs” areas, helping them with issues from accountability to financing for their buildings?
“We need to have a whole new set of criteria,” said Adkins, who currently chairs the House subcommittee dealing with K-12 policy. “I’m envisioning a whole new set of statutes dealing with high needs.”
The idea came up during a recent gathering of charter school and district officials in Fort Lauderdale. Richard Moreno, who works with organizations that provide financing and other business services to charter schools, said one major barrier keeping organizations like KIPP and Uncommon Schools from Florida is the state’s stringent “double-F” rule.
State law requires most charter schools that earn F’s two years in a row to close. As a result, Moreno said, philanthropists and well-known charter organizations run a risk that they could sink resources into an area with high need, only to see their school shut down a few years later. “They’re not touching Florida because of this,” he said.
Adkins said she wants the state to emphasize learning gains when holding these new high-needs schools accountable so they aren’t penalized for taking on low-proficiency students and/or ensnared by the double F rule. But right now, she said, proposals are in the “idea stage” and details would still need to be worked out.
Robert Runcie, the schools superintendent in Broward County, said he could envision school districts and other community groups vetting competing proposals from charter operators looking to move into struggling schools, creating “a very structured way of bringing a high-quality solution into a community.”
Some districts have existing classroom space, he said, so it might make sense for them to work with charter operators to revitalize existing schools or facilities, rather than coming up with new ways to finance new school construction.
“We’ve got to replace low-performing seats with high-performing operators,” he said. “That’s the only logical thing to do. Otherwise we’re wasting taxpayer money.”
The school district officials who took part in Wednesday’s meeting are, by definition, open to collaboration with charter schools. That’s not always the case for their counterparts elsewhere.
Adkins said she wants the process she’s contemplating to also be available to philanthropists and community people in those districts as well.