Report: Florida home to relatively healthy charter school movement

charter school movement reportFlorida could improve the health of its charter school movement if it funded schools more fairly and encouraged them to serve more low-income students, a new report from a national advocacy group says.

The report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranks states based on the students their charter schools serve, their academic performance, and the quality of their laws.

Florida ranks sixth out of 18 states for the health of its charter school movement — an improvement from a similar report the alliance released last school year, using somewhat different criteria.

Among this year’s conclusions: “Florida has a relatively good charter law, but it still needs to provide more equitable funding and facilities support to charter students.”

Florida lawmakers have agreed to restore some recently reduced state funding for charter school facilities, but funding has not kept up with the growing number of students enrolled in charter schools, and lack of access to buildings continues to hamper upstart charters — especially smaller schools that lack the backing of major management companies.

And facilities funding remains unstable, since it depends on the outcome of annual budget talks in the Legislature.

On the plus side, the report says Florida has a relatively strong law. Among other things, it calls for automatic closures of the lowest-performing schools and has an appeals process for charters that get rejected by local school boards. Florida charters also serve more students from racial and ethnic minorities than traditional public schools, largely because Hispanic students have disproportionately flocked to charters.

On the other hand, the report notes studies have found Florida charter schools don’t score quite as well as their district peers in reading, and that charters serve fewer students who qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches.

On the latter point, it may be worth noting that Florida is home to the largest private school choice program in the nation, and right now, only low-income students who qualify for the federal lunch program can receive tax credit scholarships. As a result, some 79,000 low-income students who might otherwise have opted for charter schools this year have enrolled in private schools that wouldn’t have been available to similar students in states like, say, Massachusetts. There are other possible reasons why fewer low-income students attend charters in Florida, but this one seems worth exploring.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program.

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