Florida charter schools push to form ‘local education agencies’

Two Florida charter school networks are pushing to take advantage of a new state law that will give them direct control over federal education funding for their students, the state’s school choice director told a House panel today.

A new state law gives more charter schools the ability authority to form “local education agencies.”

Adam Miller of the Florida Department of Education told the House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee that the three Somerset Academy charter schools in Jefferson County and the Orlando-area UCP charter school network are both applying for LEA status.

The Somerset schools are leading a first-of-its-kind turnaround effort. They now run the only public schools in rural Jefferson County. The UCP (United Cerebral Palsy) schools focus on Central Florida students with special needs.LEAs are federal parlance for a school district, or something like a school district. They can receive federal funding directly. That gives them control over how they use money earmarked for teacher training, supporting low-income students or helping children with special needs.

In states like Texas and Missouri, charter school networks often form their own LEAs. But Florida law, for the most part, reserved that power for school districts. That meant local districts controlled federal programs for charter schools in their area.

Only two Florida charter school networks already have LEA status: A charter school network in the city of Lake Wales, and the SouthTech Academy schools in Palm Beach. Those networks both consist mostly of conversion charter schools.

That was a requirement until earlier this year, when a wide-ranging education law allowed groups of charters operating in the same county form their own LEAs.

During today’s subcommittee meeting, Rep. Patricia Williams, D-Lauderdale Lakes, wanted to know what would become of the Jefferson County School Board if the county’s three Somerset charters formed their own LEA. The school board authorizes the charters.

Miller said the school board still receives a 5 percent administrative fee on the state funding that flows to the school. The board also receives revenue from a local dog track. And, he said, Somerset plans to let the board keep 5 percent of the federal funding it would receive directly once its LEA status gets approved.

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