New charter school screening tools coming to Florida

One of the key lessons from recent failures like the collapse of Acclaim Academy is that Florida’s school districts need more information to vet charter school applications before they open.

It looks like they’ll soon have two new tools at their disposal: A database of individuals involved with charter schools in the state, and a new tool designed to keep track of charter schools all over the country, which the National Association of Charter School Authorizers has announced it plans to test in Florida.

School districts now are in the process of vetting charter school applications (the deadline was Aug. 1), and the authorizers’ group says in a press release (hat-tip the Gradebook) that it intends to let them beta-test its new database of charter operators.

In 2013-14, Florida’s rate of first-year charter school closures (10%) was three times the national average. One of the most important things an authorizer can do is to help ensure that every new school opening will be a quality opening. NACSA is committed to providing authorizers with tools and resources needed to make confident, data-driven decisions during the application process.

The Charter Operator Tracker (Beta) is a tool that authorizers and other stakeholders can rely on for access to objective, publicly-available data about management organizations and the schools they currently operate or have previously operated in Florida and throughout the country. Data is searchable by operator and by school.

This kind of information might be especially useful when operators try to start new schools in Florida despite troubled histories in other states. It could also come in handy if operators of Florida charter schools have problems that can spread out of state.

In the association’s press release, Adam Miller, who leads the school choice office for the Florida Department of Education, said state officials are working on another tool.

“NACSA’s Charter Operator Tracker, together with my Department’s soon-to-be launched database of an individual’s associations with charter schools and operators, gives Florida authorizers an unprecedented level of access to key background and organizational information,” Miller said. “The critical information they need, and have struggled to gather for so long, will now be will available anytime at their fingertips.”

This could help districts screen out the Acclaims of the world. Before it imploded, that chain tried to open up schools in multiple districts, and succeeded in several, while others raised red flags about its applications. The problem: It was hard for districts to compare notes about where the chain was applying to open schools.

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